Leading when your team is self isolating. In the next few weeks it is likely we will be working from home; isolated from our colleagues, clients and prospects. This remote working will hopefully be able to manage the spread of the Corona virus. But what are the challenges for leaders to ensure their teams remain connected, focused and valued?
Home working still has a bad image; are people putting the hours in? Are they focusing on their work or being distracted by other activities? Will they fulfil any deadlines? Are they fully committed? How can we maintain human contact with our team and colleagues without feeling isolated? It is highly likely we will have to self isolate, so how can we lead teams, business and projects remotely?
In many organisations, presenteeism is part of the culture. Those people who work additional hours visibly: arriving at work early and leaving after normal office hours could demonstrate how committed and hardworking they are. Even if they aren’t effective at time management. And those people who leave on time: particularly those with home commitments are, unreasonably seen as not committed or not ‘putting the hours in’. Even if the productivity of these particular employees isn’t spectacular, they are valued for their long working hours and visible commitment.
So if we are forced to self isolate and work from home, there will need to be clear communication put in place, in order to develop trust and effective project management methods. For employees to feel secure in their work environment, you, as a leader will need to keep in touch with them, and develop clear methods of two way communication. Your team needs to ask questions; get guidance and ideas. And you, as a leader, need to lead and motivate your team to adopt new working methods.
How can you efficiently build up a team rapport virtually? How can you continue to work as a team, particularly when you are used to working alongside each other virtually?
- Set up a virtual project management group. There will be some that your IT team will be able to set up. Alternatively Trello and Asana are online products you can use to keep everyone in touch.
- Have some clear streams of communication. Let your team know they can contact you. You will need to avoid the assumption that you aren’t contactable.
- Pick up the phone, or use alternatives, such as face time, Zoom or Skype. Since everyone is working remotely, it is so important to keep that human interaction continuing, rather than hiding behind text messages and emails.
- Since you aren’t seeing your team in person, make a point of having a conference call every day with the team at the same time. Or one on a Monday instead of the Monday Team meeting and on on Friday afternoon to see how everything is progressing.
- As I write, citizens in Northern Italy are in self isolation, based on Government directives. Already I have read messages from individuals who are feeling very isolated. Be aware that some of your team might live alone and be feeling very isolated. What could you do to create the equivalent of the office life? Perhaps you could have a theme of the day with everyone uploading a photo of what they are wearing. Their favourite coffee mug. What they are having for lunch. Tips for the best TV programmes to watch; great books to read etc. Working together is not exclusively about the projects: the ‘small talk’ and building up business relationships is crucial. You know your team well; be creative with some non-related discussions.
Motivating others: this is always important, but when everyone is working remotely, they could feel unsupported, lack focus or motivation to get things completed, unless you lead virtually in an effective way. Book into the diary regular conference calls and individual conversations with your team, ask questions, listen. Also you need to reassure both your own team, but also freelance/outsources consultants and suppliers that you are still ‘open’ for business, but it is being delivered in another way. Finally, you need to ensure your clients what the situation is and that you will still be delivering any projects or services on time. If the services are face to face, you will need to discuss pronto, what the alternatives are.
Business Development: If you were in the office, you would probably be having meetings and discussions with your team, suppliers, stakeholders and clients. This moves projects forward, develops business relationships and is a business development activity. But don’t forget to keep your existing clients, particularly those you are currently working with, fully up to date with what is going on and to re-assure them that nothing will change.
Training: many organisations have regular training. Specific professions have continuous professional development requirements. And individual employees could be studying for additional qualifications. Certainly at Superstar Communicator we offer a range of virtual training and webinars for career development. Make sure your coaches are experienced in delivering training virtually. Also, if any of your team are working towards qualifications, check with the examination board to see if exams can be delayed or delivered in a virtual way.
Celebrating success. One important part of being a leader is to celebrate and thank your team for their contribution. Whether this is cakes in the office for someone’s birthday; drinks after work on a Friday evening or even a meal. It is very difficult to do this when you are all working remotely. As a leader you could send a box of chocolates or other treat as a thank you to individual members. They would really feel valued. And then have in the diary, for the future, a celebration drink when you are all able to work together again.