Guest contributor Dr Simon Mac Rory
For those organisations fortunate to still have work in these chaotic times, it’s more likely than not to be delivered by remote teams. The leadership practices and behaviours required are substantially different from managing a co-located team. Leaders must recognise the need to adopt and modify their approach for the team to have any chance of success. They must lead with intent. The suddenness by which leaders and teams have found themselves working virtually may compound the difficulties in transitioning to this new world but some practical steps can be taken. Working remotely in teams is not just a phenomenon of the global pandemic. This will become a new norm, valued by both employees and organisations. Those effective leaders who show the aptitude to lead remotely will be recognised and sought after.
Adapting your leadership to the current climate
The pandemic sweeping across the globe has dramatically changed how we work but unfortunately, we’re adapting to it on the fly. Teams that were already more familiar with working remotely experienced challenges, now managers must provide the necessary leadership but without the benefit of time or head space for preparation. Not only have they had little time to adjust, the lockdowns in operation globally are more than likely to continue for some considerable time. There is every possibility that organisations who, historically may have been sceptical of working from home, will be forced to reassess their views and it will inevitably become much more commonplace or indeed sought after by employees across a range of business sectors.
One of the biggest concerns, leaders have, relates to team productivity and output, all the more pronounced if this is the first time the leader has had to lead from a distance, or if the team collectively have never previously functioned virtually. Will they work as hard if no one checking them?
The answer is Yes, they will. Which is the good news. But this all depends on several significant changes occurring. The bad news is these changes are predominantly related to the leader adapting to the new situation and adopting new practices and specifically becoming an Intentional Leader.
Fortunately, for many workers, the technology and tools available for communication are familiar to most people not just through work but day-to-day in their personal lives too. This at least means the connectivity issues are not so much of a barrier to team effectiveness as perhaps they may once have been. Of course, individual team members may have to use personal equipment which may not be on top of the range or may have local broadband difficulties, but the majority will have the basics to work remotely.
One element that is of concern to some large-scale organisations with little history of working from home is the capability of their systems to cope with so many remote users logged in at the same time. Leaders simply have to acknowledge these constraints and reflect them in the outcomes expected from team members.
So, if it’s not the technology that may undermine virtual team effectiveness what are the potential de-railers?
The fact is that most of the now virtual teams have not had the time to engage in the necessary preparations to begin working effectively as a remote team. They are in many cases adopting many if not all the same practices they used when they were exclusively co-located or when only some of the team may have occasionally worked remotely
Leaders need to abandon their former spontaneous approach to team management. Everything the now do must be intentional leadership.
Inclusiveness is an important aspect for leaders to bear in mind. For example, does remote working favour the younger team members more comfortable and fluent with the skills to use the virtual communication tools available? Do leaders personally have the skills to use all the platforms? Can they support and make sure everyone is at ease with the technology? Leaders should check-in with each person individually, discuss how the various tools are used optimally and share tips/best practice before launching into daily video team meetings. This intentional leadership act ensures the whole team can participate fully. Further, leaders should check that everyone’s home office set up is appropriate and if fortunate enough may even want to provide funding to help equip them to function effectively. For the team, one member’s audio problems can be a frustration and annoyance for all. Leaders should make sure in their one-to-ones that these issues are mitigated. Sometimes this can be as simple as connecting to the broadband directly by cable and not relying on patchy Wi-Fi or turning off video to allow for audio only.
There are other issues with technology that leaders must give thought to and act upon. Have the organisation stress-tested all employees accessing the core systems/networks simultaneously? Do team members all need access and has this been authorised as necessary? Can everyone access collaborative virtual files and workspaces?
Leaders may need to proactively provide team members with guidance on home-working
They should pay attention to discussing some of the potential emotional and psychological implications of working remotely. Help them to plan their day, establish their boundaries, reiterate the importance of staying connected with friends and colleagues, the importance of exercise and regular meals. Genuinely demonstrate compassion and concern. While this should be part and parcel of every remote team leader’s behaviour, in a time of crisis it becomes even more critical. Simple acts of kindness can make or break a team member’s discretionary effort to the team’s goals.
When team members feel they can take control of their workload in a way that fits their unique circumstances and their leader/team display support this enormously benefits their wellbeing, reduces stress and contributes to higher productivity. As a leader you may need to demonstrate more patience on some of the unintended consequences of team member’s different circumstances such as children disrupting team meetings, dogs barking etc.
These are just some of the basic staring points for intentional leadership. In the next article we will look at the essential task of re-booting or re-launching the team and how intentional leaders modify their natural communication practices to operate effectively in the remote team-working context.
Dr. Simon Mac Rory’s next article – Teamwork Relaunched – will be published on Wednesday 6 May at midday (BST).
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr Simon Mac Rory is an Entrepreneur, OD (Organisational Development) Specialist and Academic. He is currently the CEO of The ODD Company and CEO of The Guardian Service Limited. He is also author of Wake Up and Smell the Coffee published in 2019 by LID Publishing.
Learn more about teamwork
Wake Up and Smell the Coffee
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