The Distributed Teams Support Series Part I: Managing Your Team
When it comes to working remotely, usually a job advert will state whether it’s a remote working opportunity or sometimes it’s an option for someone already based in the office. However, in the last few weeks, we’ve seen the numbers of businesses having to operate as a distributed team soar with many people now working from home in light of the devastating outbreak of Covid-19 and it’s unimaginable impacts on individuals, communities and businesses. Therefore, whether you were already working as part of a team with its members located in various places or this is new to you, how you respond as a manager is crucial.
Why? Because instead of it being about those who are long-term remote employees or working remotely by choice, we’re now talking about another type of distributed team. We are talking about those who are working from home maybe for the first time, those who have to self-isolate or are on lockdown but can still work, and for all of the above, it wasn’t really a choice.
Whether the practice is the norm or unprecedented however, everyone is operating in a climate of uncertainty and change.It’s at times like this where fear can quickly manifest, and it calls on you to lead now more than ever.Let’s explore some of the ways you can do this effectively, with your people at the centre of the process without compromising on productivity.
The unknown can induce panic and being told what to do without any consultation can be met with resistance which has been the reality of many. No doubt you are feeling the pressure too, but even some of your most headstrong employees will look to their leaders for guidance in unprecedented circumstances. You may not have all the answers but reassure your people that you will answer the ones you can and do your best to inform them as the situation unfolds. They must know you are doing the best you can for them.
You may not be able to manage the external influencing factors, but you have control over your approach. Make sure it’s a patient one. Being calm will stand to you, and it usually brings clarity to situations too. Clear communication and the best decisions rarely come from a place of chaos. Be patient with yourself and with your people. Their reactions will likely be wide and varied throughout this process and need to be met from a place of patience. It can be frustrating when things may not flow like you are used to with internal operations. There will be teething problems, but it requires patience to succeed, especially from you. It’s a real lead by example moment.
Regardless of their situation or location, all employees need connection.This can come in many forms. You can choose a digital connection platform that links all your people, or you can connect certain people or teams who might have shared aspects of their experience. It’s crucial they feel a sense of community and belonging.
When it comes to you interacting with them, it mustn’t be limited to occasional project updates in the form of lean emails. You must check-in with your people and find out how they are doing. For example, schedule a weekly video call on top of the regular checks-ins.Strengthening the relationships you have with your distributed team is just as important as the efforts you would make in the office.
People need to have access to what they need to do their work. They require resources and the people they need to move their work forward. This might come in the form of documents or a response from a co-worker. Their goal-setting and progression should not be forgotten, and they need to be supported in achieving their aims. It might take some time to map this out and see things from their perspective. However, it will give you a better idea of what they need from others to get their work completed when they can no longer walk up to someone’s desk and ask for it.
Working remotely – successfully – takes a lot of self-discipline and one of the main ways to support this is through motivation. This is an element of an office environment that your people may now be missing out on. The same way you might energise your people in a meeting, or someone brings back doughnuts for everyone after lunch, you need to apply the same approach with them online. It’s essential they feel inspired to do their work, but it’s even more crucial that you don’t rely on them to solely provide it for themselves. Find out what motivates them if you don’t already, and go from there.
If you have worked remotely before, you will be able to relate to some extent what it entails. However, as you know, there is a big difference between working as part of a distributed team with ample preparation time and what everyone is facing now. It’s important to have empathy with your people’s situation and show compassion for the challenges they face. It will work towards building trust and better communication if they feel like you are open to hearing about the difficulties they are experiencing. And the only way you’ll know about them is to ask.
This is something you will need to build in distributed teams. It doesn’t happen overnight. Remember to give people the space to deliver. Don’t feel you have to constantly check in every day on their work. But check in every day on the person, the human. Be more human and don’t be afraid to show your own vulnerability by being honest with them, for example. This will build trust within your team. Some of the best policies for working in distributed teams are built on three simple words, ‘We Trust You’.
One way to truly understand the crucial nature of effective communication is when it comes to distributed teams. You are relying solely on the digital to convey everything you can otherwise do in person, such as your body language as an example. This might feel like you need to communicate more as a result to compensate but what you really need is to structure your communication. Your calendar should be set up to include regular team sync calls as well as a framework for 1:1s and questions.
The process needs to be clear, centralised and consistent so everyone knows where they stand, how to use the system and it will bring flow to your communication process. All team members should be encouraged to contribute, to support one another and if new people join the distributed team, consider a buddy system to get them settled in. You can’t rely on them making new friends in the hall or the office canteen so make sure they are supported.
Whatever the issue, it’s imperative you respond. It could be something as simple as feedback or an answer needed to move a project to the next stage. Remote workers need to be able to do their work and be supported in doing so, but one of the ways it can negatively impact relationships as well as deepen a sense of isolation is not hearing back or delays in response. By being as prompt as possible with the right approach, they know they are respected, appreciated and prioritised.
The wellbeing of your people is a top priority so let’s look at how to prevent any of the problems that can be associated with remote working. Buffer’s 2019 report on remote work, shows the latest trends with loneliness ranking high in the biggest struggles for remote employees. By educating yourself and staying on top of these trends, you give yourself a better chance of spotting the signs and preventing potential problems.
Staying with this, how can you spot issues such as loneliness in your people? Look out for the same things you would in someone in the office. How do they seem when you talk with them? Are they engaged with their work? Do they meet you with challenges rather than a solution? How is their response time? But most importantly, ask them. You don’t have to ask them directly if they feel lonely, for example, but approach it in a way with some key questions that will help you get the answers.
For example, “How are you finding working remotely? “Have you a designated space you can work from? “Are there any other ways I can support you?” These kinds of questions will help you find out more about your people and their experience, meaning you can spot if they are struggling or feeling isolated and intervene to support them.
The reasons for everyone’s newfound displacement are out of your control but taking the above steps are ways to take back to power and ensure you lead your people in the right direction. They need to feel the same things that they usually feel in-house, like being part of a network and that they are valued. There is a way to manage a distributed team right, and the solution to this goes far beyond the occasional phone call. It involves an ethos of because they are out of sight, does not mean they are out of mind and bringing your office’s offline sense of community, online.
At times like this, we think it’s most important we come together as a community and look after our people.
If there’s anything we at Frankli can do to support you, whether you are an existing customer or not, please get in touch. We are here to help.