Establish Team Norms and Expectations
Research shows that many professionals wonder what is expected of them at work; this is exacerbated for remote employees. When individuals work remotely, make sure you establish team norms that dictate how they should interact and collaborate. Think about whether or not remote working requires reconfirming or revising current team norms and expectations. It may be useful to engage the team in a discussion of this topic to get everyone on board.
Managers also need to define common availability hours and make these mandatory. For example, if the common availability hours are 9:00 AM to 1:00 PM, all team members must be online or accessible during this period. Apart from these few common hours, remote employees can still manage the rest of their workdays according to their preferred schedules. In some instances, work with clients may mean an individual is not available during this time. If so, this needs to be communicated to the manager ahead of time.
Hold Regular Check-Ins and One-On-One Conversations
Clear and consistent communication is paramount to effectively motivate and guide remote employees. Regularly checking in with remote employees is a highly effective means of boosting their engagement. According to the Gallup management consulting firm, employees who regularly meet with their managers are three times more engaged than their peers. One of our clients advised they are doing the following to maintain the culture and foster team interaction:
- There are a number of activities that are occurring which are designed to maintain a cohesive team culture. These include ongoing culture challenges, virtual happy hours, game breaks and a culture reinforcement training.
- Members of the leadership team are maintaining their one-on-one meetings, and skip level interviews. They have implemented weekly, sometime twice weekly check in meetings to make sure people have what they need and just to chat. These keep the team connected and provide an opportunity to maintain social interaction.
When scheduling check-ins and one-on-ones, use technology to facilitate face-to-face communication whenever possible. A study detailed in the Harvard Business Review found that face-to-face communication is 34 times more effective than correspondence via email. Leverage videoconferencing tools, such as Zoom or GoToMeetings, to create opportunities for face time with your team. In addition to videoconferencing tools, use project collaboration platforms like Trello and Slack to foster information-sharing among your team.
Listening is one of the strongest skills a leader can develop, especially when leading remote teams. Keep your communication open and frequent. You can set up regular checkpoints to keep everyone aligned on plans, goals and projects. You also want to reiterate key messages to your team. For example, you might talk about your Guiding Principles; it is important to keep these at the forefront of everyone’s thinking during this time. In addition, pay attention to communication preferences and styles. Some people communicate more easily through e-mail while others prefer the interaction of video or conference calls. Be prepared to adjust team communication methods to invite more inclusive contributions.
Lead Effective Meetings
Start each meeting with a purpose or meeting objective. This gets everyone on the same page with respect to what you need to accomplish. You want to acknowledge who is in the meeting, review the agenda and ask for additions. Then, establish a protocol for how people can contribute such as raising hands, taking turns to speak or using chat features. If a conversation between individuals goes too long, ask them to take it offline. Conclude each meeting with a recap of follow up items and confirm the expectations for the next steps and deadlines. Ask for any comments or feedback, thank participants and end the meeting promptly. Send a follow up email to highlight the action plan.
Empower Your Employees
Employee empowerment is an essential ingredient of successful, high-trust teams. To empower your remote employees, avoid micromanaging and do not hesitate to continue delegating tasks. It’s not possible to manage every aspect of the work done by a remote team so don’t try. Instead of focusing on activity or hours worked, focus on the outcomes and measure your team accordingly. Beyond delegating tasks, you want to continue supporting personal development. For example, if employees want to bolster their skills in a particular area, suggest they consider taking an online course. Similarly, decide how you will handle team decision making, and determine the mechanism you will use to stay on top of projects and key activities.
Track Time and Employee Activity
The biggest challenge for most remote teams is to stay productive, particularly if you have suddenly shifted to remote work. Examine how you are currently tracking time and determine if modifications are required. Moreover, when you know how much time is being spent on each task you can have a more accurate estimates of how long tasks will take and strengthen your ability to allocate resources effectively.
In addition to giving feedback and guidance to your employees, seek their input on how things are going. You can gather feedback about meeting effectiveness, timeliness of decision making, the frequency and effectiveness of communication, etc. You can also get feedback about the extent to which employees feel supported in this remote environment.
Foster Emotional Sensitivity
Establishing a culture of emotional availability is important for remote team health. Incorporate personal moments both formally and informally. A formal way may be to recognize team accomplishments during a weekly meeting. An informal way may be including open discussion time on non-work related topics during team meetings or your one-on-one meetings. You also want to foster work-life balance. Data shows that unplugging after work is the biggest challenge faced by 22 percent of remote employees. Encourage employees to establish a set schedule and step away from work when regular work hours are typically ended. In addition, team members can share ideas about what they are doing to maintain a healthy life balance.
Make Time to Connect and Socialize
One of the main challenges of managing a remote team is cultivating the kind of connections that come from in-person social gatherings and casual conversations that happen day-to-day in a shared office environment. A recent report by software company. Buffer shows that 19 percent of remote employees report loneliness as their biggest challenge. Find ways to create substitutes for the casual hallway conversations, meals, and accidental interactions that typically happen when everyone is geographically in the same place. For example, organize online gatherings, virtual coffee hours or happy hours, and allow time for small talk before meetings. Thanks to technology, there are many strategies you can use to help remote employees feel less isolated, for example:
- Utilize Slack, WhatsApp, or other messaging apps to create group channels where employees can communicate with each other. These can serve more than project-related needs by creating a channel or group chat for sharing ideas, updates or other personal information.
- Set up weekly or monthly staff meetings, via a video chat mechanism. One of my clients has a virtual all-staff meeting every month or so, for about 60 people. The feedback he receives is very positive. He has used tools like Remote Bingo to make these meetings both informative and enjoyable.
- One of our clients advised they are doing the following to maintain the culture and foster team interaction.