Since Thrive launched in 2017, we’ve been a “virtual” company – with our team members all working from home and connecting online. Our CEO LEANNE KENNEDY has been sharing some of what she’s learned about managing our remote team during this time.
I love remote working. There’s so much freedom, creativity and flexibility that comes with it. And I’ve seen how it can maximise a teams engagement and fulfilment. I know that not all jobs suit remote working – for some it’s obviously impossible. I also know that it assumes that staff have internet access, and so some organisations will need to consider how to equip staff to make this transition. But if remote working is something you’re currently getting to grips with in your organisation, then here are some things I’ve learned about doing it well.
1. Role model good ways of working. As the team leader or manager, you need to embrace remote working and role model good ways of working. If it’s new to you, then you may well feel uncomfortable, stressed or anxious, which can trickle down into your team. In this case, it’s important to connect with peers who have experience. What about setting up, or joining, a peer support group?
2. Have one-to-one check-ins. In a time of crisis and stress, your team may well require more structure, direction and clarity in their work, especially if your organisational direction has shifted as a result of COVID-19. Some people will need focus, because they are feeling overwhelmed. Some may have COVID-19 and need to take time off sick, and then need to catch up with what’s been going on. And some will just need to see a friendly face, as they live alone. Each person’s situation is unique. And when you do connect, don’t jump straight into talking about work. Ask people how they are doing. According to Harvard Business Review, many successful remote managers establish a daily call with their remote employees.
3. Have regular team check-ins. At Thrive, we have a group check-in every Tuesday morning. It’s short and sweet, but it’s awesome to see everyone’s face and to touch base. Each person has a few minutes (depending on size of group) to share how they are (we go ‘personal’ and include what we got up to at weekends, and then also share how our week looks). And then once a month, we have an extended team meeting which is more ‘operational’. We share information and news on what’s happening in other teams. We then split people up into smaller groups (using Zoom’s break-out rooms) for 30 mins to connect and reflect on what has been shared.
4. Have fun and celebrate. We have a couple of Whatsapp groups, where we keep it light hearted and fun: people share holiday pictures, good news (from new babies to weddings to graduations), and offer encouragement to one another. We also try to regularly celebrate in meetings, and then have time set aside for team building and fun time. This has included singing christmas carols to playing charades and hosting pub quizzes.
5. Be personal. People may have different views on this one, but we try to bring our whole selves to work. I try to invest in getting to know people personally. We get a sneak into people’s homes with Zoom. We know children and spouses. We’ve celebrated personal joy and sorrow together. We’ve been to each other’s houses (okay so not during COVID-19) and we’ve done social meet-ups. It doesn’t mean you’re all going to be friends, but it shows an appreciation for the whole person, not just the task and reason they work for you!
6. Use video. Face-to-face is so important, even if it is virtual. So switch your video on during a call: it’s important when working remotely that you don’t stay in your pyjamas all day. Get up, showered and dressed. Video allows eye contact, and seeing body language creates a deeper sense of connection.
7. Encourage consistency. Set up rhythms and create consistency. Whether it’s team meetings, check-ins or project meetings, it’s good to help people form structure in their days when working from home, especially if they’re not used to it. And discuss this structure with your team so that expectations can be set and needs can be met.
8. Know your team’s communication preferences. I have had to learn how my team prefers to communicate. And everyone is different. I know who to email, who to Whatsapp, who to call and who to Skype. It’s good to open different options.
9. Show understanding & empathy. This is particularly important at a time when there is increased anxiety and stress. Know that everyone responds differently: some will go into ‘perfectionism’ mode. Some will have increased need for structure. Some will withdraw for a time. It’s important to recognise that people may not be at full capacity at this point in time so let’s reset expectations, show compassion and support your team through this time of crisis. Check in with people, ask questions, and avoid complaining.
10. Allow flexibility. One of the benefits that working from home offers is flexibility. It allows parents to spend time with children, or it means taking that break to exercise or getting the shopping. However, sometimes employees need to be empowered to know they can step into the flexibility available because many of us in traditional office environments are hardwired to work 9am-5pm.
Read our Director of Learning’s tips for remote training.