For self-motivated individuals, working from home may seem like an ideal situation to get more done. It has its benefits – like saving time spent on commuting or not getting distracted with co-workers' conversations. For those who are on the other side of the spectrum, who love the social elements of showing up at work, may find the change hard. They may feel isolated or even left out. The 24-hour disinfection program announced by the UAE government as a precaution from widespread of Covid-19, has made companies manage their operations and teams remotely. At least in all non-essential sectors and those sectors that can work remotely.
This unprecedented change has also brought several challenges to leaders across the board such as team leaders, managers, heads of the department and such. In our previous blog post, we shared ideas on how I has been managing a completely a remote team for several years. If you missed it, check it out here –
Leading a Productive Team Remotely
In this blog, we will be zooming in further and taking a look on key changes leaders can make now as their teams begin to adapt to an alternative work arrangement.
1. Motivate your Team
This may seem like the obvious thing to do. Yet, understanding different people get motivated differently is the key. At the beginning of this article we said self-motivated people will love working from home as they will get more hours to do their work, be able to stay focused and be motivated to keep going no matter what.
Those who find the alternative work arrangement a hindrance will certainly need more interaction, more check-ins and trials before finding their groove to work remotely.
2. (Re)Establish Team Goals
The first quarter of the year is behind us and while much of the goal setting for the year must be already in place, the environment now demands altering those. So, as you move to a remote setting, it is important to take the time to re-establish the goals and prioritise them.
Communicating is the essence of working remotely. Replicating the regular team meetings online and adding a few more may be the way to go. Your team may be having a lot of meetings already and so you may want to consolidate them to keep the communication effective and impactful. Communicate the renewed goals and priority list to the team and across the organisations. Adding in a few "water cooler" conversations either using a Whatsapp group or a Zoom call are just as important and impact the day to day productivity as well. This can help vastly reduce the feeling of overwhelm amongst the employees.
4. Encourage Creative Problem Solving
When the team is remote, an employee may sit with an assumption that hurdles in a job need to be crossed over alone. Leaders must set the roadmap for solving problems that arise from work tasks and how the team can work together to resolve issues.
Now more than ever, collaboration amongst cross functional teams or within the team is pertinent. There are a range of digital tools available to collaborate. Perhaps, your organisation has been using some of these tools already. Keeping it simple and limiting it to 1 or 2 applications for collaboration is helpful to avoid communication falling through the gaps. Effective collaboration also translates in to each member sharing responsibilities for a common goal and sharing experience of achieving it together.
6. Staying Focused
As a leader of a team, it is hard not to succumb in daily (or routine) challenges. Build the trust and share accountability within your team for projects. This will allow you the flexibility and time on hand to stay focused on your role.
As Simon Sinek says, leaders are not responsible for achieving the results, but for creating an environment in which their people can achieve the results.
With time on hand the leader can effectively use that to check-in on the team and have one-on-one conversations. Keeping promises and honouring requests is a critical aspect of managing remote team. The usual meet and greet or small talks in the hallway is not happening anymore and therefore effective communication to take place.
7. Team's Priorities and Work Hours
When a change happens, and after you have re-established the team's goals, the leader has to keep a close eye on what is the team busy with. Small asks can slip in and employees who like to help out may say yes and end up working overtime. Working from home in a regional or a multinational roles also means being available on calls beyond office hours. This may result in employees burning out fast. Inform your team that this is important to you as the team lead and for the overall productivity too.
8. Measuring Impact
As the teams go remote, micro managing them with watching their log in and log out times is simply silly and time consuming. Monitoring teams that are in different time zones or are working in shifts may not be productive at all. As Andrew Hedges, Engineering Manager from Zapier says, "You get what you measure. Measure impact. It can be a little fuzzy to measure, but the benefits far outweigh the ambiguity. Engineers feel empowered to focus on the problems at hand rather than watching the clock to make sure they're clocking enough hours."
With remote setting, administrative tasks may get in the way of overall productivity. Outsourcing repetitive tasks go a long way to alleviate employees of overtime and stay focused on their jobs.
9. Virtual Team Building Activities
On the Internet, there are scores of activities that you can find for virtual team building. Also, of-late on LinkedIn you may find employees posting photos of their screens while being on team calls showcasing how they had a team breakfast session to how they played video games online. While this may be brushed off as a fad, it is important. We can share from our experience of managing teams for over a decade. Virtual coffee breaks, team huddles in virtual environment, WhatsApp chat and the likes keeps us going.
In summary, remote work should not be isolating. If we prepare the team, communicate effectively and regularly, give then the right tools and extend the culture from offline to online more, it is possible. As a leader, how you steer your boat, inform the team why you are making the change. Allow the team to express their own ideas as that's what two way communication is all about. Ultimately we all want to belong to shared culture and are motivated with shared accomplishments.