Having been thrust into the big ‘remote working experiment’ managers are having to rapidly figure out how to lead a team in this new reality. At first, this can seem daunting but with a few basic guidelines and some proactive steps, it is feasible to turn this into an opportunity to enhance your leadership skills and your teams’ enjoyment and productivity.
Since remote working has been growing in momentum across the board and particularly in the IT domain there are plenty of organisations that have made mistakes and learned the lessons which enable others to build upon. Here at Archer Functional Programming we have been speaking with managers well practised in this approach and have whittled their advice down to the following points.
Daily team meetings
Having stand-up or Scrum meetings is regular practice while in the office so moving these to remote is straight forward. Your team needs to see you, and you need to see them.
Bookending each day with team meetings in video call format is a great way for you to stay connected with your team as well as for them to stay connected with each other. It also gives people an opportunity to outline their daily goals and to speak about achievements, this will give a real sense of accountability and purpose while also making sure no-one is drifting off script.
Communicate, communicate, communicate
It probably goes without saying that you should be in regular communication with your team. Being connected to a team as a remote person is key to retention.
Managers that are experienced managing fully remote teams say that they make a point of communicating through a variety of channels with each of their team members, at least 4 times every day. This could be a quick message, chat, a group call, an off-the-cuff check in or a structured one-to-one.
Finding the ideal cadence and type of communications that work best for your team may require some trial and error e.g. weekly/biweekly 1:1s or the mixture of team building and team actions.
Make use of Technology
Communication tools are abundant and are a simple way to keep everyone engaged. While email and text messages are a short-term solution, tools like Slack, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts are far better suited for collaboration and communication on an ongoing basis. A combination of instant messaging and video in-person time are required for the team to stay connected. Some of these collaboration tools are even available for free right now.
Set clear goals and manage expectations
Help your team figure out what they should focus on and create realistic expectations for their work. Remember that managing expectations pertain to you as a manager as well.
Set yourself and your team up for success by clearly stating the mission and break that into tasks then be clear on exactly how success will be measured.
That means defining the scope, deadlines, and deliverables for each task or project your team is working on.
Accomplishments over activity
It’s not possible to manage every aspect of the work done by a remote team. For what it’s worth, you shouldn’t be trying to manage every aspect of any team’s work regardless of the setting. This is especially true when your team is distributed across different locations.
Concentrate on what is being accomplished, if the team is meeting goals, then great. If not, you need to look into the situation further.
Ensure the tools are in place
Make sure your team has the technology and tools it needs to achieve their goals. This may involve investing in hardware, software and even high-speed internet connection. Do not assume that everyone has all of those things, and it’s your responsibility as a manager to make sure they do.
Figure out how to avoid multi-tasking. Video conferences instead of phone conferences hold everyone’s attention more fully. Encourage your team to stay in working mode and off email back-and-forth as much as is reasonable. Email trails with extensive “reply all” can be stifling on productivity.
Trust and be flexible
Understand that, especially in the current environment, your team has a lot going on. That’s not an excuse for not getting things done, but it is a reason to reconsider what productivity looks like. Some people will need flexibility around working hours, others may find different working patterns are more effective.
Trust your team and give them the freedom and flexibility to get work done on the schedule that helps them be the most productive. That’s good for your team in the long run anyway.
Be aware of the challenges:
Remote work is different from the ‘normal’ work structure in several ways. There can be benefits but there are also new challenges that you may be playing catch up on.
Having the office environment removed overnight is a dramatic change which people are going to adjust to in different ways. The sense of loneliness and isolation that can set in is important for everyone to be conscious of (especially given social distancing being practiced), so being willing to discuss the elephant in the room is a vital first step.
According to Buffer’s State of Remote Work report, these are the major challenges with remote work in general:
Make it personal & real
Empathize with and discuss your colleague’s life (family, activities, values, shared beliefs and most importantly their challenges). Since everyone is now remote and on video calls the playing field has been levelled with a reduced sense of hierarchy which is an opportunity to have more connected conversations with your team. Being willing to demonstrate vulnerability as a manager is critical since you need to be real (not putting on the work mask) in order to properly connect with people.
Share and celebrate success
Creating a conversation about individual accomplishments, team achievements and companywide successes are vital so people are aware of what is being achieved. When people are located together the good news disseminates organically and this needs to be carried into a remote work setting. It is even more important to hear about the good things that have been happening and to have our own achievements recognised while businesses are going through periods of change.
It’s fun to have fun
Remote working doesn’t mean that fun is no longer an option. Technology enables this now more than ever before, so it could be organising a quiz or games on apps such as Kahoot, Quizlet or AhaSlides or having an end of week wrap up video call with optional beer/wine to create the Friday feeling or just a competition to see who can turn up with the most outrageous hat to a meeting.
Building community is important to developing an engaged remote team so get as creative as you like and encouraging your team to take it on themselves is empowering.
The transition to remote work has happened very quickly so adapting to our new reality has become a necessity. This guide offers a route through this journey and if we all think of it as an opportunity to improve and take teams forward, we may well come out of this in a better place.
We have been through this journey ourselves in Archer Functional Programming and are helping lots of our clients with this transition. Our goal is to assist as many organisations as possible in order to support the Maltese and European IT sector.