‘Leading remote teams’ was not originally a topic I had considered writing about this month. For me, Covid-19 was just a mental construct until very recently. I laughed along with others at the rush for toilet-paper, pasta and rice in supermarkets.
But now our business is feeling the impact, as are so many other businesses in Australia and across the world.
The immediate and sensible reaction to COVID-19 containment from business was to immediately switch to become virtual teams by reducing, and in some cases eliminating, in-person business contact.
At Ariel Group Australia, we often advise organisations struggling to connect their global workforce or engage their virtual teams. Whether it’s unproductive meetings, failed collaborations or unengaged employees, the following leading remote teams tips will help you to make working virtually more meaningful and engaging.
So here they are under the acronym of R.E.A.C.H:
R: Be RESPONSIVE
When there are no “halls and walls” be mindful of the impact of working away from the team has on performance. Leaders need to demonstrate greater responsiveness to their team members. This means:
- Ensure technology needs for working remotely are met quickly;
- Check regularly to see what their priorities are;
- Not keep them waiting for too long;
- If required, route them to the right resources quickly;
- Be flexibly available and accessible in multiple ways;
- Implement mechanisms to ensure regular (daily) voice communication, at least between a subset of team members who may be struggling with working remotely.
E: Be EMPATHETIC
We at Ariel Group Australia have a ritual at the top of every meeting, be it a one-on-one meeting or a one-on-many. We check-in with each person to get a sense of how they are doing. To do this the leader makes sure to hear a few words from everyone—whether it’s about how they are dealing with Covid-19, how they’re feeling about the project, or what percent present they’re feeling, before digging into business. It helps all participants to get on the same page and also builds a personal connection and empathy between team members.
Reaching out virtually does take a little extra effort and thought…but when our colleagues feel included and engaged, they are more likely to put in discretionary effort.
A: Focus ATTENTION
When people are working from home, it is likely that they are susceptible to greater distractions. Pets, family members, visitors etc. can all draw attention away from the conversation. We would suggest the use of video whenever possible as being on camera helps your virtual colleague(s) to be more present, involved and attentive. It reminds you that they are present, even if they are not talking.
Here are Ariel’s tips for how to show up with impact on webcam:
- Make “eye contact” by looking directly into the camera. You don’t have to stare the whole time, but aim to look into the camera on a regular basis rather than at the microphone or your own image. If you have a script to follow, keep it close to the camera.
- Keep movements small and slow. Due to close proximity to the webcam, even minor movements will be dramatically exaggerated and can become blurry.
- Position a soft light to shine on your face at eye-level. Lights that shine to one side of your face or behind you can cast you completely in shadow and serve to distract others.
- Use a simple background—and check it! A plant or a nice picture can show your personality, but a busy background will distract your audience. Clean off your white board or find a quiet corner away from foot traffic. It’s also prudent to check for visible trash or confidential materials, too.
- Remember…you’re on camera. Glance in the mirror prior to joining the meeting. Are you wearing pajamas? Have stuff in your teeth? Try pausing your feed if you need to take care of personal business.
C: Create CONNECTION
The absence of “halls and walls,” can create disconnection. Managing team members in offsite locations requires taking more care than does managing co-located teams. Leaders need to pay attention to things they might take for granted in non-remote situations. They cannot rely on the casual walk-by conversation to learn what is going on, and developing relationships aren’t as three dimensional as they might be when team members are co-located.
Create connection by building links between remote team members, the rest of the team, and the organization as a whole. Here are some thing you may consider as a leader of a remote team:
- Embrace your role as chief communicator;
- Identify appropriate technology connections;
- Look beyond technology in order to create connections;
- Identify team members who must be closely connected in order to achieve results, and build their connections;
- Build rituals that expand connections in virtual meetings (for example, continue to include birthday celebrations where everyone buys a cup cake).
H: Be HELPFUL
Virtual leaders must make themselves available, be intentional with starting conversations, and constantly be honing their listening skills. Without the benefit of “seeing someone around” in person and the body language and eye contact that comes with it, it can be challenging to truly understand how remote workers are feeling. Ask questions to get them to articulate what’s on their mind, listen for their values, and then use what you learn to tailor your approach.
Provide your support to individuals and team success by anticipating any help that will be needed and know the needs of each team member at all times.
The success of leaders operating in this whitewater created by Covid-19 depends on their ability to lead remotely located teams and individuals. Leaders must establish effective working relationships with and among team members, communicate all aspects of the business and the work, build innovation and creativity, and drive performance and results. When the team is remote, and sometimes with little or no face-to-face contact between individuals or the team as a whole, the challenge of leadership just got a whole lot more difficult.
If you would like further advice or assistance in leading remote teams, contact Ariel Group Australia today.