Working from home can result in increasing efficiency but the real challenge is that it results in a decrease in engagement, collaboration and teamwork. People can drift apart and productivity starts to suffer. How can leaders make up for the loss of this sense of community?
Building a group of individuals into a cohesive and high performing team is one of the most challenging leadership challenges. The quality of relationships between individual team members accounts for up to 80% of the team’s success factors? Trust is the key. Trust between team members and between team members and the leader.
For a remote team of people to work well, you need some face-to-face meetings to build and maintain relationships and the sense of collective purpose. When safe to do so under Covid, a blended approach of face to face and virtual team meetings will build and maintain that glue of trust.
Work between team meetings is particularly critical with remote teams. Don’t forget, the telephone was the first remote working tool. In my opinion, it remains the tool of choice for the regular check in call and communication between team meetings. As a leader, you will need more telephone calls between meetings. Giving your team an input into the agenda. Asking them what they want to get out of the meeting. Breaking down particular tasks and asking sub “thinking pairs” to work on particular aspects of a project and report back to the team is a great way of ensuring collaboration, progress and teamwork. Giving people responsibility for working on tasks they excel at and love doing is key.
Using the appropriate technology well
Despite all its challenges, we are fortunate today, to have an array of effective communication technology. Leaders need to select the right tools for the particular meeting. I find Zoom or Microsoft Team meetings work really well when you have a good internet connection. Get the basics right – camara position at eye level, good lighting, good speakers/sound, an uncluttered background. The Leader must be both competent and confident in using the new technology. For leaders who are struggling with the new technology, asking a member of your team to help provides a great reverse mentoring opportunity.
Six Tips for effective Remote Team meetings
1. Keep everybody positively engaged
2. The smaller the group, the better.
Once you go over 4/5, the law of diminishing engagement sets in. For larger groups/teams, use the breakout room facility for breakout groups and thinking pairs.
3. One-hour meeting
People’s attention span at virtual meetings is limited – meetings should last no more than I hour.
4. Insist everybody has Video on:
Insist on everybody having their video switched on - unless there is bad internet connectivity. Switched off, it takes away from the dynamic and openness of the team. It removes key nonverbal communication through eye contact and facial expression.
5. Present concepts and ideas visually
Avoid sharing long text documents. Present your ideas or proposals on a highly visual slide using pictures or graphics with minimal writing.
6. Breakdown Assistance
Have a contingency plan if the internet connection breaks down. Don’t panic. A telephone conference can also work well.
The way we work has changed. The day where people are all in the same building is gone. At least for now. They are somewhere else for some or all of the time -working from home or on the road.
Leading at a distance can be a lonely job. You can feel isolated. You may be less effective and do not get the same satisfaction. You miss the face to face meetings. You may feel a certain lack of control. You may worry what your remote team members are doing.
Get over it.
The core elements of leadership remain the same. If you lead, your team will follow. Leading remotely just requires you to do things differently. Leaders need to connect with their employees in a deeper more meaningful way. Remember they may be struggling too.
Leadership depends of good communication
As a leader, you are reliant on others to get your work done to deliver on your organisations mission and goals. Leaders need to communicate better and more often than before. Practically all the key of elements of successful leadership are dependent on good communication - relationship building, developing a shared vision, leading change, setting and achieving goals and targets, influencing, coaching, collaboration, teamwork, project management, providing feedback – the list goes on and on.
Effective communication is challenging, even in normal times. It is not only about the scheduled one to one and team meetings. Much of the communication of office-based teams is informal. It happens organically – dropping in for a quick chat to a colleague, meeting over a cup of coffee or over lunch. None of this happens with remote working.
Communication in the virtual world
Leaders need to be clear on how they can communicate effectively in this new virtual world. They will have to work harder at it, spending more of their time and energy to keep their people engaged and motivated.
Effective communication should always start with the other person – people centred leadership. Empathy is of real value when communicating with your remote team. That awareness and ability to understand and appreciate the thoughts and feelings of your people. They may also be struggling to cope with the new changed dynamic. They can feel lonely and isolated. They too miss the interaction with their work colleagues. The therapy of the canteen is missing. The buzz of being part of a team may have dimmed. They may be trying to juggle work and mind young children.
The message leaders need to deliver has to be positive in this work environment. Otherwise engagement and productivity will suffer. Every person is different. The wise leader will adopt a leadership style that is best suits the personality of the particular person. For example, extraverts may struggle with the isolation. Others may be fine on their own. Different strokes for different folks.
Six Communication Tips for Remote Leaders
1. Connect at a deeper, more human level
Building and maintaining rapport is fundamental to all good relationships. When two people meet, you know instinctively when there is good rapport. You see it in the body language. It starts with a warm firm handshake and a nice welcoming smile – well it did pre Covid-19 and hopefully will again soon. There is a certain matching or alignment of each person’s posture. None of this is possible with remote working. It is difficult to read the nonverbal signs we are programmed to read face to face. Communication issues can result and trust can breakdown. Today, leaders need to connect on a deeper more human level with their remote people.
2. Develop your Coaching Skills
How do you connect with your remote team? A leader in today’s world needs to have good coaching skills – giving undivided attention, active listening, asking incisive questions, encouragement and providing feedback are essential tools in today’s remote leader’s toolbox. Showing that you value their opinion or contribution is empowering. Don’t forget to show appreciation when the opportunity presents itself. It may be as simple as giving your remote team member some flexibility in how they balance their work with family responsibilities.
3. Focus on the well-being of your employees
Successful leaders have a genuine concern for the wellbeing of their employees. We are wired to pick up subtle clues from each other in milliseconds. Leaders need to be conscious of creating that space where people feel comfortable sharing openly, not just about work, but on family, interests and small talk as well. Where people feel safe. There is a high correlation between psychological safety and work performance. The more people believe you care about them as human beings, the more they feel valued, the more likely they will open up and share their problems, worries and dreams. And the better they will perform.
4. Don’t be afraid to show vulnerability
You can never completely mask the uncertainty you feel. You shouldn’t even try. There is a certain strength in showing vulnerability particularly now in the Covid crises. Admitting you don’t know. Cultivating a tolerance for not knowing and not having all the answers can be paradoxically reassuring to your staff at this time. Lead with compassion creating a ‘we are all in this together’ mindset.
5. Continue to invest in the growth of your team
It is important that leaders continue to invest in the development of people. Successful leaders support their people in knowing and growing the things they are good at. Encourage innovation. Give people extra responsibility. They will thrive on it. For example, giving senior people a leadership role as a mentor to young people creates a win win. It is motivational for the senior person. It gives the new recruit the opportunity to learn and develop, working with experienced people. There is enormous growth in on line learning. This is an opportunity for leaders to encourage this self-directed learning.
6. Check in weekly with your team
A Regular check in with your remote people is important. People appreciate the standing weekly phone call. Even if it is only for 10 minutes. It provides reassurance, a sense of purpose and helps people feel they are valued and that they have an important role in protecting the business.
At important crossroads in our careers, we may receive a wakeup call telling us that something has changed. The wakeup call could be as a result of losing your job, being passed over for promotion, or perhaps coming up to retirement. New graduates often get the wakeup call when they leave college life.Covid 19 has given us all a wakeup call. David Alred, Sports coach advocates a “better than before” mindset for sports people rehabilitating following serious injury. His advice is equally relevant after any setback - like Covid 19. The enforced time out offers an opportunity to improve – a no limits mindset.
In my work as a Career and Interview Coach, incisive questions are by far the best way to support my clients think through the career options.
1. What kind of job or career do you want?
Our Why or purpose. We are all different. Finding a suitable career is governed by our career drivers. I find most people are vague on what they are looking for in a career.
The following questions can give signals.
What do you love doing?
What do you excel at?
What gets you results?
What are your transferable skills?
A good CV projects your knowledge, experience, skills set and attributes. I find most people are not fully aware of what they have to offer. They get somebody to write up their CV. They don’t have the conviction in what they can offer. Your CV should be edited for every job you are applying for. The focus should be on your value proposition - how you can add value to the particular business or organisation.
2. What organisations would value your particular attributes and skills and be great places to work?
In the age we live in, it is relatively easy to target organisations who recruit people like you. Do your research. Organisations that treat their staff with respect and fairness. Where there is career progression.
3. How can I build my CV?
A good job will allow you to gain experience, develop new skills, new attitudes and new capabilities. Learning and development is a lifelong process. Successful people are always building their CV. They have a growth mindset. They volunteer for special projects. They participate in training courses.
4. How can I put my career plan into action ?
Once you have a broad outline of your career plan, you will need to convert this into specific goals. Goal setting is powerful. Opening a file and writing things down is important. Building the discipline to follow through on your goals is critical.
5. How can I build my network?
Somebody once said your net worth is equal to your network. Develop meaningful relationships with people who are leaders in their field. People you would like to work with. A small group of trusted people to connect with.
6. Who will support me?
We all need support. The importance of sharing your vision for maximum impact – when you have finished writing down your vision, share your vision with a good friend who you know will be positive and supportive.
Each time you share your vision, it becomes more real and attainable. Find a good coach who will be your partner on the journey.
I have put together my top tips that may be of help and guidance to students in making this important decision.