How To Lead Effectively When Your Team's Gone Remote

Updated: May 21, 2020

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In response to the uncertainties presented by Covid-19, many companies have asked their employees to work remotely.  

If you've never worked from home, this can be a challenge. The new policies leave many employees — and their managers — working out of the office and separated from each other for the first time.

In business, leaders must be adaptable to unforeseen circumstances, a crisis like this requires managers to build their teams effectively to ensure that morale & performance remains high.

That is why it is a good practice for companies to come up with regular team building activities to enhance the oneness of the group and to build a feeling of solidarity and pride of work. 

However, how can we continuously build our teams while being in different locations?

#1 Use Technology To Inspire & Connect 

The real challenge around remote work is finding ways for employees to feel connected to each other and the company when they are physically apart. 

Use remote-friendly software tools (Google Hangouts, Slack, Zoom, Trello) to regularly connect with your team, especially when it comes to getting work done and feeling less isolated.

The most successful companies incorporate face-time into their remote culture, whether it’s taking their 1:1’s over Zoom (rather than just a faceless phone call) or hosting virtual company-wide meetings.

Text-based media is generally more useful for sharing basic daily information, while video chats and telephone conversations are better for brainstorming, problem-solving and relationship-building.

Face to face is 10 times more effective than the phone, and the phone is 10 times more effective than e-mail.

Making good use of video is a best practice and can be a substitute for face-to-face communication. Know that as a team, you are made up of individuals from different cultures and would have various ideas on how to improve the way your company operates. There is bound to be friction of some kind since your team is made up of different individuals. 

Team building aims to avoid this and bridge the gap by coming up with activities which bond the group. Now that your team has gone remote, think of fun activities to break the ice and personalizing the interaction between members is a great way to start a virtual meeting. 

To help kick start team meetings, do an icebreaker at the start of your team meetings every week. Even though you’ve been working together for a couple of years and feel pretty connected already, there are always more interesting tidbits to learn about each other. 

Some recent favourites include:

  • Who was the last artist you searched for on your music streaming service of choice?

  • Put these morning routine items in order: breakfast, coffee/tea, open up your laptop

  • What are you reading right now?

  • If you could be in the movie of your choice, what movie would you choose and what character would you play? Why? 

  • If you could only choose one vacation destination, where would you pick and why?

  • Think of one word that describes X (whatever topic is at hand) and share it with the group. 

#2 Setting up employees for success, no matter where they work

Extends office perks to the home by allowing employees to expense one meal a day and providing an equipment stipend to outfit their remote workspace. You may also order Care Packages for your team and get them delivered to each team member. 

Virtual office team building (in which “care packages” can be sent in advance to be opened and enjoyed simultaneously) is a thoughtful touch to bridge connectedness.

While these types of events may sound artificial or forced, experienced managers of remote workers (and the workers themselves) report that virtual events help reduce feelings of isolation, promoting a sense of belonging.

Policy shifts like these allow companies to still embrace company values and help employees remain connected to the company while minimizing disruptions during abrupt transitions. 

Remote work is not a downgrade from being in-office, but another version of what work should look like. It’s easy to play these off as ‘extra perks’ — but it’s really about setting up employees for success, no matter where they work.

#3 Review Company Goals

- You all know that you need a job to make a living and earn profits for the company. Still, not everyone is clear about what the company's core all about

- Your main focus for team building should be a review of the employee's orientation of the company's goal and objectives

- If you produce goods, what is the product really all about? What message do you want to impart to people as a company?

- If you deal with services, what is your main goal and what service do you actually provide?

- By reviewing these goals, a team member would have a fresh outlook about the company, making them strive harder to reach that common goal

Set up 15-30 Mins Virtual coffee chats or Learning Circles to address these questions collaboratively.

#4 Sync Your Team's Remote Working Playlist

Collaborative playlists on Spotify or Apple Music are a great way for teams to create an upbeat or soothing playlist for use during their remote working hours.  Anyone on the team can listen to it and everyone can help curate it to make the playlist theme suitable for your team. 

#5 Improve The Team's Ability To Solve Problems

Every company is faced with challenges every now and then. One way to forge team solidarity is to look into past problems and see how they were solved. Ask each team member how they felt that the problem could be solved? This would let a leader know which team member has good problem solving, analytical and critical thinking skills.

The team members may be asked to share ideas and decide together which solution would suit the problem best. 

This is another way to build team solidarity remotely.

#6 Forge The Support And Trust Level Between Team Members

A team leader should have people and management skills. However, it is still important for the leader to earn the trust of his team members. Supporting each other is a vital quality that a team should have.

Both managers and their employees often express concerns about the lack of face-to-face interaction during remote work. Supervisors worry that employees will not work as hard or as efficiently (though research indicates otherwise, at least for some types of jobs).

Many employees, on the other hand, struggle with reduced access to managerial support and communication. In some cases, employees feel that remote managers are out of touch with their needs, and thereby are neither supportive nor helpful in getting their work done.

Provide encouragement and emotional support

Especially in the context of an abrupt shift to remote work, it is important for managers to acknowledge stress, listen to employees’ anxieties and concerns, and empathize with their struggles. If a new remote employee is clearly struggling but not communicating stress or anxiety, ask them how they’re doing. Even a general question such as “How is this remote work situation working out for you so far?” can elicit important information that you might not otherwise hear. Once you ask the question, be sure to listen carefully to the response, and briefly restate it back to the employee, to ensure that you understood correctly. Let the employee’s stress or concerns (rather than your own) be the focus of this conversation.

#7 Apply The Remote Team Building Activities In The Day-To-Day Operation Of The Company

In the end, after all the activities that the team has performed together remotely, there should be a sharing of experiences and thoughts on what each member has learned about their peers and about the company's goal. These should make them aware of how they can further contribute to the company's success in the future.

Remember that the whole organization is a team working towards the company's main goal. 

Although working from home presents its own challenges, the fact that employees will save time by skipping the long office commute also presents new opportunities for organizations. Especially for customer-centric companies, this allows teams to dedicate that extra time in finding ways to improve the customer journey.

Every team should feel empowered to go out of their way to delight customers during a turbulent period —  whether it’s finding time to develop a more robust pipeline during prime morning business hours or having more hands on deck to cut the support ticket timing into half. As a result of a remote workforce, we’re seeing innovative organizations give their time back to their customers in the form of building new training resources or more efficient support services.  Ask yourself, what can your team do better in this crisis?

If you are looking for team development, leadership development, team building or character growth activities for your teams, connect with us today.