By Adrian Johansen
When the country went into lockdown in March 2020, millions of American workers found themselves suddenly learning to work from home. And that meant managers nationwide were figuring out how to lead teams they weren’t likely to see again for weeks, if not months.
Now, many states have eased their restrictions and businesses are opening their campuses once again. As coronavirus rates continue to spike, however, it’s entirely possible that the majority of workers will choose to continue, or return to, teleworking.
For managers, that’s probably a mixed blessing. One the one hand, it’s more likely to keep employees safe and teams up and running. After all, studies show that, contrary to all expectations and commonsense, perhaps, remote workers are more efficient and productive than on-ground workers, producing on average 1.4 more workdays per month than their traditional counterparts.
But with the good, alas, inevitably comes some bad. And if you’ve been leading your team remotely for the last few months, then you likely already know what that is. Effective communication is often the Achilles heel of even the most talented remote teams.
Fortunately, there are things you can begin doing today to optimize the interaction with and within your remote teams for however long you and your staff will be telecommuting.
Whether your team is new to remote work or, as is more likely the case, you’ve been telecommuting for a while now, it’s not too late to put some ground rules in place. The first step is scheduling a daily check-in time for the entire team to connect virtually.
In fact, if you really want to go all in and make your virtual conversations seamless, productive and consistent, twice-daily meetings are a terrific idea, especially for teams like dev teams. Those daily meetings are going to help you feel more connected with your team and help your team feel more connected with you and each other.
Best of all, such frequent and consistent interaction is going to help the team stay focused and on track. It’s also going to ease information sharing and status updates by allowing your team to talk together in real-time, rather than waiting on an email or even instant messenger responses. And it’s going to help you and your team identify and resolve emerging problems before they can escalate into a full-blown crisis.
Trick Your Team’s Tools
No matter how consistent and well-strategized your remote communication plan might be, it’s not going to work if you don’t have the right tools. And that doesn’t mean just one good tool. It means a suite of well-chosen instruments to ensure that your team has the resources needed for any work task.
Whatever your particular industry may be, chances are your team is going to need, at a minimum, a tool for securely sharing and signing documents, a calendar, and to-do lists for the entire time to see and track.
Call in the Cavalry
The simple fact is that, whether you’re leading a team on-ground or remotely, supporting effective communications is tough. Odds are unless you’re leading a team of one, you’re going to be faced with lots of different styles for engaging and sharing information.
And unless you are specifically trained in this arena, it may not always be easy to recognize each individual team member’s needs or style. That’s why recruiting someone with this particular background in communications leadership can be a tremendous help in leading your team.
If that’s not possible, then, selecting a candidate from your team to recommend for just this kind of training can be a fantastic investment in your team’s future. After all, some amount of remote work may well be a fact of life for a while, at least until a corona virus vaccine is found.
Have Rules, but Also Have Fun!
Optimizing engagement with and between your remote team means striking that delicate balance between setting (and enforcing) the rules and knowing when to ease up a bit. It’s important to ensure that your team is clear on processes and expectations.
And that should include establishing, and enforcing, clear standards on what should be communicated, when, and how. At the same time, your team needs you to inject some fun in this trying time. So let your inner softy show from time to time.
Once or twice a week, shake things up a bit by surprising your team during one of your virtual meetings. Send them an e-gift card for an Uber lunch delivery or arrange for a treat-filled care package to arrive at each employee’s door just before the start of your meeting so that your team can have an online office party. Arrange for a trivia night or online film fest with your team and their families. The possibilities are nearly endless, and a whole lot of fun!
Leading a remote team certainly has its advantages. But it takes planning and care to make communication one of them. With a bit of strategy and a lot of commitment, though, you can transform what might be your virtual team’s most significant weakness into its greatest strength. What it requires, though, is consistency, clarity, the right tools, a little fun, and a lot of heart.