Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, senior leaders in businesses across the world have found themselves wrestling with the realities of managing distributed teams and remote working alongside attempting to maintain service continuity. Uniquely, these challenges have arisen almost overnight.
There is an abundance of valuable, rational, process-focused advice being shared to business leaders and their teams. However, business success ultimately relies heavily on the human condition and the understanding of our limitations, strengths and team roles. This is particularly relevant when adapting to a new alternate reality, or in fact, a constant stream of new realities.
Our recommendations focus on how senior leaders can empower people, set them up for success and manage high-performing remote teams.
Understand your people
For many, working remotely over an extended period is one of the biggest changes imaginable. As people struggle to adjust and adapt to completely new practices and rhythms, it’s important to recognise that this isn’t a case of them being ‘resistant to change’. Leaders need to approach these changes from a position of empathy; recognising those whose established reality is being challenged and altered. These people often won’t be equipped to deal with this, and they certainly won’t feel like they have any control about why it is happening.
Individual personality preferences drive different behaviours. One set of behaviours exhibited in an office environment can drive a completely different set in a remote environment. For example, one team member may benefit from short, frequent video interactions while others prefer to set out their key agenda points for the day and work relatively interrupted.
There are tools that can help you quickly understand these preferences and provide the data needed to develop an effective remote team. We use the The GC Index to help understand the roles and strengths that people can bring to the success of a team. This ensures that people placed into roles that they are best suited to, where their personal energies and capabilities are aligned with the needs of the job.
The GC index outlines 5 key roles people can play, ensuring roles and strengths align with work and are balanced with other team members is key to success
Your current team format may have worked well in an office environment until now, but what about the specific, individual personalities in your team? How will the extraverted team player, feeding off team energy, feel after 2 months of home working isolation? How will your Polishers (people who take ideas and improve them) work effectively if they are not working closely with others to help generate and understand ideas which they can then hone? How can you bring focus to the actions of your team when you only have contact in a morning huddle and evening check-in?
From a psychological perspective, the new reality may require the formation of new teams based as much around the qualities and characteristics of individuals as it is around their professional skillset. Our organisation design approach and even operating models are going to need to adapt and flex to enable this.
How remote employee needs can differ – Leaders need to ensure no-one is left out or isolated
As we put in place new ways of working, processes and procedures to support our colleagues and customers, getting behavioural alignment right can be the difference between ‘Good’ and ‘Great’ outcomes when faced with unprecedented challenges.
Maintaining performance in a remote environment
There are four key steps to follow when managing a remote team, ensuring people are aligned and establish the right disciplines whilst connecting constructively and understanding the role they play in driving performance.
1. Set - Aligning the team
Alignment across team is particularly important, tied to primary KPI’s and a shared vision
Ensure that people know what their objectives are and the boundaries they can work within to achieve their goals, while mapping tasks that can be completed remotely vs those that cannot. This will help the team focus on what they can achieve while also considering ways to deliver the other tasks which cannot – currently – be delivered remotely.
2. Structure - Investing in discipline
Establish the rhythms and routines of the organisation, wherever possible aligning the activity across teams, even though this is virtual.
Creating a regular rhythm of meetings and management activities on a monthly, weekly and daily basis can help teams establish normal working patterns and provide a framework for input, reflection and feedback.
Setting a regular rhythm across three key areas – Plan. Do. Check, Act
3. Share - Maximising Connection
Enable information to freely flow, and make it easy to understand. Set up the organisation to have direct lines of communication between each of the sections, with access to data and systems as required.
Connecting effectively is vital, ensuring teams are equipped with the knowledge and discipline to run virtual meetings, both through planning the meeting, following best practice during and being consistent with outputs will reduce unnecessary length and confusion.
Best practice for connecting effectively during virtual meetings
4. Socialise - Understanding our performance
In order to prevent feelings of isolation, proactively set up socialisation between the teams and help staff bring their work situations to life for each other.
Help people emotionally thrive
A useful structure to follow is SCARF, which encompasses:
Status - The relative importance of information to others.
Certainty - The degree to which the future can be predicted
Autonomy - Providing people a sense of control over events.
Relatedness - A sense of safety with others.
Fairness - Providing a a perception of fair exchanges between people.
Be more descriptive and anecdotal in reports and communications and use social sharing technologies if your business has them. Communication and dissemination is one thing; what really matters is the context in which information is received, understood and discussed within the team.
Ongoing support for your team is vital
Information transfer and training is only one stage of the journey. Our experience in running development and change programmes remotely with clients has shown that ongoing operational coaching is the key to embedding change and avoiding old behaviours and habits creeping in.
This is often a mixture of one-to-one conversations, peer-to-peer learning, and group discussion. Through these, team members should share successes, concerns and learning in a safe environment, as they adapt to new environments and ways of working.
Leadership of this kind is invaluable in running powerful and resilient teams that can rapidly deal with emotions, frame a problem, create a plan and implement a course of action at speed.