So there you were leading a high performing team, meeting and exceeding your organization’s goals and expectations. Then the world suddenly changed with the COVID 19 pandemic forcing people to take shelter in their homes. For the lucky few, their jobs were considered essential or the organization was able to accommodate a remote work force. As a leader, what worked previously to lead your teams changed in an instant. So, what now? How do leaders adapt to suddenly leading teams remotely while maintaining their high performing status?
First, good leaders understand that people are the biggest asset of any organization. But great leaders know the more significant asset is the way you empower your people to accomplish the organization’s goals and objectives. The successful leader will find a way to empower their remote teams through mindful and resilient leadership. Here are a few strategies to successfully leading teams remotely.
LEAD FROM A PLACE OF UNDERSTANDING AND EMPATHY
One of the most important things a leader can convey to their remote workforce is they care. Before COVID 19, starting off a meeting in the organization’s conference room would rarely start with asking how is everyone doing or how is their family getting along. Now it’s one of the most important questions a leader should ask at the onset of any online meeting.
According to Dale Carnegie in his book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, showing interest and listening is one of the most important things a leader can do, especially right now. Each family situation is different. For instance, if an employee is single with no kids, then their remote work situation may be highly productive and consistent. But they may be really struggling with the isolation. While another employee who has children may be really challenged with juggling homeschooling and working at the same time. Therefore, their productivity may be more spread out during the day and evening.
Being mindful of the individual situations of your teams with go a long way in how you will lead and approach organizational tasks. It’s always good in these situations to relay clear and reasonable expectations to your teams. In other words, the organizational goals need to be reached, but how your teams achieve those goals may look different now.
THE WORK DAY IS NO LONGER THE TYPICAL 8 TO 5
This leads into the next point: the typical work day hours are no longer 8 to 5. It is important to explain to your team that you understand work hours at this point are flexible. Because employees have various home and family situations, like homeschooling their children, scheduling times to obtain groceries and supplies, and taking care of elderly relatives to name a few, their ability to work consistent hours will vary throughout a given day. Therefore, the leader needs to be mindful that a typical 8 to 5 work day could be broken up throughout the day and evening.
Assigning goals and tasks in advance is helpful along with a due date that is reasonable to achieve. This is as much important to the organization as it is to the individual employee. High performing employees enjoy their work and a sense of accomplishment when a task is completed. Uncertainty and anxiety can come up with employees because they still want to do a good job and giving them the opportunity to continue to succeed is very important to them.
BE PRESENT AND CONSISTENT
Another important aspect of leading teams remotely is to be present and bring a sense of calm and optimism. How do leaders be present remotely? Being present remotely means embracing and mastering the technology that facilitates online meetings and communication. This can be something as simple as sending emails and text messages to your teams and individuals throughout the week. At least once a week schedule a video meeting with your team. Video and online meetings may seem awkward and uncomfortable at first, but the more you use it, the easier it gets. In fact after the quarantine is over, people may prefer video calls compared to regular calls.
One of the aspects of suddenly working remotely from home is the merge of home life and work life. Therefore, having consistent meeting times and communication will help create a sense consistency. In his book, 7 Habits of Highly Successful People, Steven Covey talks about being reactive versus proactive. As a leader this is an opportunity to lead proactively bringing a sense of team work and connection back to the group. Have a consistent structure to your online meetings.
Create a new culture online and routine to start each online meeting. For example, have everyone go around the “room” and share a personal or professional “win” and “challenge” for the week. Consider posing questions like, who has the best home office set up, who has the best home workout routine, what is the best tech device that has helped you the most, or share your favorite dinner recipe. Bringing some humanity and even levity into the situation with your teams will go a long way. This will create a routine and help the team feel connected so they do not feel as isolated.
KEEP YOUR TEAM INFORMED AND CONNECTED
Lastly, I would stress how important it is to keep your teams informed. A lack of mutual knowledge surrounding their position and the organization can be an added stressor. For instance, do not be afraid to keep your team over informed. As the management team meets at your organization and passes along information, make sure to convey as much information as you can to your teams during the regularly scheduled online meetings.
A big stressor for your teams is job stability and uncertainty. Therefore, invite someone from the executive management team to participate in one of your scheduled online meetings to show your team that the management cares and values their commitment amongst the current challenges.
Create a new culture online and routine to start each online meeting. For example, have everyone go around the “room” and share a personal or professional “win” and “challenge” for the week. This will create a routine and help the team feel connected so they do not feel as isolated.
As a leader of a newly remote workforce, your role has shifted to being more mindful and understanding of your teams on a personal level. You have to be mindful of the individuals on your team and be aware of any shifts in morale and attitude. And yes, you still need to hold your team accountable to their work and the organization’s goals and objectives, but how you approach that will be the difference between a high performing remote team or a dysfunctional one. During this time as a leader, I encourage you to take this opportunity to come out this situation a better and stronger leader. Embrace this opportunity to improve yourself and your leadership skills. Seek out great books and publications books on Servant and Authentic Leadership.