We now appreciate how fragile the world economic structure is, a virus shows up, and like the movie plot for Contagion, everyone’s world changed. Unlike the movie, this is not going to be resolved in 90mins with a hero vaccine created by one man.
Life has changed, and the opportunity for leadership is all around us. Role-models are popping up across the world, from Prime Minsters like Boris, Leo Varadkar and YouTubers Ninja Nerd Science and Mark Rober and many others who are helping make information available and make tough decisions for society.
Working from home will minimise contact to slow down the rate of infection, I, like most of you, have to figure out how best to work in teams and lead teams remotely.
We know from research that teams that work together in the same office complain that they rarely perform like a high-performance team. This problem will become a significant challenge now that more organisations are remote working and have to learn to use different ways to interact and somehow improve their performance as a team.
If you are leading a team, you are hopefully asking, “where do I start?”
To begin, you have to go back to the simple building blocks of teams.
A capable team is one that brings quality inputs to their meetings, has a process that works these effectively to produce results that move their work forward. These three elements are all measures of performance:
Inputs – Process – Results
Let’s focus on Inputs.
To get the inputs right when you move to work remotely requires that you develop and implement a communications strategy.
For your team, to generate maximum inputs, there needs to be trust, rapport and credibility.
Trust develops through the dozens of rituals we engage in each day. Rituals are the actions or types of behaviour we regularly and invariably follow every day at the office. In typical settings these will include:
- Walking together to the kitchen and getting coffee
- Chatting at your desk
- Getting lunch together
- Adding personal stuff to your desk
- Stand-up meetings
- and Small-talk
Now that we are working remotely, it will be easy to lose sight of these essential trust builders. When working remotely, it’s crucial to think about rituals and what you can do to make the invisible visible.
You have already heard about groups doing virtual happy-hour-Fridays, this may sound like a crazy stunt, but it is on the right track. Virtual lunches, coffee breaks and funny half-hours will help your team develop new rituals that will help maintain and build trust.
Make time for small talk, for some of you this will sound like the antithesis of productive use of time, but let me assure you nothing makes the team more productive than trust.
We use Small-talk to transmit a lot of valuable information informally; small talk allows people to be friendly at work without getting too personal. Small talk helps people communicate feelings, sentiment, urgency and importance within accepted social guidelines.
Another consideration is visual cues. Almost everyone personalises their work area. When we look at someone else’s desk, the clutter on it acts as a reminder of what else is happening in people’s lives.
One remote team I know makes sure every team member turns their camera on for all meetings. They have developed a fun ritual of changing either the room they are working in or some elements behind them. The team spend the first few minutes of each meeting discussing the changes and making light-heated jokes about what they see and what it means.
When the team is not on video calls, you still have to have to think about maintaining the buzz that happens so naturally in an office. CHAT applications can be a great substitute and are easier to track than email.
A lot of teams we work in use SLACK and set different channels for random, watercooler/coffee dock, as well as specific work projects. Using channels in this way allows team members to continue to have playful banter, to chitchat about their weekend stuff and ask quick clarifying questions of one another without having to wait for a slower reply through the task management system or email. This division of content reduces clutter and allows for a free flow of ideas that helps the team maintain rapport.
At one team I work with they have a “random” channel for sharing photos, gifs, jokes, or random chats. These kinds of strategies help build those interpersonal bonds and connections that remind us we all have real lives outside of work. For example, I know a team that use WhatsApp as their virtual watercooler, serval times a day someone will instigate a check-in, and encourage others to do the same. Sometimes they challenge each other to make a video clip or post themselves singing a song with fun pictures of family or pets.
If you want to build camaraderie and rapport, consider the impact of everyone submitting a video as a Minion or Superhero singing a summer anthem
Chat apps are easy to set up and easy to maintain. Work with your team to select the tools they think work best for each need.
Lastly, building credibility means helping each team member maintain and understanding of how everyone’s work is interconnected.
How you decide to communicate tasks will impact this last element needed to get the quality INPUTS.
Two things are essential to consider; most importantly, the ability for the team to interact with each other’s tasks and secondly the visibility of work.
Interaction facilitates perceptions of interdependence. One activity that does this well is getting the team build a timeline; this allows them to experience how others see their work and why they have chosen deadlines and start-times. Timelines help facilitate conversations about the help and support needed from your teammates. Miro board is a great tool that enables online brainstorming to mimic in-room whiteboarding better than most collaboration tools. It is an excellent way to problem solve and use virtual post-its to gather ideas and look for patterns. This is the kind of virtual space needed to build credibility among the team member before they get into solving work problems and delivering tasks.
Secondly, making sure everyone’s work is visible. It is an essential aspect for maintaining a connection to progress, peer pressure and peer support. Applications such as Trello, Asana and others help a team see how their work is progressing and how interdependent their results really are.
building your remote team into a performance powerhouse starts with your comms strategy. Making time for small-talk sets the tone that you value people first and tasks second. Rituals reinforce the bonds between team members and inventing new rituals for your remote team is key. Chat facilitates quick clarifying questions and mimics the office buzz; it also is a barometer of the health of the team; lots of chat equals a healthy team. And lastly Task, team members must build a shared understanding of how their work is interconnected. Interaction is a critical element in allowing team members to connect the dots as well as developing a real sense of mutual accountability.
As the leader of a remote team, your role is to develop strategies that turn remote into a competitive advantage.
Connect with us to arrange a free webniar on leading remote teams: firstname.lastname@example.org