As work-from-home (WFH) weeks turn into months, everyone is adapting in his or her own way. Most people are battling new sets of distractions and experiencing an unprecedented fusion of work and private life, creating stress and anxiety that affect performance and engagement.
Research has shown that when sudden changes or crises arise in the workplace, employees look to their managers for cues and guidance on how to react. Although leadership teams know that it’s essential to deeply understand and empathize with the factors that make remote work more demanding, the old playbook doesn’t apply in this new world.
Here are three strategies for how to lead remote teams, inspire connection and keep culture strong in today’s remote work world.
Lead With Empathy
Figuring out a new strategy for how to lead teams remotely can be overwhelming. Where do you begin when everyone is processing the stresses, motivations and worries of this new normal in their own way? You might be tempted to jump in and lay out expectations for how teams should work, but it’s important first to gain an understanding of how individual team members are feeling and build personalized solutions in order to lead them effectively.
Creating lasting solutions that address the needs of every employee requires you to keep a pulse on how sentiment is evolving. There are many digital tools that create a simple way to collect and understand employee feedback. Adding open-ended questions can provide a general pulse on stress levels, sense of belonging and mental health.
In addition, structure one-on-one meetings in such a way that they are focused on well-being as well as work priorities. Simple tactics, like asking employees how their day is going and having them rate how they’re feeling about their daily tasks on a scale of 1 to 10, can uncover pain points and help monitor sentiment over time.
Depending on the feedback, you can then develop programs and policies that directly support employees — for example, limiting meetings so that employees have more time to focus on deliverables or providing training with experts on how to adjust to change or manage stress.
What’s more, managers who demonstrate support and empathy make people feel like they are a top priority, which can have an immensely positive impact on engagement and connection. Simple acts, like flexible hours for employees with children, can go a long way.
Leading during these extraordinary times can feel like an unfamiliar path, but the more you can make it a dual priority to listen to employees individually and turn up the dial on empathy for everyone, the more inspired and connected employees will feel.
Redefine Connection and Interaction
One of the most challenging aspects of the rapid transition to an entirely remote workforce is ensuring that the right technology and activities are in place for people to stay connected and in touch with company culture. For me, the inability to see employees’ body language and physical cues has been one of the most challenging aspects of this shift. While far from face-to-face interaction, meetings through online platforms have proven invaluable to at least give us all some sense of togetherness and normalcy.
That said, it’s important not to rely on video for all meetings and team interaction. Too much video can cause fatigue and disconnection. Initiatives that require ongoing team collaboration or items that need immediate discussion, for example, can occur more efficiently through messaging tools. Establishing a loose framework for how employees should use technology can help them stay focused and engaged.
Everyone is craving social interaction right now, so make it a point also to explore topics and ideas that go beyond work.
Ensuring that remote workforces stay engaged means being creative about how to inspire company culture. Consider virtual trivia happy hours, themed company town halls or video sessions with a wellness expert to guide employees through meditation techniques. While we all miss being with our colleagues in person, WFH pushes us to take a closer look at which forms of interaction map back to our culture and give employees a sense of belonging.
Return to Your Company Values and Roots
Another way to lead teams from afar and keep culture alive is to tap into your founding mission and company values. For example, companies in the online learning space — who strive to help individuals transform their lives by providing access to knowledge and new skills — could share testimonials from users and teachers about how the platform has enabled them to discover a new passion or earn additional income during this economic downturn. Reminding employees of the impact that their daily work has on the lives of others is a powerful tool to instill purpose and meaning, no matter where you’re working.
Finding ways for employees to contribute to company values not only promotes pride and ownership but also reinforces company culture in a way that will persist beyond the coronavirus. For example, if a core pillar is contributing to the social good of the community, look for local organizations that tie back to your roots and that employees would want to support, like nonprofits working on improving the environment or local housing. Another idea is to create a fun, light interdepartmental challenge where the winning team picks a charity for the company to contribute to.
Successfully leading remote teams and establishing corporate cultures that prize connectivity are challenging goals for companies to achieve even in normal circumstances. Those organizations that invest now and make thoughtful changes to how they lead remotely will deepen engagement and enrich their culture. While it’s impossible to know how long our new remote work life will last, taking the necessary steps to address long-distance leadership now will enable organizations to handle whatever comes their way in the future.