Your team is remote working for the first time. They’re at home, you’re at home. Somehow you need to make sure they’re getting on with their work, not slacking off having a lie-in or watching TV… and now their kids will be at home too – a whole new level of distraction.
How do you check up on them? How do you make sure they stay focused on the important work stuff and not get distracted?
This article is about how we get the most from our teams during this uncertain transitionary period. First considering what our team members are going through themselves and what we might expect from them, then 5 suggestions on how to support them, so that any motivation they do have is connected with what you really need them to do.
What’s going on for your team as they transition to remote working?
First let’s take a look at what your team are having to deal with right now.
They’ve had the relocation from hell
Relocating a team to a new office is usually something which is planned carefully, with an understanding that people’s work will be disrupted as they sort out not just what’s in their physical workspace, but also how they relate to the world around them, get used to their new environment and settle down.
Now imagine relocating your team to offices as far away from each other as possible, with virtually no prior notification and you’ve put them in with with the noisiest and most distracting people you could find.
This is the first challenge your team members are facing. In these early days of your team adjusting to remote working, there’s going to be a period where their work is disrupted and it will impact productivity for a while.
They suddenly have to get to grips with a load of new tools.
Not only are your team dispersed, you’ve also introduced a whole load of new tools for them to use. Videoconferencing facilities so they can meet, messaging platforms for chat, task tracking for ongoing project management… Maybe they’ve been using these in their work a bit already, but now they have a new use-case for them. This is now their main method of communication with each other and with you. Knowing you can physically get together to discuss something you’re having a problem with and being able to stand around a screen figuring out what’s going on is quite different to having to sort it out while working remotely.
It will take time for the individuals (including you) to figure out how to get the best from these tools, and time for the team to figure it out too.
They have lots of other things going on in their life.
Let’s throw some more disruption in there… it’s tough out there in the world right now. There’s a nasty virus going round and who knows who is and isn’t infected. Even if we’re fit and well, most of us have elderly relatives who may be affected. The slightest sniffle, sore throat, cough or sign of fatigue suggests the family could be at risk. Who knows how the world will change in the coming months too. We are being bombarded with information that is underpinned by questions of our survival and the survival of those around us, and that’s hard to put out of our mind.
While your the minds of your team are on these other things, they won’t be as productive and won’t work particularly effectively. Add to this that your team are remote working from home, these issues will be even more present in their mind.
There is pressure from above.
Finally, let’s add in a manager (you) who feels under extreme pressure themselves. Someone who is dealing with all of the stuff described above AND is being asked to make sure the team continues to deliver.
Working under pressure makes us reactive and stops us being at our best. We’re likely to be less tolerant, more snappy and more demanding. The team quickly pick up on this pressure and feel more uncertain. As they start to feel even more insecure, their performance drops further.
This feeling of insecurity adds to the things on their mind and makes them even less effective and more likely to get distracted.
I’m sure you’re getting the picture. I’m guessing when you step back you can think of other challenges your team is facing as they transition to remote working. The most important thing to recognise is that your team have suddenly been thrown a whole new way of living and working. Their worlds have been thrown up in the air. What they need from you right now is time, space and understanding to allow them to settle into this new way of being.
5 tips to get the most out of your team when they are remote working.
Your team are human. The reality is that you will get more from them if you can accept what’s going on for them and allow them to settle. If you do this, then new team bonds will form along with new ways of working which last well beyond the period of this outbreak.
Here are five suggestions on what you can do to encourage your team to thrive in the long term.
1. Accept that there will be a reduction in productivity.
You may not like this, but your team are dealing with things over which you have very little control, and it will disrupt productivity, probably more than you can imagine. The full impact of the disruption is uncertain. The more you can step back and accept that this is the case, and just take things day by day, this will take the pressure off them, and give them (and you) some breathing space.
Rather than rolling the pressure down to them, find ways to negotiate them some extra flexibility, giving you all space and time to adjust during this transition period. Maybe it’s a discussion with your boss, or with customers. Fortunately, everyone is in a similar situation, so they are likely to understand. (And if they struggle to get it, please encourage them to read this article to understand what you are dealing with too).
2. Identify what’s important for you to do and why.
There will be some core business needs that you and the team need to deliver on, and there will be things that are less important. These are likely to have changed over the last couple of weeks, so it is useful to discuss them together, and agree who will lead on what.
You may find that the people in your team you would usually rely on to do certain things aren’t able to commit to them. Accept this and if the tasks are really important, discuss as a team what you can do together to cover them. This might give others the opportunity to step forward and contribute. Maybe you can set up some mentoring or training from other team members to support.
In the short term, go with the energy and ideas that your team members have. If they are motivated to contribute, they are more likely to get stuck in and deliver – the more they know they have your support, the more creative and enterprising they will be.
The key thing is that they know what’s important and why. This will help guide them to make decisions about where to focus their effort.
3. Listen and find out what they need.
Use this period as an opportunity to get to know the individuals in your team and find out what’s going on for them. Understanding their situation and their biggest concerns will mean that you start to get an idea of how big their distractions are, and how it will impact on the team. You can work with them to help them figure out how to minimise the distraction and get down to some productive work.
It is particularly important to listen out for their mental health and wellbeing. If you pick up that they are in a bad place and pushing themselves hard, you may find that encouraging them to take some time out will be more productive in the long term. While you might not like the idea of them spending a day on the sofa watching TV, maybe this is what they need to do to reconnect with their own needs. Experiment what happens if you give them permission to do this – you might just find they come back more committed and engaged than if you’d encouraged them to keep on pushing through.
4. Encourage the team to support each other.
You are all in this together, and different members of the team bring different skills, knowledge and capabilities. Use this as an opportunity to celebrate what they bring and encourage them to bond and support one another.
Encourage them to explore different ways of collaborating and see what works for them. You might want to suggest they play with the new ways of interacting and explore new ways of feeding back to one another. By lightening the approach and making it playful and exploratory, you open up the opportunity for them to try things and fail – and to support each other and give feedback in the process.
Help them to see that they are still a team, and they are there to support one another despite remote working.
5. Set an example and look after yourself.
This is the most important thing you can do for your team. By taking care of yourself and taking some time out for you, you will hook into a clearer mindset and put yourself in a position to make better decisions.
Whenever you are feeling under pressure, frustrated with team members, uncertain about what to do, then this is a clear message that you need to take a step back and take some time out.
At times you will feel like you need to get “stuff” sorted and take action before you stop. Resist that urge. As your mind settles you will see more clearly what it is you need to do, and it will usually be much less than and much simpler than you think.
By looking after yourself you set the example to your team that they should look after themselves too. So when they do show up you know they will be on form and raring to go!
In these unsettling times, it is easy to get caught up in a state of fear and panic and lose touch with the people. If you take one thing from this article, please take that we are all human, in a state of transition and flux, which is unsettling. People aren’t productive when they are unsettled, including you.
Use period as an opportunity to get to know your team, for them to get to know you, and help them understand why the work they do is important. In the long term, this will not only mean you get the best from your team as during this period of remote work, but it will also feed into how they work together in any situation.
If you’d like direct support in applying some of these ideas on how to step back and get the best from your team, I offer one-to-one online coaching sessions, as one-off sessions or as a package. Find out more by booking a conversation with me here.