By Pilar Orti
Having always pictured yourself with your team around you, seeing them every day, checking that they’re okay, overhearing conversations that reassure you that everything is in order, it must have come as a shock to find yourself completely disconnected from team members overnight – knowing that they are dealing with new challenges too, as you all pull together to go up a very steep learning curve.
And while the last few months have been interesting (ok, I mean challenging) for knowledge workers, they’ve also brought new challenges for those of us already working remotely. This kind of remote work is not what anyone was used to, and it’s not what anyone wished for.
Not only were people unable to go to their offices or other chosen place of work, they were also unable to do all the other in-person activities that gave structure and meaning to their days. That’s why, incidentally, it’s important not to take the levels of innovation, productivity and creativity during these months as indicative of innovation and creativity in remote work under better circumstances.
Now that everyone knows how to use video meeting software (although some have still been struggling with poor internet connections), and we all understand that we need to start experimenting with asynchronous communication to make remote teamwork sustainable, there’s a dawning realisation that the next stage is not going to be as simple as “everyone going back to the office” anytime soon.
It’s time for managers to step up, and go through another major mindset shift.
The Shift To Remote Leadership
Shifting your mindset and shifting your perception of what a manager or team leader needs to be in the online space is critical.
So, in danger of simplifying what will indeed be a detailed, thought-through practice, these are five mindset changes that will help new managers of remote teams – or should I say managers of those teams new to working remotely – stay healthy and sane.
- Adopt A Coaching Mindset
While we’re looking at difficult shifts in mindset, adopting a coaching mindset will also help remote teamwork be more sustainable. This might involve:
- Taking the time to have a conversation with someone to think through their next actions (other than telling them what those actions should be).
Taking the time to ask questions that will help a person think through a problem and design their own solutions, rather than tell them how you did it when you came across a similar problem some time ago.
Granted, a coaching mindset might not have been what was needed over the last few months, when some people just wanted to solve the problems quickly and get on with the more difficult issues faced with at home. But now might be a good time to identify those simple opportunities where a question that prompts thinking will be more efficient than providing a solution.
As well as empowering your team and building their individual capabilities, this shift from being the fixer to the facilitator will also provide reassurance, and grounding in the belief that we are not fighting fires anymore, but transitioning sustainably into a new way of working together.
(For more on adopting a coaching mindset in a remote team, read this past blog post.)
- Embrace Delegation, Avoid Interference
One of the issues with having teams adopt Visible Teamwork practices is that suddenly a lot of the work and a lot of the progress becomes visible to everyone, including the manager. Maybe even more visible than if we were sitting in an office together.
The challenge for the manager who likes to know what’s going on every minute, every day; who finds comfort in knowing who’s doing what and when, is that now they have all this information available to them. (The beauty of Visible Teamwork of course is that it’s also available to all team members.)
Learning to seek information only when it’s needed (as opposed to checking that everyone is doing their work), is a key skill for the new manager to learn – or else, your role can become exhausting, and your team members can feel self-conscious and micromanaged.
Furthermore, when you adopt the principle of “Open Conversations”, it will be challenging to see team members discuss their work, and only interfere if we absolutely think they’ve gone down the wrong track.
Better still, you could choose not to read every single conversation and only reply when tagged. So long as your colleagues know they can get your attention in this way when needed, that might be much more efficient anyway.
(For more on this, read The Dangers of Working Out Loud.)
- Make Friends With Your Technology
Technology is your friend, not least because it can help you have better relationships with team members.
It doesn’t matter that you are a “people person”, it doesn’t matter if you’ve always seen technology as something that gets in the way of personal connection. The truth is that many remote workers have developed really strong relationships with others without ever meeting them in person and technology mediates every element of their collaboration and communication successfully.
But in order to use technology to help you build relationships, you need to learn to make it work for you.
Make sure to:
- Master your notifications (they are, after all, your friends). Choose what you want to be notified of, and choose what can wait until you’re ready to go looking for it.
- Master your email client (if you must). Can you schedule your messages, so that you can get that email off your chest at any time, but it gets sent out during office hours? And make sure replies don’t demand your attention at the wrong time.
- Learn to communicate clearly and succinctly by text. (I’m still learning that one!) Asynchronous communication gives everyone flexibility when communicating – but if they read your message four hours later, and they’re still missing information or clarity, the conversation will draw out for days.
Before you send that message, think about the person receiving it: Have they got everything they need from me or are they going to have to come back for clarification or more questions? Conversely, while over-communication is the better side on which to err, check that you have not confused your intended message with waffle or padding.
- Get Intentional
Working in a team in the online space requires formalising the informal. This is difficult to assimilate when you are someone who thrives on the ad-hoc conversations that emerge in the colocated workspace.
Spontaneous interactions will need to be planned. Habits and practices which emerge organically in the colocated workspace, now require deliberation. For example, if you want your team members to check in with each other regularly, but not to have to drop everything else to have a meeting at 9 am every day, you are going to need processes to communicate context, availability, and how are you doing in general. And you can’t rely on real-time communication for this all the time.
Learning experiences and conversations that sometimes happen as we walk across the office will need to be given a space in your team communications. Informal learning can continue to be informal, but formalise where the conversations should happen, formalise a way of sharing learning within the team.
Do it simply, and in a way that team members can share their learning as it happens, or as they reflect on it. Open a shared document like a Google doc, have a Trello board just for learning, have a Slack channel, what app you use doesn’t matter – but formalise how it will be shared, and give people the space to do it, in their own time.
- Don’t Make Yourself Indispensable
During the pandemic many managers have been the absolute linchpins that kept everyone together: the person that many have gone to for support, they are the ones that have made sure personal relationships in the team didn’t break down; many have gone way beyond their call of duty for their team. Some managers have thrived, some of them have really enjoyed discovering deeper connections with team members – but others are on the edge of burning out.
If this last point resonates with you, it might be time to stop thinking of yourself as the team’s lifesaver. You can’t be the one continuously solving everyone’s problems, the only person that team members come for support.
You need to start acting more as a connector, a facilitator enabling team members to help each other out and help your team members solve their own problems.
For those of us who really care, who really want to make a difference, this might be the most difficult mindset of all. But those of us who have been in the remote space for long enough, know that the beauty of using technology for teams to communicate is that self-organisation is much easier, now that we have various apps that allow us to share our work and its progress.
Now might be the time to think: “Is there anything I (we!) could do, so that team members find it easier to help and ask for help from each other? If I disappeared for a month, what would happen? Is there a simple process we can set up now, so there is a web of support, for team members to easily help each other out?”
Regardless of where you are in your relationship with “remote” (whether you are looking at ways of making remote teamwork sustainable or looking at how to work as a hybrid team), I invite you to use the above points to help you plan the next few months. Even if some of you are gradually returning to the workplace, continuing to think of yourselves as a remote team can help avoid the divide between those who are in the office and those who aren’t.
What can you begin doing as your team’s leader, or what online communication practice can you adopt as a team?
More importantly, what behaviour, actions or practices should you stop doing, that are getting in the way of your team adapting to the online medium?
|© 2020 by Pilar Orti|
All Rights Reserved
This article was originally published at https://baa.tco.ac/3Ewj