5 tips to lead a high performing team remotely

COVID-19 has forced us into the largest experiment of remote working in human history. It has surfaced unique challenges we couldn’t have dreamt about. This is a difficult time for us; from businesses closing and impacting employees, to employees stranded outside their country of residence, to stranded split families, the loneliness and isolation, the vast emotional toll and guilt of not being there for extended families or elderly parents, the hesitation of visiting high risk elderly parents, the sheer helplessness of not being able to get a loved one tested or cured, and the fear and anxiety of not knowing when things will get better. 

As leaders, we are having to learn how to navigate these challenges ourselves, as we help our teams through it. If there was ever a time to step up – this is it.

Here are 5 simple tips to help you lead a high performing team remotely, during this time:

Be yourself, be human

Vulnerability is a strength. The key to building and retaining trust is to let people get to know us, our intentions and motivations, and see us in our element, without our defenses.

As a leader, it is more important than ever to:

Define your mindset and approach – We can approach this challenge as an impediment or an opportunity. Defining it as an obstacle to business as usual, will limit us. Defining it as an opportunity to try different ways of working, agile teams, innovative solutions could unlock hidden potential. This soul search lays the foundation for how we show up, and how we lead.

Be transparent – Be transparent about what you know, and what you don’t. Communicate. Sometimes during crises we tend to become overly cautious in what we say. We have to be transparent about facts and let people make their own decisions. 

Show up in your element – I have learnt more about my colleagues in one day, than in months! It is so heartwarming to see my colleague’s adorable toddler and how they interact, their kids running around on a break from school work, their dog’s personalities, their cats walking over the keyboard, their home ‘offices’, the hum of their homes, their spouses buzzing through, and I love it! Don’t blank-wash your video background, please! Your quirks are endearing, not horrifying.

Share what is on your mind – As critical as it is for us not to panic, and cascade panic to our teams, it is equally critical to be honest about our concerns. Preparing our teams for the future, for better or for worse, is our responsibility.

Ask for help – Our teams understand how difficult these times are and they want to help. The more we reach out, and engage our teams as part of the solution, the better the outcome. 

Empathy, Empathy, Empathy

People first. Period. Human life is far more important than economics. People are facing unprecedented hardships. They need us to show up as leaders, have their backs, listen, accommodate and adjust, so they can be effective. 

Working parents / Care givers – Asking what support they need, providing flexible hours, streamlining the work / responsibilities and leveraging the team for help, goes a long way.

Isolation of those living alone or away from family – A Gallup survey last year showed that 21% people feel lonely when working remotely, in normal times. Those feelings are likely exacerbated in our current context. Being purposeful about regular connections is critical. There is no substitute for regular 1x1s.

Mental health and elevated stress levels – These tend to fall to the bottom of our crammed to do lists. It is one of the greatest risks for the wellbeing of our teams. Champion mental health support that is available through your organization, and create psychological safety. And Just Listen. Please …just listen. 

Hours worked – With work and home getting closer, many are working longer hours than ever before. As a leader, it is critical to have visibility to, and check in with your team on their workload and the struggle to maintain the business whilst dealing with a crisis. There is a risk of burn out, and we need to ensure that we identify the early warning signals and provide the right support.

Inspire Hope

As a leader, the greatest service we can do for our people is to connect them to a clear sense of purpose, build hope, optimism and a vision for a brighter future, empower them, and create broad guardrails that foster innovation. 

In crises, empowerment can be the first casualty, as some leaders grapple with the lack of control they feel in the throes of a crisis, like this one. Unfortunately, there are still myths about lower productivity when working from home. At the core, these misguided leaders are focused on the wrong problem. As leaders we have to build the bridge to inspiration. Once we have made that connection, our teams rarely need scrutiny, they need support.

Help the team focus on what matters most

A crisis is very distracting. It is easy to get swept up in a wave of crisis management meetings, endless calls, ever increasing list of priorities, struggling to meet previously committed deadlines, pressure from stakeholders to meet milestones as planned, and the overall pressure of carrying on ‘business as usual’. To add to this, we are stretched thin on the family front, and battling a deluge of information, fears, worries. It is almost impossible to prioritize and focus on the right things. Just trying to sort through the multiple competing priorities can be an ordeal for our teams. 

We can help our people by proactive conversations on what matters most and why, and what is the criteria we want to use consistently to identify the priorities with the greatest impact. This will help drive critical business, while ensuring that our team feels a sense of accomplishment, while helping them make peace with the few things that we might drop. 

Build a sense of community & work in agile ways

Feeling part of a community and knowing that we are not alone, is truly important at this time. Bringing the team together across locations and time zones, focusing on what unites us, what inspires us, what our priorities are, how we are going after it, how we will work together in this new environment (including setting up agile workgroups), what are our expectations of them, and how we will support them, is critical. We need to foster a sense of community so the team members can reach out to each other, share experiences, seek feedback and advice, bounce off ideas, learn from insights, and support each other on this journey. 

As we shelter in place over the next few weeks, or potentially a month, it is important to remember…this too shall pass. 

Never before have we ever had such a real time window into our colleagues lives, their challenges and joys. Strange as it sounds, this remote working thing is bringing us closer. Who we are, at home and at work, have never been more intertwined, than they are today.

My hope is for us to find a way to remember these lessons when we go back to business as usual. 

We are all in this together.

How are you coping with the current challenges? Share your learnings, tips, hacks and struggles with remote working by commenting on this article. If you found this useful, pls ‘like’ and share this with your network. 


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