Over the past week, I have seen so many articles on building remote teams. While we are definitely in uncharted territory, many of us have been working remotely for years. There are things that are emergencies in this situation, and there are things that aren’t. As a leader, making good strategic and management decisions will go a long way toward maintaining a strong team culture at this moment. Instead of doing get-to-know-you activities on video calls that are already too long, here are some more powerful things you can do to build your team as you navigate these uncertain waters.
A long time ago in a Wilderness First Aid class, I was taught the Bit O’ Honey Rule. When something bad happens–even an emergency–I still refer to this idea. Imagine taking time to unwrap a Bit O’ Honey. (If you are unfamiliar, Bit O’ Honey is a gooey, honey, almond taffy. Something that you just cannot eat quickly.) Then, imagine eating it while you assess the situation and start to develop a plan of action. The idea is that by taking a little time to think, we will actually take more decisive and more correct action the first time rather than adding to the problem.
There are decisions that need to be made and actions that need to be taken right now, but there are things that can be done later, when we have a better understanding of the situation and a better sense of the resources at our disposal. Know the difference, and get it right the first time. Important: Don’t do or say anything in this high-stress moment that will look bad in six months or a year. That funny Corona Virus meme may seem like a good way to lighten the mood, but if the situation gets worse, it will look tone-deaf or callous and inappropriate.
Whether you lead a business, a nonprofit or a government agency you will be making business decisions over the next few days, weeks and months. If you want loyalty and commitment from your employees it is important to keep them in mind when you are developing plans. There will no doubt be a difficult employee and workforce decisions coming–they already are–but even if the outcome is a furlough or a lay-off, the process, communication and transparency leading up to it can impact how employees feel and whether they will be willing to return when things turn around. If it is possible to include employees in the decision-making process, do it. Don’t put the weight of tough calls on them, but get their input, ideas, and suggestions. Ultimately, as a leader, you are the one who needs to take decisive action, accepting responsibility for the outcomes, but if you include employees and communicate their real value, they will remember that over time.
Remote Management is Just Good Management
Other than solving the logistics of moving people to remote workspaces, managing from a distance isn’t that much different than managing in a co-located office. Communicate clearly and often. Provide the tools people need to do their jobs. Give direction and purpose without micro-managing. Assume the best of people and the work they are doing. Keep high standards and follow up on performance issues. There is plenty of good research out there on the best practices to manage remote workforces, but it all boils down to being a good manager. If I were new to the topic, I would look for articles dated before this current situation. Like THIS ONE. Don’t try to do anything drastically different than you were doing a few weeks ago. Yes, there will be more video meetings, but try to maintain your leadership style no matter the medium.
Save the Icebreakers
One of the things I’ve seen in nearly all the recent articles about building teams remotely can best be described as icebreakers. These have their place, but I’d argue that now may not be the time. People are stressed. There is a lot of uncertainty. They are trying to do their jobs remotely in less than ideal working situations. “Forced Family Fun” as I’ve heard some clients call ice breakers may not be the best tool to start video meetings or get to people engaged. As an extrovert who really is missing the human connection I get in my work, I get wanting to connect people. But, not everyone is an extrovert. And while we will all get used to videoconferencing, sharing personal information to a group over the internet–especially if the call is being recorded–will actually cause some in your meeting to disengage and negatively impact their commitment to the team. I’d suggest optional gatherings or setting up a virtual water cooler for those who want to socialize. Be purposeful in making sure people are connected, but keep personalities and current realities in mind.
Building functional, cohesive teams is always important, but even more so in times of crisis and uncertainty. Smart, decisive action with employees and the bottom line in mind will bring most of our organizations through the current situation and the economic aftermath. Organizations and leaders who do it right may even emerge with stronger, more committed teams than they had just a few weeks ago.
Jerritt Johnston is the Owner of True North Consultants, which promotes organizational, individual and team growth through challenging, fun and relevant activities and processes. True North is an Authorized Partner for Everything DiSC®and The Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team™.