4 Ways to Lead Remote Teams in Times of Crisis
We certainly live in uncertain times. In response to the recent pandemic, many organizations have responded by allowing their employees to work from home. While flexible work arrangements are quite common in some organizations, the sudden shift and indefinite length of this period have confounded employees, managers, and HR policymakers.
Managing remote employees has a complex set of challenges when contrasted to the traditional office model of nine-to-five. Yet, even before the pandemic, this has been a challenge for many leaders managing a remote team effectively.
There are Many Common Questions and Issues:
- How will we stay aligned as a group, work in the same direction?
- What processes do we need to establish?
- What will we use to remain connected?
- Where will we collaborate?
- What changes do we need to make as a team to be productive?
- When will we communicate, connect, and engage – 1:1, as a group?
1. Ensure Your Team is Working in the Same Direction
The first step is to ensure your team is working in the same direction, with shared long term goals as the foundation of your business area. Everyone must be familiar with the team’s business objectives. They should be clearly stated and referenceable through internal communications, especially as new members are onboarded.
- Establish a quarterly/yearly project plan and roadmap; this helps for visibility and accountability. It also aids in a feeling of accomplishment for the group and individuals as milestones begin to be met.
- Intrateam collaboration is critical to ensure your staff is working together, in a directed fashion. Not everyone will have the same set of skills, abilities, and competencies. Shared projects help to foster relationships and trust among peers and move the needle as a group.
2. Establish Processes and Norms
Employees who work together in-person have many ad hoc opportunities to coordinate work. Work coordination can be more challenging among remote teams. Remote work isn’t for everyone, there must be an intrinsic drive to succeed and grow day by day; complacent individuals won’t make the cut. To set this up properly, clarifying the established norms (How will we communicate? In what tool? Where will we store documents?) up-front will help ensure smoother remote work.
- Newly remote workers are often surprised by the added time to find and locate information. Digital workplaces and enterprise search help, but there’s the tacit learning that’s required to truly absorb the nature of the role.
- If some employees are fairly new, setting up a formal buddy-system with regular check-ins helps. While there are intangibles to anyone’s role, buddies also aid for those simple questions which can be asked asynchronously.
- To foster greater connections, levering instant messaging (e.g. MS Teams, Slack, Hangouts) with a backchannel for chat helps filter and structure discourse. Allow for general conversations, best-practice threads, as well as ‘bat signaling’ – in case someone has an urgent matter – and the team must drop whatever they are doing to assist their colleague.
3. Managing Touchpoints – Quality and Quantity
Managing face-to-face interactions is more challenging when you’re remote. Yes, you can lose some of the nuances of consistent presence in the workday – but those interactions become more consolidated and focused on work itself.
- From a team perspective, there must be a regular virtual cadence of meetings. Once or twice a week can help to depend on the role. Depending on the type of work, daily stand-ups or more frequent half-hour scrums help ensure the team is aware of daily challenges and progress.
- As a manager, you’ll need to take time to ask about the person along with the professional (dependent on the individual and employment culture). To address this, weekly 1:1 meetings help to discuss personal milestones and top of mind items.
This cadence helps to ensure you can address any team-related matters in an official forum, and individual matters week-by-week.
4. Foster Trust and Communicate Often
Especially during this time of hardship additional trust and understanding must be levied. This is why communicating clearly and transparently is key to ensuring your team feels secure even when they are miles away.
Virtual team collaboration within a remote working group is dependent on trust – and respect for one another’s time and expertise.
Trust is simple. It’s not blind, but it is also not the oxymoron of ‘trust, but verify’. If your staff is not pulling weight – underperforming, that falls on you as a manager to address the situation and to help correct.
Last, trust goes both ways. If you skirt the truth, your team will know. Keep your team informed of any changes and impacts to the business as appropriate. When you don’t know, be open and honest. When suspicion runs wild a virtual team can quickly come undone.
It’s important to place special consideration on employee engagement when managing remote employees, especially during times of crisis. Find what works best for your organization and keep your employees motivated while working from home.