Absence makes the team grow stronger

By March 16, 2020 April 8th, 2020 Leadership, Performance

It looks like we might be seeing less of each other for a little while.  We didn’t need a virus to tell us that remote teams are a thing – many of us have been part of remote teams for years. But for the immediate future, we may all be part of a remote team.

Time is short and you may be feeling fraught so let’s keep this simple. Here are five things you can do if you are the team’s leader to ensure you don’t lose connection with colleagues, during times apart.

  1. Find ways to recreate the water cooler moments. Teams who work in the same physical space are used to catching up informally when they are in the kitchen, making a coffee or walking to get lunch.  The natural socialising happens without trying.  Remote teams have to make the time to speak about things other than work; otherwise it can all feel too transactional and robotic.  Include in your meetings and one to ones time at the beginning and end, just to engage and chat.
  2. Use video conferencing as much as you can.  It’s the nearest thing to the warm body experience and it allows you to see body language that may indicate how people are feeling.  Granted you can’t wear your onesie and have your cat wandering in and out of the room but the gain is worth the effort.  It also keeps people attentive.  Ban all other technology at the meeting in the way all good face to face meetings do, so that the only screen folks are staring in to is the one that connects them to you.
  3. At one to one catch ups, ask the most powerful question any manager can ask: “How are you?”  And allow time for the answer.  You may need to ask it more than once with people, to get beyond the standard response.  Isolation and loneliness can creep up on even the most independent remote worker.
  4. Make opportunities equal.  It is easy to overlook people who are self-sufficient and forget to tell them stuff or offer them chances to be involved on tasks and projects.  Some team members just stay in contact more, but it shouldn’t mean they hear about everything before others.  Be inclusive in your communication and don’t leave some people of things just because they’re out of sight.
  5. Encourage your team to manage their time differently. Remote working means you get more done in a shorter time. Fact. You don’t have the office traffic to contend with and so there are fewer interruptions. This means the day is likely to be shorter (or broken up a bit more than the typical 9-5) and that’s fine. Don’t clock watch or micro-manage. It’s unlikely they’re using the time to redecorate the spare room or watch box sets so a bit of self-management on expectations is important here. Remote working allows for periods of concentrated time that you don’t get in an open plan office. There has to be a payoff and the payoff is a shorter day.

And finally, when you are physically together again, make the most of what was learnt from remote working.  There may be some practices that work so well and lead to better results and happier people that they’re worth keeping. And for you as a manager, you can say that you have gained experience of managing remotely.  That’s one for the CV.