These are unprecedented times, no doubt. As someone who was in Hong Kong when the outbreak first emerged, then came to the UK just as various lockdowns began, then back to Hong Kong where I have temporarily been required to be both tagged and quarantined to certain rooms in my own home, and forbidden from being close to my family in the very same home, I can attest that this is an all-but unique time. It goes without saying, that I hope everyone is keeping well as we work our way through this.
For all the personal challenges, the reality is that life goes on and business has to move forward and find new ways of both operating and succeeding. With most in our industry working remotely from colleagues and clients, I thought it worth looking at best practice examples of how to help your team flourish in this new way of working. The risk is that we all operate just as if we were in the office when the reality is that, operating away from each other, requires a different rhythm and a new set of daily practices.
So, for what it’s worth, here’s my top-six tips for making remote working work for you, your teams, and your clients born from my own experience and courtesy of the experts at Harvard Business Review among others:
Catch up even if there is no pressing need to catch up. When we’re in the office, catching up happens formally at team meetings but also informally as we constantly interact across the desk, at the coffee machine and by the loos! We might feel another Zoom/Teams/Houseparty call is superfluous but daily catch ups with teams and colleagues are essential to retain the glue that binds us together naturally when we’re co-located. For those in agencies, make the same promise for connecting with clients. Call them despite there being no specific objective…chewing the fat and staying close will reap rewards.
Find out what’s going on with your team outside of work. Life in a global pandemic is stressful. Not only are many people juggling working from home with needing to entertain, educate and engage kids, but many are also dealing with feelings of loneliness and worries about family and friends. Checking in with your team members and clients about how they are doing, not just about how the project is progressing, is more important than ever. Adjusting call times or project deadlines when needed can really help the juggling act and will often lead to a more efficient outputs in the short and long-term. Make a promise to yourself to emerge from this period having built stronger bonds with your team.
Turn up your EQ. Listen to the nuances of colleagues and clients, interpret what they need and offer them support before they ask. When you connect, even if it is uncomfortable, use video wherever possible as it will help you to judge who is thriving and who is struggling, who is engaged and who is tuning out. So much of what we convey is done in our body language and asides so look for those and find ways to help.
Schedule objectives and track your progress. It’s all too easy to lose a sense of purpose when the daily commute is from bedroom to lounge, when everyone is in a state of turmoil, and our norms are thrown to the wind. When your team is all working on the same project, over-communication is key to avoid double-ups and continue to hit the project metrics. Regardless of the technology you’re using it’s vital to make sure your team understands the overall project objectives, their role in making it happen, the deadlines, and to raise their hand if they have any questions.
Keep learning. It’s almost inevitable that the training agenda can slip off the to-do list when working differently or away from colleagues. But it’s actually a really great time to learn provided the means of delivery adapts to the new reality. Keep sessions punchy, short and relevant – ideally 10/15 minutes max. This short learning cycle can be used to introduce people to a new app, a new way of working, a new insight etc. If you’re part of a team, set an objective for each team member that they’ll lead a 10-minute learning session each week to share something of value for everyone.
Trust your team. In Asia in particular, there is sadly a culture of leading teams with suspicion: equating productivity with time spent at the desk rather than output or impact. Remote working was not commonplace and viewed as a reward rather than just another option for work. However, as a leader you now have no choice but to trust your employees. How can you be sure your team is actually working? The key is trust and keep watching for output. Equip all team members with the information they require, give them the technology required, assign them tasks, empower them and trust they will get the job done. So as a manager, your main job is to heed Ernest Hemingway’s advice: “The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.”
I hope these thoughts are useful and provide some food for thought. For now, stay safe and keep well.