Tips on Leading Remotely in the Work From Home Era
With the advent of COVID-19 and the resulting #StayAtHome orders, remote work has become quite the popular topic. Whether it be the multitudes of individuals struggling with the transition to their #WFH routine, the managers struggling with leading remote teams, or the droves of people who are hoping and praying that their employers do not force them back into a brick and mortar office when the coast is clear; the topic of working remotely seems to be on everyone’s minds.
Leading a company full of gifted employees working remotely across North and South America after nearly two decades spent in leadership of an organization that required physical presence in the office, has been quite refreshing. I have long believed that where people get their work done shouldn’t matter as long as each of them is working hard and delivering every day. Affording your team the flexibility to work where and when they need to be is not just employee centric, but company-centric as well.
Our remote model allows our team members to achieve a much better life-work balance, increases their commitment to the company and maximizes their productivity. The resulting motivation yields the creativity and innovation that assures that the highest quality work product is produced each and everyday. This is why I founded Phoenix Lifestyle Marketing Group predicated on the resolute commitment to remote work.
Nonetheless, I must admit that running a company powered by remote work is not without its challenges. Although it is not as convenient for me as it was when I had immediate access to my entire leadership team, I realize that my convenience is secondary to theirs, as it should be. I work for them. Not the other way around. This simple, but powerful fact, has resulted in some key learning about what we can do to effectively lead teams during this WFH era. Here are my 5 tips for leading remotely that can help TEAMS to remain productive in the ‘new normal.’
TRUST YOUR TEAM
If you can’t trust your employees to work flexibly, why hire them in the first place? I have heard horror stories about the lack of trust for people currently WFH in the wake of the pandemic. Keystroke monitoring, people concerned about running out to the store to grab food and supplies for their families during the ‘workday.’ Seriously Folks? As if work during a global pandemic isn’t stressful enough, right? Allow your employees to set their own schedules, within clearly outlined parameters, so that they can efficiently and effectively complete their work while balancing their other life priorities.
ENGAGE CONSISTENTLY AND TRANSPARENTLY
Ensuring that you keep your #WFH team members in the loop so that they don’t feel like they are on an island alone can be a unique challenge. Keeping everyone informed is as much about timing and delivery, as it is about transparency and clarity. Without a well-developed communication strategy, even sharing an exciting update haphazardly could be detrimental to morale. As a leader, it’s also your responsibility to create an environment that fosters regular, two-way communication. This is not limited to status meetings but should also include making the scheduling of one-on-one check-ins the norm. I also keep an open-door policy to ensure that my team feels comfortable to reach out to me with questions or thoughts, whether work related or not.
AVOID UNNECESSARY INTERRUPTIONS
I recall a time in my career when a fellow member of the leadership team would regularly announce people’s names over the office-wide intercom system to ‘report to his office.’ This type of interruption was detrimental to morale because it implied that whatever those employees were working on was less important than whatever question or topic was driving the need for this impromptu meeting. All of the productivity that results from remote work can be undermined by an unscheduled non-emergency phone/video call. It also can inadvertently communicate a lack of importance for that activity which the they may be currently engaged. Encourage your team to use their calendars to update their availability. Ensure that they include business meetings, projects, and personal needs such as lunch, homeschool check-ins, etc. This will help you to determine when is the best time to reach out to your team member.
MAKE USE OF TECHNOLOGY AND TOOLS
Video conferencing and project management tools are your friends. These tools do not only help to streamline the work, but they also can be great mediums to help you to stay connected with your team. We use Microsoft Teams, and it is a great tool to achieve all of the the above. At The Phoenix, we are committed to enabling video during virtual meetings. Even in, and more accurately especially with, remote work, body language and eye contact are important components of communication. Our team also makes it a point to begin and end our meetings by sharing anecdotes or general chit chat. When there are no water cooler or lunch room conversations, and the typical small talk on the walk to the conference room are left in the brick and mortar office, it is necessary to actively make intentional connections.
SCHEDULE SOME FUN
Let’s face it, all work and no play isn’t good for any company culture. As organizations struggle with the transition to #WFH, it’s pretty easy to get lost in a sea of team status meetings, client conferences and project workstreams. The silly conversations and funny episodes that happened in the hallways during ‘the time before’ were an integral part of the way that meaningful, emotional connections were made among your team. Although it is necessary to set clear expectations for work projects, it is equally important to remember to ensure that your team remains connected on a personal level too. Team happy hours, surprise and delight activities and team game days are a great way to keep your team engaged. Have some fun!