How to be a great leader for your team when they’re working from home.
Many leaders will soon find themselves leading remote teams in these difficult times.
While the initial focus is likely to be on ensuring that teams have the technology they need, it’s essential not to overlook the support and specific management tactics that leaders will need now as they transition to leading a team that’s working from home.
Not all leaders will realise that they will need to change the way they lead and they may be stuck in their ways, unable to flex to the challenge ahead. Others may be bewildered by the level of change they will need to operate at. Those who are aware of the need to adapt will cut short the inevitable trial and error phase, thanks to implementing leadership tools that will allow them to excel at this time.
Having been leading remote teams for over 15 years, here are my top 5 keys for leading a remote team:
Balance structure and flexibility. Think of the old-fashioned toy, the Slinky. It’s a metaphor we love at Lever, and each team member has a Slinky on their desk. It reminds us that working remotely is a balance between structure and flexibility. Some things need to be fixed to give us the framework to operate, yet a high degree of flexibility is also required. While this may feel counter-intuitive (remote teams are often put in a “flexible working” bucket), it’s having a balance between the two that will enable your teams to thrive.
Set your rhythm. The meeting and conversational rhythm will be crucial to the overall success of your remote team. Team members need to know when they will be supported and connected with people and for what purpose. This avoids endless meetings for meetings’ sake and sets clear expectations. At Lever, our rhythm includes:
- Daily toolbox
- Weekly team meetings
- Weekly 1 on 1’s with your leader
- Monthly team calls for community and connection
- Monthly news video
Review the number of people you lead and the time you will need to set aside for 1 on 1’s each week or month. Even if you “talk all the time”, these focused sessions can’t be substituted. Ideally have a set day for these in the calendar and run them in a batch so you can get into the flow. As an example, Wednesday is the team meeting day for me – I have 1 on 1’s and a weekly team meeting, with limited client conversations on this day.
Live in-meeting “pulse checks” build a team. We have specific agenda items on each of our rhythms above. The first item up on a team meeting call is a “pulse check”. This was modified from a technique used by Bain and Co. and shared in their book Sleeping with Your Smartphone. The pulse check involves asking five simple questions which everyone answers. These questions could be amended to suit your team and culture. At the moment, I’m adding in “How are your family and friends?”
Team members (including the lead, of course) answer on a scale of 1 to 5, usually with a short explanatory sentence for each. The questions are:
- How are you feeling?
- How much value are we delivering to our clients?
- How satisfied are you with your learning?
- Is the current workload right for you? (Picture attached!)
Of course, the questions could be modified to suit your requirements. For us, personal learning is a key focus and understanding each other’s workload is extremely important. If people are feeling a 3 or below, the team asks how they can support that person. What can we do as a team to lift them? Often being heard and knowing that others care is support enough.
Change your hat to suit. Each of our meetings has a purpose and framework. The leader needs to change their hat and have a specific focus for each connection. In addition, team members are clear on how to reach out for emergencies and escalations – those circumstances that warrant just picking up the phone either for a challenge or a chat. Without a proverbial “watercooler” you need to find a way to connect casually outside of work. For over two years we ran virtual morning teas every month. Each person took it in turns to share a recipe and everyone would make that dish wherever they were in the world. We would share the outcome via video and taste test over morning tea. It was separate from “work”, but vital for connection. We also learnt that in the Philippines, cheese seems to be in everything!
Have “person before process” as your mantra. This is especially important for your 1 on 1’s each week. There are bound to be lots of tactical items to discuss. One of the formats we follow for a 1 on 1 is BEFORE any tactical discussions, we connect with the “How are YOU?” question. This isn’t a quick, “Are you OK?”. This is “Before we get into our lists and discuss what needs doing, tell me how you are. What’s going on for you?” It’s an essential, at least once a week, personal check-in. Don’t be the kind of leader who is afraid or doesn’t have time to connect with your team personally. Particularly when working virtually, the 5-10 minutes that you spend really understanding your team member will pay dividends in multiple ways (not to mention it being the right thing to do!).
While the times are unprecedented and challenging beyond words, this could be an opportunity for many organisational leaders to redefine the way they lead and make significant cultural changes in a short space of time. Now is the time for remote leadership from wherever you are working.
To find out how we can support your leaders at this time, call Emma directly on +61 415 614 523.