How to Effectively Manage Remote Teams in the New Normal World?
We are into the second year of the pandemic now. While most of us thought that things would be different this year, we continue to grapple with the second waves across various countries. So even if some of us went back to offices, it was for a brief period of time. Work from home (WFH) seems to be a way of life for now, and managing remote teams is one of our biggest challenges.
Last year was the transition from offices to home, and we were all adjusting to the new way of working. With kids doing online schooling and both the partners working in some houses, it took some time to achieve an equilibrium state between the house and office ecosystem. Our organisations played their role and helped us in this period of settling in the New Normal.
However, returning to the current scenario, its Business as usual (BAU) now with WFH. All the companies are looking at growing their businesses and making up for the time lost last year.
So as leaders and managers, we need to modify our strategies to manage our remote teams and their performance. My earlier blog on how to help your team transition to New Normal talks about the softer aspects of managing remote teams. That being said, it’s now important to focus on aspects that will enhance the productivity of our remote teams.
In this blog, I share some of the things leaders need to care about while managing high performing teams in a remote environment.
- How to Effectively Manage Remote Teams in the New Normal World?
- 7 Amazing Tips for Managing High-Performing Teams This Year
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7 Amazing Tips for Managing High-Performing Teams This Year
1. Give a Clear Brief to Your Team – OverCommunicate
While people have now got used to WFH and a rhythm has set in, the drawbacks of this model are coming forth. Though there is a face-to-face interaction through various video conferencing apps, that personal touch is missing. I recollected so many instances when my team members simply walked into my office for some clarifications or discussions. Whether formal or informal, this discussion helped them gain clarity on the next course of action.
Translating this to the online world, it’s essential that we as managers are very clear on the deliverables. And how we expect a particular task to be done. If there are any other important aspects of the task on hand, they need to be defined at one go. The key is to OverCommunicate so that nothing is lost in translation.
Another point to note is that remote working has thrown open an entirely new talent market that resides in smaller towns. With no on campus induction, these new joinees will need some adjustment and networking time. Being clear in your communication also helps these new joinees who may not be very familiar with your working style yet.
Once the task/role is defined clearly we get into how to keep our team engaged in the online environment.
2. Calendarise Business Catch up Sessions but Be Flexible
After giving the brief, it’s important to do a regular follow up with your team members and any issues they may be facing. This is also an opportunity to do a sense check on their understanding of the brief given. You may decide to do in a group and/or individual sessions depending upon the level of engagement you would want to drive. Some team members may require that extra push, and you as a leader need to be cognizant of that fact and take it in your stride.
While scheduling these sessions keep three things in mind:
- These should be formal calendared sessions with defined agenda so that the team members can come prepared & you have a focussed discussion. However, you need to be flexible wrt to the timing, since our team members may be juggling various roles.
- Keep the catch-up sessions short & crisp. Remember, they are already attending multiple calls, and zoom fatigue is already set in. Make sure your calls don’t add to that list; otherwise, the purpose gets defeated.
- Focus on the output rather than the activity- You cannot micromanage in an office environment; forget about doing the same in a remote environment. Trust your team members with the process. If they don’t know, they will ask.
3. Celebrate & Share Success Stories
Pre-2020 Many organizations had their annual or bi-annual conferences where success stories of individuals were shared and applauded. With no sight of these conferences in the near future, it’s important that we don’t let individual success stories get lost in the cacophony of everyday business.
Share success stories of your team members and members of other teams to keep the general morale high. This can be done by either sending an email out to the relevant closed group or bringing it up in your review calls.
We may be into the second year of this mess, but it has not got any easier, so let’s appreciate people who deliver the results irrespective of their struggles.
There is another way to share these success stories … read on.
4. Downtime Calls
I recommended this last year during the transitioning phase and feel that we need to continue with these calls even now.
My husband does these “Downtime calls” every month with his team members, talking about everything except work. This one hour is all about fun and laughter, with some funny & crazy themes thrown in every week. These calls have become very popular & many cross-functional colleagues have requested him to be a part of these “fun meetings”. Such interactions are also an opportunity to know your team members, primarily if they are based in different parts of the country or the world. If some of them had joined in just before the world decided to move into lockdown, these could be great ice breakers with their colleagues whom they may not meet face-to-face for some time to come.
You can add a twist to these calls by asking each of your team members to take up the responsibility of hosting these calls every month.
This is a great way of bonding and managing team dynamics. Interestingly, we human beings really know how to innovate and look at new business opportunities. I know so many companies that have started online wine tasting and team dinner menus. So go ahead and experiment with this new way of team bonding.
5. Motivation through Rewards
I am not talking about normal rewards for performance. These are small rewards thrown in periodically to keep your team’s motivation high. And these are not necessarily for your team member but can be enjoyed by the whole family. Such rewards may include food vouchers, shopping vouchers or gift hampers. In an online work environment, families play a huge role, and this is a great way of showing your appreciation for the family members.
This gesture will surely have a positive impact on the individual and push them to give their best.
6. Do a Periodic Pulse Check
We as leaders need to have our ears very close to the ground in this new reality. A dip in the performance of one team member may not necessarily point to a capability issue, especially if he/she has been a good performer. There may be some other driving force that you as a leader must try to decipher and work on a solution with the team member. Therefore it’s important to be empathetic and compassionate towards your team member’s situation while not losing focus on the hard realities of the number world.
Today’s leaders need to have something called a “Wise Compassion”. I came across this term in an article in HBR, and it clearly explained the predicament that most of the leaders would be facing in today’s world. The article says, “Leaders operating in this mode are balancing concern for their people with the need to move their organizations forward in an efficient, productive manner. When tough action is needed, they get it done with genuine caring for people’s feelings and well-being”. Read more about Wise Compassion here.
7. Create an Inclusive Work Environment
Work from home environment is still relatively new, and many organisation are grappling with its realities. While the initial euphoria has died down, the realities of working in a remote set-up are hitting now. People are missing the usual office buzz and the informal coffee networking sessions. There is no readymade playbook available, and organisations have to find an equilibrium between their comfort zones and their employees. And you, as a leader, play a critical role in this.
Involve your teams, take their feedback on the following things:
- What is working, what is not.
- What are preferred Rules of engagement – within the team, outside the team, with vendors. Some may prefer video calls, while others may prefer IMs.
- Pulse of their network of suppliers, clients, vendors etc., how are they fairing in these new business realities.
They may have suggestions to help increase productivity while keeping morale high. The online work environment needs to be all the more inclusive than it was earlier.
As remote working becomes a new reality of our world, these words from Mark Zukerberg sum it up perfectly “ People are more productive working at home than people would have expected. Some people thought that everything was going to fall apart, and it hasn’t”
As leaders, our job is to ensure that this productivity increase is not a bubble that bursts over a period of time and is sustainable. With the above few tips in mind, we can ensure workplace flexibility is a win-win for both the organisation and the individual.
I seek your honest feedback on this one and whether you found this blog useful. If yes, please do share with your peers & colleagues.
A big thanks to my sister Dr. Minni Chadha for the artwork on the blog header.
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