A team leader’s guide on effective remote teamwork

The COVID-19 virus is changing the ways we’re looking at life and living. Social isolation is the most responsible action to take right now. As a team leader, how do you maintain corporate targets, culture, and communication? Here’s a quick guide on how you can tweak your style and get the best from your team – without pressurizing them. 

First: a reality check. A lot of your staff is going to experience the thrills and perils of working from home. Perhaps they would have loved the option of work from home under other circumstances. But a self-imposed quarantine, possibly with children and loved ones, chores and the emotional stress of a rapidly-expanding COVID-19 global map is not something anybody envisioned. 

The stress is high, the stakes of health and life are higher and the uncertainty levels have hit the roof. 

The good news: You, as a leader, can add to a sense of calm, and encourage your team towards finding a sense of normalcy. Here’s how: 

Clarity: Communicate the work targets and expectations very clearly. Be specific on timelines, dependencies, and deliverables. Communicate often. 

Change the log systems: Go easy on those time logs. Your staff is handling multiple responsibilities at home since everybody is under quarantine. Focus on the tasks accomplished and requirements. 

Encourage discipline: A big part of getting the best from remote work is discipline. Encourage your team to start their work at regular working hours. Take that lunch break, walk around more frequently. If the team is used to an in-person scrum every day, do a virtual one. And if your team member’s child pops in to say hello during a scrum, allow it. Who knows, it could add to a new corporate flavor. 

Humanize the virtual workspace: Social distancing does not have to translate to social disconnection. Most of your team is used to in-person interaction. Animated discussions in the conference rooms, little chats in the coffee breaks, a few minutes of laughter and jokes in the middle of the day. While remote work can give you a sense of focus, it can create a sense of isolation and loneliness. 

You can ease all that: 

  • Organize online conferencing / team chats for everybody to connect with. It could be at a specific time every few days or even daily. 
  • Had a karaoke night planned at work? How about doing it online? An online pizza party or a virtual coffee break might be fun too. Get those creative juices flowing.  
  • Create a separate communication channel on your online team platform just for #coffeebreaktalk. 

Have regular check-ins: Check on your team members to find out about their remote work experience. Specifically understand the answers to questions like: 

  • Are you facing any obstacles? 
  • Can I support you in any way to make it easier? 
  • Can the company support any of your specific goals during this period? 

If you’re handling a large team, divide the number between a few people and yourself. Hearing you voice your concern for them will help in a big way. 

Be available: Your team could be used to walking up to you in the office and discussing work. Ensure you create time slots in the day where you’re available for an AMA (ask me anything) session. 

Encourage wellness: Remote work could mean a slip in the routine or even regular meal breaks. At a time when immunity levels need to be the highest, encourage your team to take those exercises and meal breaks. Include discussions around fitness, sleep, and food in your scrums or team chats. Perhaps even organize an online exercise time slot where everybody comes forward to move around – Zumba, aerobics, dance, yoga, breathing exercises. You could also create a daily time slot for a group online meditation.  

Celebrate achievements: The virtual world is your office bay now. You might not be walking around in your physical office, high-fiving people for their good work. But do remember to give them a shout-out in your online meetings and discussions. It’s going to boost team morale. And everybody likes a boss who values them, right? You’re also going to be giving more virtual high-fives than you anticipated: many report better productivity and more focussed work when working remotely.   

Create support systems: Worry, stress, and regret can pull our energy levels down, and yes, even affect the immune system. Your team could experience some challenges during their remote work period. 

You can: 

  • Create buddy systems and groups of people by location. In case of emergencies, they will have some support. 
  • Create a COVID-19 helpline/ information guideline within your company. 
  • Engage your HR team or the services of an online counselor to help team members discuss any difficulties they’re facing with this transition.  

Encourage this time to unwind too: This forced slow-down could be a blessing in disguise. Encourage this time for upskilling, hobby-building and rest. A more relaxed team member is likely to be more productive and receptive to work than a stressed-out individual. Perhaps you could earmark a small budget for online upskilling, especially since e-learning sites are giving big discounts to encourage people to learn. 

Is this the future?

This indefinite period of confinement could change our perceptions of remote work. COVID-19’s economic impact remains to be seen, however, it might leave an indelible mark on our human connections. And while you’re busy looking after your team and being the best leader you can be, give yourself a break. This jig is new for you too. All the recommendations apply equally to yourself. 

This article was first published on The Art of Living website.

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