The title of this blog was originally going to be “Managing remote teams during COVID-19,” but after thinking about it a bit, it is evident to me that the concept of managing teams, in the traditional sense, was the wrong way to approach this subject. This is especially true if social distancing orders have forced your organization to work remotely.

An earlier blog covered some of the technical basics to consider as you set up your remote working group. While the tech side of things is important to enable you to work remotely, technology is really only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to working effectively as a team.

We’ve learned that successfully working across our remote Human eSources team requires a shift in thinking, from the idea of “managing people” to a leadership role that fosters a sense of community, openness and trust.

Not only do we find our team members thrive in this environment, but it enables us all to work more effectively during this stressful time.

If you are tasked with leading your team remotely during this pandemic, here’s a list of recommendations that, based on our experience and that of outside experts, has improved our team’s effectiveness:

  1. Create a remote working culture. Research has shown that most of the important decisions in a company are the result of the informal communications between team members. Ideas and solutions have a way of bubbling up to the top when people are working on a common problem. Distance changes all that. People have to consciously make the effort to reach out to one another rather than rely on bumping into someone in the hall or taking a casual lunch. Your job is to institute some best practices that help them make the effort.

One of the sources we checked with described this as an “open and inclusive” culture that is built on mutual trust and transparency. Forbes provides the following ideas:

      • Now is the time to over-communicate. Set up daily check-ins and casual meetings. Use video conferencing to keep people in front of each other.
      • Call a team reset meeting. This will establish a sense of community and set group norms and expectations for one another.

Research is uncovering interesting facts about how people are reacting to the current circumstances. For example, we are learning that introverts and extroverts are responding to social distancing differently than one might think. This will be the topic of a later blog post.

In the meantime, your role in connecting with your team, and connecting them to each other, has never been more important. It is going to require more effort and patience on your part to make sure your team feels supported and productive. One-on-one, weekly check-ins are a must.

Zoom offers more advice here:

      • Lead by example. Professionalism starts and stays with you. Working remotely should not mean a decline in professionalism. Establish fixed working hours when you can be reached. Make sure your video call “background” is neutral and professional. Have your team do this as well.
      • Check-ins are important. Asking people how they are doing before launching into meeting topics is a crucial way to demonstrate that “we’re all in this together.”
      • Remember to add moments of fun to your interactions. Some teams hold “crazy hat calls” where everyone wears their finest; others hold casual lunch groups over their video software. These important events build a sense that you and your team are “in this together.”

We’re a software developer, so daily check-ins are a natural part of our day, but we recommend you use them no matter what business you’re in. We also practice the Rockefeller Habits and employ Agile methodology to set meeting rhythms by department. You might consider similar practices and methodologies for your business and teams.

  1. Try to avoid running the show. The trick to supporting remote teams is a combination of open participation, inclusion and transparency. Share meeting responsibilities with appropriate team members. Successful remote working teams have an anyone-can-participate attitude and no question is a bad question. Encourage everyone to contribute and speak. Like any other meeting, when appropriate provide an agenda and send out materials for discussion in advance. This helps with engagement and participation.

  2. Be flexible, patient and human. These are extraordinary times, and stress is running high for most people. Making this transition is bound to have ups and downs. Use your team for feedback on what works and what doesn’t, then make changes and try again. Keep your sense of humor and share amusing experiences with your team. It will foster that “we’re in this together” camaraderie you’re going to need.

Most of us want to get back to the “normal” sense of things we had before COVID-19. No one can tell us when that might be. So, in the meantime, we need to adapt to the situation we are in. Your role as leader, mentor and supportive friend can help your team adapt more smoothly. And since we’re likely in for a long haul, it is a great long-term investment to make as well.