The first, and most important aspect of effectively leading our remote teams is communication and openness. We all need to be able to be honest about our situation and ability to work from home. As a team leader, you can role model this by explaining to your team members what your expected availability is and share examples of how you and others are managing their individual situations. For example, you may explain how others are arranging their work schedules to accommodate shared child care responsibilities. It is important to ask your team members about their situation to understand what challenges they may be facing in their ability to perform their work. From there, defining constraints and expectations will ensure that both you and your team member have a mutual understanding of expectations.
Regardless of whether a team is remote or not, the leader is responsible for creating an inclusive team. Creating inclusive workplaces is about considering needs and experiences based on different identity factors, and in the current situation, consideration for individual lenses and circumstances is critical for inclusive leadership. When that team is remote, specific approaches should be considered that create a team environment where both individuals and leaders feel engaged and understand the expectations. Many of the points shared below may already be in place with your in-person teams. However, it is important to review and adapt what is already in place and fill in the gaps on any areas that may be missing.
By managing outward, you will maintain and strengthen the relationships with your team. Managing outward includes:
- Regular check-ins: having regular check-in meetings with each team member is important as it provides the opportunity to review not only progress on work, but also to regularly check in on how each individual’s work from home situation is working.
- Frequent communication: frequent communication ensures your team has the information and updates they need. The phrase “we are all in this together” applies to work; a fundamental way to demonstrate this is through open communication. Key aspects of frequent communication include:
- Assignment updates: Regularly providing updates and information is critical, especially as projects scope and ways of doing work, such as field work, change, etc.
- Schedules and arrangements: as appropriate, allow team members to share their own circumstances to make sure others understand what factors may be affecting response time, work hours, and other changes that impact the team’s working relationship.
- Updates for assurance: take away as much uncertainty as possible by sharing what you can about the steps your organization is taking.
- Team success stories: be vocal about success stories from other teams which would normally be shared through informal communication in the office.
- Apply the same ideas to client relationships: communication and relationship building with clients is also important. Consider these same principles and how they should be applied to your client relationships. Discuss this with your team as well so that they understand any changes in approach.
- Ask for feedback: leading and working on a remote team takes adjustment. Make sure your team knows this and that they can provide feedback on what is and what is not working and that you are all learning together.
Norms and expected behaviours can help provide your team with structure that can provide confidence and reassurance to support working from home.
- Re-visit your Team Charter: your team may already have a team charter or other guiding principles; remind your team of these if they exist. Consider whether there are adjustment or changes that should be made to adapt to the current environment.
- Develop guiding principles: if your team does not have a charter or guiding principles, consider developing these to reflect the current work environment. Normally these activities can require a significant time investment. However, there are templates available that can offer a reasonable solution with limited time investment. Here is a sample template provided by Catalyst.
- Ensure clear expectations: make sure your team understands what the expectations are during this period. Differences may include:
- Core hours and different shifts to address technology use constraints as well as individual circumstances.
- Communication expectations in terms of how to reach people – phone numbers, preference to use email, chat channels, etc.
- Not all team members will be aware of data privacy and security requirements, so it is important to explain what communication tools and apps are not acceptable.
- Agreement to community building actions to support collaboration and socializing. These tend to occur organically when in-person, but when working remotely, we need to make time for social connection, which will benefit team resilience and productivity.
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