The world is on lockdown, people are feeling anxious and businesses are struggling. But the show must go on, adapting to the new conditions. Your goal as a leader - to help your team succeed and grow the business - doesn't change, but your approach and methods might need to. In this article, we give you some tips to help you lead in your team in these troubled times, becoming an effective remote leader to your team and reaching the results you aimed for.
1. Readjust your expectations and communicate them to your team
"The vast majority of people want to do a good job. But if they don't know what you're expecting their day to be, they'll have a hard time meeting those expectations." (Sarah Park, President of MeetEdgar)
It’s unrealistic to think that, under these circumstances, people can keep a full-time, 9-to-5 job. Even if you do have a plan for normal remote working, things are a little different right now: daycares are closed, schools are closed, resources are more scarce available, businesses are struggling, families are locked inside, and emotions are running high.
Leaders can't expect their teams to be as high-functioning as they usually are, and employees can't expect their managers to know how to manage them remotely.
Thus, start by:
- Letting people change their work hours when they need to.
- Being understanding if someone has to leave in the middle of a meeting.
- Talking about the impact of this situation in an honest and open way.
It's up you as a leader to be really clear about what the expectations actually are:
- Clarify the purpose of the team and the goals to reach it.
- Make sure everyone keeps their eyes on the prize and knows what the priorities are.
- Then, communicate the changes in a team meeting.
- Specify deliverables and the timeline for completion, and how to communicate progress.
2. Invest time in good planning
"When does the work day start? End? Creating a hard line between work/home is tough." (Jeff Gothelf, author and coach)
One of the reasons many managers don't approve of remote work is they fear employees will slack off. But, in fact, the opposite tends to be the reality: remote workers are more likely to overwork. When your personal life and your work are both under the same roof, it's harder to switch off. Setting and respecting boundaries around time is the key to maintaining trust and balance while keeping the work going.
Here are some tips to help you with planning:
For your team:
- If you have decided not to have a fixed schedule, ask everyone to block off time on their calendar to indicate when you will be working. Aim to have significant overlap between your schedules each day.
- Use your calendar to show times during the workday when you will be less responsive, if you have an appointment or will be doing focused work.
- Be clear with your team on when you're leaving and actually shut down your computer.
- Have a dedicated office space so you can shut the office door, or section off part of a room for work.
- Set up a kind of signal that lets your family know when you're in focus mode, explaining to them why it's important for you to avoid interruptions.
- If you have children, teach them how to be self-sufficient and occupy themselves the best they can.
- Set up reminders to take breaks, drink water and stretch.
- Install distraction-limiting tools to help you stay focused at work.
- Schedule time everyday for relaxing, exercising and spending time with your loved ones (offline or online).
- When the work day is done, turn off notifications on your phone and computer from work-related apps.
3. Focus on output over activities.
"Lead with trust. There's nothing more demotivating to someone that is used to having a lot of freedom and a lot of trust than to go remote and start to be micromanaged." (Kieran Flanagan, VP of Marketing at HubSpot)
First-time remote managers sometimes fall into the trap of micromanaging by focusing too much time and energy on monitoring their staff, rather than the outcomes they produce. When everyone is working remotely, there’s one thing that needs to change immediately — the focus needs to move from time spent working to its actual output! When you emphasize results over activities, you’re showing that you trust your staff to manage their own time and workload.
Of course that, if there are people who may need closer management, then offer that. But people who thrive with independence should still have their independence.
Some tips to help you with that:
- Start a daily email or message with your staff to share your priorities for the day.
- Report back at the end of the day to celebrate your wins and create plans to get to the priorities you missed.
- Set up a 30-minute team meeting at the end of the week to share outcomes from the week.
- Regular and clear feedback is essential. When people do well, let them know. Know in advance if they prefer a private compliment or a public shout-out.
4. Establish regular one-on-one checkpoints
"Non-remote work defaults to the highest distraction communication first, which is in-person. Remote work defaults to the lowest, which is no communication." (Mike Knoop, Zapier co-founder)
As you start shifting to remote work:
- Have regular checkpoints, more than you normally would.
- Give employees a little more direction than usual to help them in this uncertain, new scenario.
- Ask each person, “Do you have everything you need to be productive and comfortable while you’re working remotely? Is there anything about your remote work set-up that might present challenges or that we may need to work around? Is there anything I can do to support you?”
- Then, search for solutions with them.
Try to understand how they’re adapting to this abrupt situation, what they’ve been up to and how their loved ones are. Spend the first five minutes of every one-on-one asking about that person's life, showing actual concern with their emotional state. It might feel like a waste of precious meeting time, but it’s a way to ensure that everyone still feels connected, which is crucial in building a remote culture that works. Thanking employees for their effort and communicating with sentences like “we’ll get through this”, can boost morale right up.
To organize your check-ins, ask staff members to fill out an agenda and send yours ahead, with topics like these:
- My priorities for the week
- Key updates on last week’s top priorities
- Items for manager’s input
- Something the manager can do to better support me in my work is…
- Topics I’m not getting to yet
- What else is on the manager’s list?
- Next steps
5. Revise your communication practices.
"The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place." (George Bernard Shaw)
The sudden shift to a remote workplace can lead to staff and managers feeling isolated and disconnected, or communication can be too dispersed and disorganized. Avoid this by setting communication practices that encourage connecting (formally and informally).
Make sure you keep consistency as much as possible - unless the tool you’re using is really not up to the challenge, stick to the tools your team already knows. These times are chaotic enough without introducing more unknown elements to the process!
Some tips to improve communication within your team:
- Promote communication as much as possible and be proactive in speaking up.
- Set very clearly with your team how each tool is to be used - email could be used for more formal and not urgent announcements, a chat app for discussions and brainstorming, and a task manager app for requests.
- Think before you send. Read what you've written, make sure it is concise, to minimize the time your email/message will take to process. When you ask for something, be clear about what you're looking for and from whom.
- If you need a quicker response from someone, use their preferred method of rapid-response contact.
- When writing an email, start with a subject line that clearly labels the topic, and maybe includes a status category, specify if it is just FYI (for your information), or "Response needed by...”.
- When you send calendar invitations for meetings, state how the call will be conducted in the description, with the link for the call.
Remote work requires better meeting rules!
- Decide if you need a meeting at all - meetings aren't always the answer.
- You can build in social time on your remote team without a regular meeting, schedule a happy hour!
- Start and end on time.
- If you might be late to the meeting because of prior obligations, send a message to someone who will be there so they can inform the team, or ask to change the meeting time.
- Create recurring meetings with saved settings and one URL.
- Automate meeting reminders beyond the calendar invite.
- Watch for nonverbal responses. You might get head nods, confused looks, or other facial reactions during your meeting.
- Agree on a mute/unmute and video/no video protocol - default to video when possible. Use a tool like Krisp to block out background noise.
- Seek meeting feedback by easily setting up a poll in your work chat app or using a form app.
- Regular communication: Slack - It’s very intuitive to use, and most companies already have it
- Project management: Asana or Trello - From simple task lists to major cross-functional projects, these tools help teams stay on top of project
- Meetings and video conferences: Zoom, Skype, Google Hangouts or other - set up calls with your team, record them for future use.
- Real-time collaboration: GSuite - Docs, Sheets, and Slides are editable by anyone at your company (or even by external guests) in real-time, allowing your teams to work at one document together, and keeping a record of which alterations have been made, and by whom.
We hope that these tips will help you leading your team to adapt to these new times and to reach its goals!
Inês Andrade | Marketing Manager