After a week or so in lockdown most of us starting to adjust to our new working from home routines and its challenges. Whilst there are literally thousands of articles on how to remain sane whilst working from home, this article is written for managers and team leaders on how to stay focussed, agile and productive. And how to lead remote teams effectively.
After the initial shock of operating in VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity) has subsided it’s time to unfreeze as managers and leaders and quickly adapt to the the new reality. We strongly recommend a short but serious time of self reflection and a short and sharp strategy session. We’re not talking about a lengthy period of star gazing here, but ask yourself and your team:
Time is of the essence here and you will need to engage your team quickly here.
It’s important to have a team of lateral thinkers in place and it’s on you to communicate often with your team. Everyone will be worried about their own future and family livelihood, and whilst government promises have given most of us some reassurance, food shortages in supermarkets, having to school and entertain your children 24/7 at home and worrying about your older or vulnerable family members is taking its toll on everyone emotionally.
It’s important to keep the team connected for more regular catch ups and ensuring that everyone feels valued and can contribute. Now is not the time to let your team sit around idly. Involve them in your strategy planning and challenges and give them specific research or creative tasks. Redeploy members and get them to support you with creating product or service prototypes quickly. Once you have your prototype up and running, test it with you customer base quickly.
At the end of this period we will be surprised how many businesses will start to embrace this new remote working business model. Here at Brightful we’ve been doing this for years. We’ve always believed in the benefits of remote working by being able to create amazing creative work due to a better work life balance. Face to face time is still important where possible, and we tend to meet up in person once or twice a month whenever possible (obviously not during government lockdown periods).
But to build a successful remote working culture requires careful managing of team members and their schedules. Great leaders carefully create a remote working culture that your team can thrive in. And you need to be clear on why you’re doing this and how it’s going to be sustainable in the long run.
Take the extra time you have now to define this for your business or team and make sure they have the tools they need to produce great work.
Deep work are those periods of time where you can cut yourself off and have deep focus on your work. It’s taking time to be creative and innovative and deliver highly satisfying work. But you will also face challenges when your team members cut themselves off or operate at different times. So be very clear and detailed with your briefings, deadlines and make people accountable for what they promised to deliver. Whilst a good brief might be an extra task for you to do, you will thank yourself later for it. Other strategies could include contracting on when everyone is committed or available.
For more shallow work video face time is crucial but be selective how many tools you’re using. We all are missing real social interactions, so do whatever you can do to keep morale high. A good sense of humour will always go a long way. Sharing funny content and making time for banter on slack or via WhatsApp is not just a good idea. It will bring your team members closer together and ease a lot of anxiety.
We can all do with a good laugh right now.
Over time you will notice that certain team members will flag at various times. Now, everyone will have a down day from time to time but if your culture is off your team will quickly become inefficient and unproductive.
Early warning signs can be missed deadlines, unengaged conversations or poor quality of deliverables and even poor diets and lack of exercise.
If you’re managing a large team you’re probably very busy. Think about having a ‘cultural manager’. Someone who is responsible to keep the team happy, close, connected and informed. It could be someone with a social media background or a well-liked project manager. Or perhaps someone from your admin team (your previous receptionist or office manager) that now has lots of capacity and is great at getting everyone involved and informed.
Don’t neglect to have open one-on-one conversations with your team members and give support where you can. Genuine empathy goes a long way in making team members feel valued. Mix it up with occasional team building sessions where people can share their challenges without feeling criticised or scrutinised.
Now this is very important: don’t set your team up to fail. As a manager you need to understand your peoples’ skills and weaknesses. Assigning them with tasks they are not experienced in, hate doing or are well-equipped for won’t boost their morale and will produce mediocre results.
Play towards your teams’ strengths.
Some team members will thrive on complex challenges, others will love being the cultural heart of the team. Some will love crunching data and filling out spreadsheets whereas others will be amazing at talking to customers. Understanding who is good at what and when is your secret weapon for success.
Once you have the right routine in place you will see that remote working has many advantages but also challenges you may or may not have expected.
If you find yourself flagging (and that will happen), make sure to have a network of other likeminded people or mentors in place that you can rely on.
Whether it’s a regular Twitter chat group, a weekly call or some great online writers that motivate you. If you’re down your team will notice and get nervous, so make sure to do all you can to keep your spirit up and positive to keep your team focussed and effective.