Leading Teams Remotely During COVID-19
We're currently conducting a poll we call "Defining the New Normal." Its purpose is to uncover how teams are affected by and responding to…well, all of 2020. A recurring theme in the responses indicates that people are struggling to lead their remote teams. Never fear, we're here to offer suggestions around just that!
Many companies incorrectly assume that when they go remote, their teams will turn on Netflix, play loads of Candy Crush, and productivity will tank. That's simply not true. People don't have the stress of commuting. They tend to be far more productive and take less time off. But what teams need when working remotely is clear communication, finding balance, and thoughtful leadership.
Here's how you can guide your team with confidence, especially surrounding crisis or great change.
1. Communicate Clearly
Take the time to communicate. Only 10% of communication is the words we use, 30% is sounds or tonality, and a whopping 60% is body language. No wonder remote communication is so confusing! Emails only give you 10% of the message, and phone calls allow us to hear the tone. So Zoom is the answer? Not quite. Even video conferencing leaves some opportunity for miscommunication as we aren't able to read all the micro-messages we could see in person. I love this quote:
"I apologize for such a long letter - I didn't have time to write a short one."― Mark Twain
Mix it up. With smaller teams, ask people how they best communicate and try to communicate with them that way. For larger organizations, rotate between phone calls, emails, and chat, dependent on time-sensitivity, topic, and purpose (like Slack, Microsoft Teams, Hangouts Chat, etc.) As we mentioned before, each communication style has its pitfalls, so it's important to have occasional video call check-ins to check for understanding and well-being. Set the expectation with your team how each of your internal systems will be used and when. For example, when you're getting a chat you then can expect that would be more time-sensitive than an email. Tailor this to the best workflow for the team.
Avoid 'Zoom overwhelm.' Remember those micro-messages you miss out on during video chat? Those are the very same reason you may be tired after a Zoom call. Your brain is still scanning for micro-messages, but the video cannot provide them. Do yourself and your team a favor. Encourage people to find balance in their communication, take a walk on a call, etc.
2. Find Balance
Prioritize self-care for yourself and others. This is a really stressful time. There's a pandemic. The economy is in flux. Layoffs are happening, which affects morale. But burnout, stress, and anxiety are, by far and away, the highest areas of concern for those in our poll. Make sure you're communicating the resources your staff has for mental health and more. Do an occasional wellness check. Some people don't do well working alone, and knowing that can help you support your team as they need it. The human element is very important during times of great change. Your teams will be grateful for the support.
Be flexible. One of the biggest challenges for teams going remotely during this time is supporting team members with children. Because of the quarantine, childcare can be difficult to impossible to find. With kids off of school during the summer months, they require the attention of their parent(s). How is your company going to adjust? Communication is key here. Ignoring this issue or expecting the same schedule pre-COVID-19 is just not attainable for some people with children right now. So then what? Ignoring issues brought up by COVID-19 also risk affecting overall morale. Consider asking your staff what issues they're having, find out if they have difficulty working during certain hours because of their children's schedules, and see what can be done about it. Perhaps that person can make up hours after the children go to bed.
3. Display Thoughtful Leadership
Set expectations, then follow through. What systems do you use for video calls? Do you have weekly check-in meetings with your team? What attire or attitude is expected on video calls? Are dress or attitude more casual now, or is it business as usual? What happens if these expectations are not met?
Check in about once a week. In a survey conducted by our team, 61% of respondents wanted once weekly communication from leadership on COVID-19 and how the team is adjusting to changes surrounding it. That says that most people want communication, just not too much or too little of it.
Have a plan for remote work post quarantine. In our same poll, 45% of respondents thought they'd be working remotely half of their workweek. On a recent webinar, it was interesting to see that people were all over the map with their preferred work location. It was split - some didn't want to work remotely at all, some wanted half-remote, and fewer wanted to work 100% remotely. What this shows us is that people crave the in-person interaction, but remote work offers some benefits. Given the health crisis, there is a lot of stress surrounding in-person work. It's been proven productivity actually goes up when teams go remote. How can your team benefit from shifting its old policies?
Listen. Talk to your people. Get feedback. Do something about that feedback. Hear how they're doing on a human level. Doing so creates strong morale, engages your people, increases productivity, and increases retention and loyalty. Doing so normally is important, but it's more important now than ever.
During all of this, don't forget to take good care of yourself. And if you'd like to participate in our survey, click here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/dnn_social.
Sarah Hunt is the Director of Client Relations at David Couper Consulting. She has a background in creative pursuits, marketing, and enjoys writing the occasional blog. She lives in Los Angeles with her boyfriend and their sassy cat, Zoey.