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Tips for leaders: Managing a Remote Team

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For some leaders, not having your team close to you can be a scary concept.  Some thoughts that might be running through your heads are… 1. Welfare-based: “How will I support them, how will they support each other?”; 2. Trust-based: “How can I ensure they are working?”; or, 3. Client-focused: “Will our clients understand we can still service them even though it’s virtually?”.  It goes without saying, that the current pandemic has forced this experiment on all of us and like it or not, we’re all having to answer these questions.

As the Managing Director of ThirdWay Workplace, I deal with these thoughts as a manager, but also on nearly every project we do with clients who are considering offering flexible working.  To evaluate whether or not certain teams are suitable for flexible working, which usually includes working from home, we enlist our Agility Scale tool. This helps us evaluate and explain to managers why or why not their team might be suitable candidates for the flexibility that agile working can offer.  However, now it seems everyone has been deemed suitable – so let’s go from there.

Welfare-based Concerns

Our current situation has made us even more concerned than usual. Is everyone safe and happy? Do they have a comfortable home and roommates, spouses or other family to keep them company?  Has the cabin-fever kicked in yet? Especially now, it’s hard to be there for your team, and for them to be there for each other.  Through using the multitude of technology at hand, it is possible to keep in touch, see smiles on everyone’s faces and be available for any queries that they normally would have just popped over to your desk to ask you about.  Here is how to keep everyone feeling the love:

Get your technology right!. Whether it’s messengers or VCs, there is usually a free or low cost option available to you.  As a group, we use:

  • Our very own Savvy App, for internal communications, sharing birthday and reading the Savvy team’s daily posts on how to get through this.
  • Slack for messaging and collaboration, each team has a channel, as does each project we’re working on.  Plus, you can send DMs and connect it to a bunch of helpful apps like…           
  • Zoom for video conferencing. We have a daily social/team catch-up everyday at 10 am, and a multitude of calls throughout the day to jump on a talk about whatever we need at that moment.  We are also still doing our weekly team meeting that ThirdWay is so well known for.  Whilst 200 of us are on mute, our CEO Ben shares with us what the current circumstance is, a bit of his wisdom and sometimes an uplifting video submission.
  • Getting used to chatting on video can be daunting for some, but once you get over staring at your own face, you can sometimes forget your not in the same room with these people.

Trust-based Concerns

Trust-based is a tricky one because is often an emotional response.  When hiring a team member, it’s impossible to know how they are going to perform until you’ve onboarded them and they are into their role.  Therefore it’s really important to enlist pre-screening, as appropriate for your industry and the role itself.  Pre-screening can include competency skills testing, but should also include a cultural-fit interview, to ensure that your new hire aligns with most, if not all the core values of your organization.  At ThirdWay, we’ve recently gone through and shored up our core values, and now have a set of recruitment questions that test candidates’ responses to make sure they will fit in and we can trust them to support their team.

I truly believe that if you don’t trust one of your team members (for legitimate reasons), then they shouldn’t be on your team.  This goes for pandemic times, and not.  Chances are, if you can’t trust them, then their teammates can’t trust them, and they can completely undermine productivity.

So, trust issues aside, the best way to keep everyone honest at a time like this is to spend the extra one-on-one time (or enlist your senior management team to help), to ensure that everyone knows what is expected of them, and when.  Presenteeism is no longer an answer for ‘are you working hard’; now, the proof is only to be found in output-based working.

  • Arrange Weekly 1:1 sessions with each team member/manager (adjust this to be appropriate for your team size).
  • Use a tool to record goals, actions and due dates. My team uses Trello to do this, and they can update things as they go so I can see everything we agreed for the week being moved to the ‘done’ card.
  • Develop a resourcing document and require timesheets to be entered against it. That way, you can review the amount of time that they’ve been allocated on either client projects or internal tasks, and how it compares to what they’ve done.

It may sound like a bit more ‘admin’, but the structure makes everyone more comfortable in what’s expected of them and therefore, makes managing easier for you.

Client-focused Concerns

Getting used to working with clients virtually, if you usually depend on face time, can be a big hurdle to get over.  This of course changes client to client and what the actual work is that you’re completing, however if it’s possible to continue delivering services, there are some simple ways to keep them confident and comfortable during the lock-down.

At ThirdWay, we pride ourselves on our relationships with clients, we believe it’s what sets us apart and has been proven repeatedly as a strength in our business.  From the word ‘stop’, we were working on our strategy of how best to communicate with them (thoroughly, and often), and how to continue delivering as best as possible.   Unfortunately for many of our entities, we shut our construction sites, however for the Workplace team, we’ve been able to adapt many of our tools to continue our current projects.

  • Communications. As above, as soon as the big news went out, we got in touch with everyone. Assuring them we are doing everything we can to support both our people and them at this time.  Emails from our CEO and personal calls from our client managers provide comfort to our clients and lets them know they are valued and that we genuinely care how any slow-down affects them.
  • Candor. This time is going to be rough. Not everything we usually do can be done. Where possible things are being substituted or pushed later into the programme so they still get the value.  We must be honest in what is possible and what’s not, but also that this is some-what of a trial and error and they are our partners in making this work.
  • Adapt to using whatever they are, we don’t need to add to their stress by asking them to meet on a million different platforms - just stay connected.

None of this is easy, but it’s an experiment we plan to learn a lot from and so can you.  When presenteeism isn’t an option, and we realise what’s possible from home and what’s not – how will this change us when we come back into the workplace?  Those who have been insisting on working from home might realise it doesn’t suit them for all tasks and appreciate the office more, and managers who have been so anti home-working may come around to discover benefits of productivity on certain tasks and welcome more flexible working.

 

Written by Amanda Irwin, Founding Director of ThirdWay Workplace

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