The famous quote of ‘’remote work is the future’’ is now obsolete. Remote work is the present and is transforming completely the way thousands of companies work. Employees no longer need commuting for hours to get to an office. They get more things done and are less likely to suffer from burnouts. Companies have reduced their unnecessary office expenses, and in some cases, they’ve experienced a higher level of productivity.
However, for some teams, things are not as great as they probably thought. Many people right now are asking, “where are all the benefits everyone preached about remote work???” – One thing is for sure, remote work in COVID-19 times is not the same as regular remote work. Right now, there are many factors taking place, that even companies used to working remotely before the pandemic, have had a rough time. Fortunately, there are key strategies that you can implement to keep your dispersed team motivated.
The Role of the Business Leader in a Remote Team
Leading teams is never easy. It requires passion, vision, organization, among other important characteristics that not everyone has. And leading a geographically dispersed team changes everything. Because besides needing these skills, you need to lead and guide employees that are not in the same office as you but are thousands of km away in some cases.
In Buffer’s State of Remote from 2019, loneliness ranked as the second most common challenge, with 19% of respondents stating it’s their biggest struggle. Remote workers tend to feel isolated, lonely and left out of the team when there is not the right type of management. This leads to negative consequences such as lower levels of productivity and disengagement.
The role of the remote business leader is crucial because they are the ones who keep teams connected. They have the power to prevent isolation, and loneliness that employees might feel by not working in an office. Thankfully, many tools make this easier but if leaders don’t take their job seriously, managing a dispersed team is impossible. When business leaders care for their teams, they figure out which are the best ways to connect everyone, they understand how each employee works, and, most importantly, they know how to keep everyone constantly motivated working towards their main goals in the company.
Video Meetings and Weekly Stand-ups
When you work remotely, there are probabilities that you feel isolated from your team. In some cases, the difference in time zones is the main challenge; in other cases, it’s because the team itself is disconnected. Whatever the case is, leaders have to step in and build a strong communication structure that makes everyone feel connected with one another.
I lead a remote company that has employees geographically dispersed! And despite this, in every team, we organize a weekly meeting in the hour that works best for everyone. This helps us not only see how projects are moving forward or if anyone is stuck with something. But it also helps us to feel closer to the other team members.
Virtual meetings mean camera and microphone on! When you get to see the faces of your employees, it’s easier to bond with them. And when you focus on running virtual meetings efficiently, in some cases, you might even feel like if your employees were sitting next to you because you truly connect.
Yet, virtual meetings can be torture for some of us because they tend to last long, especially when teams are bigger, and everyone has something to say. This is why it’s fundamental to structure them. Firstly, think about the main purpose of the meeting. And secondly, structure the meeting in a way that helps you achieve that purpose.
Implementing aspects of the Agile philosophy for remote teams is helpful for this. Agile has the daily stand-ups that consist of teams gathering in an office at the beginning of every day for 15 minutes. Each member of the team answers two main questions:
- What did I work on yesterday?
- What will I do today?
This way, team leaders know how the projects are evolving or if someone is stuck with something. It’s also the perfect space to motivate employees if they are having a problem and offering them help. In a remote environment, Agile stand-ups work the same way, you gather in Zoom or any other video call software for 15 minutes and answer the same questions.
Building Empathy in a Virtual Environment
When you lead a team in a remote environment, it’s harder to tell how employees feel. Think about it this way, when you work in an on-site office, you get to the building, enter the office, say hi to everyone, and maybe someone caught your eye because of their body posture or their sad eyes. You get to the meeting, and this employee doesn’t have the same energy as usual, so you know somethings going on, and it’s easier to offer them help.
In a virtual environment, this doesn’t happen. Even though you have video calls, it’s much harder to know if someone is stressed, having a tough time at home, or didn’t get enough sleep. Instead of waiting for employees to reach out to you, be there for them.
The best way of doing this is by 1:1. Schedule with every employee in your team a feedback meeting, maybe twice every month, or how it best suits everyone. And although 1:1 has the objective of providing feedback, it’s also the space to understand and make time to listen to your employees. Always remind them you are there to help them and guide them, not only for delegating tasks.
Empowering Remote Employees
Working remotely requires employees to be more self-reliant. They can’t always wait for you to tell them what to do, or how to do their tasks. However, if you don’t provide them with feedback or make them feel valued, they likely start suffering from impostor syndrome and feeling that their work is not good enough, or even worse, that they aren’t good enough.
To avoid this, it’s fundamental to empower your employees and make them feel part of a team. When they know they are not alone, and that their work matters, they will work even harder to get better results.
Empowering working from home employees doesn’t mean fake motivating them and going all: You can do everything! You are the best! It means that even if you have to provide negative feedback, tell them that they have the potential to improve and that whatever they need, you are there to guide them through.
Another great way to connect with them is by encouraging virtual water coolers! These informal spaces like virtual happy hours, gaming sessions, or just virtual coffee, allow employees to open up more and be more comfortable in the team they are in. These little things matter and make a big difference when it comes to making virtual teams stronger.
I believe that a company’s culture (whether remote or not) is not only about having a mission and a vision. Culture is about people! It’s about the connection in teams, so never underestimate these strategies that will help you guide your team, keep everyone motivated, and help you foster a healthier culture.
Laila Azzahra is a professional writer and blogger that loves to write about technology, business, entertainment, science, and health.