I’m sure that you would agree that we are living through a crisis. COVID 19 is impacting most peoples’ lives in ways that we would never have imagined a year ago. It is compromising health, jobs, and relationships. It is also requiring leaders and managers to rethink their roles and employ new ways of ensuring effective leadership in remote teams.
Our current situation is certainly a VUCA environment; volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous. It has increased the levels of stress and anxiety that people feel. As leaders and managers in this virtual environment, we need to check our mindset and challenge what we do. Above all, we must recognise our role in helping the people in our teams to adjust to the new remote reality and help them make sense of it. It also requires us to help them become more resilient in order to cope with the pressure they are under.
Six Tips for effective leadership In remote teams during Covid-19
1. Be Present
Be present for your people. In pre-Covid times it would be easy. You might have operated an open-door policy or been seen as you walked about the office. Sure, you would have to listen to folks as they came into your office or caught you as you walked about. Now, more than ever, it is critical that you are truly attentive to them. This means finding out from them what their world is like now and also what is important to them right now. It means treating people as individuals. Getting to know what motivates them, how they like to work, and how they like to communicate is a critical part of effective leadership in this environment.
2. Communicate Frequently, and Honestly
Talking about communication, I would suggest that you do so on a frequent basis. More than that, I believe you must do it simply, in an honest and open way, and be prepared to be personal. This means opening up about how you are feeling; being vulnerable if you like, because people need to know that you have the same concerns as they do. It helps to build rapport on the basis of shared experience.
3. Show Empathy
Linked to this is the need for you to be empathetic. Show the people you work with that you actually care about them and what they are going through. If you need them to be engaged, make sure that they feel that you appreciate and value them; sincerely, please! Understand that people are struggling with many issues, both personal and professional. One of the problems right now is that people working remotely as they are can begin to feel that they are just a cog in a big wheel, just expected to complete tasks. As a manager, you must time the time to connect and stay connected with your teams, ensuring effective leadership at all times.
4. Maintain Good Mental Health
I know there are some people who are enjoying everything about the current situation. I suspect, however, that there are just as many who are struggling to balance their new work/life balance. This issue is of particular prevalence in remote teams. Consequently, as well as being empathetic it is essential that you learn – and quickly – the skills of emotional intelligence. It is also essential that you can spot the signs when someone is showing signs of being stressed or anxiety and then being able to help them by helping them to become more resilient. It goes without saying that you also need to spot these signals in your own health and wellbeing.
Interestingly we delivered a project for a Norwegian oil exploration company a few years ago. My colleague and I were in Oslo in late December and experienced the shortest day when, as you know, the hours of daylight are few. We learned from one of the delegates that many Scandinavian companies proactively encourage their staff to get up and get outside to get some daylight and fresh air; even if it is cold!
5. Stay in Touch with your Purpose
Stay in touch with your purpose; both as a team and as an individual. Spend time to remind people of why you/they exist in a professional context – even in a remote setting. Remind others of the people that they serve. Patrick Lencioni, author of 5 Dysfunctions of a Team referred to this in a recent webinar when he said that it was more important than ever for teams to have a ‘rallying cry’. He said that this was necessary to combat the feeling of isolation when the team meetings end and the pictures of colleagues are no longer on the screen.
6. Build Trust
My final point is to emphasise the need for trust. The movement to working from home has actually been around for a long time; a bit like the quest for a paperless office. In those years I have heard many senior executives say that they could never trust their people to actually work if they were based at home. Well, in some ways they now have no choice – remote teams are now very much a reality. From the conversations I have had over the last few months, it seems to me that most people have been worthy of that trust – a now essential element in the effective leadership of remote teams.
I don’t think that there is a big reset button that we will be able to hit when this crisis is over. This means that the lessons we learn as leaders and managers will be pretty permanent. So, it will do us well to remember them and especially how important communication, connection, health, wellbeing, and authenticity will be. Jobsora have written an interesting article on “Remote courses. Pros and cons of online learning” for further reading around this topic.