Be the master of remote working
How to strengthen team cohesion, avoid miscommunication, and adapt leadership approach when working remote amid or after a pandemic?
Although by now the lockdown is coming to an end in more and more jurisdictions including Hungary, we can reasonably expect that the ratio of remote working will stay higher than in pre-lockdown times and also we may feel the need to be prepared for the unforeseeable, including forced remote working in the future.
In a recent article McKinsey wrote about some targeted actions agile leaders should take to overcome the challenges of remote working. The suggestions may be useful for all leaders, whether or not leading agile teams.
Revisit the ground rules for interaction
It is important to establish new ground rules for communication, e.g. determining the frequency, means, and ideal timing of communication. For example, videoconferencing is used for daily check-in meetings, but IM (instant messaging) is the preferred channel to address anything urgent.
Importantly, teams need to be respectful of personal choices. Working from home blurs the lines between professional and personal lives. Team members may feel added stress about the impression they create on video, whether because of the appearance of their home workspace or interruptions from young children, etc. Teams should accept these limitations and interruptions graciously—and team members should feel free to set their own boundaries around scheduling and use of video.
Cultivate bonding and morale
Given that traditional activities that nurture morale for co-located teams—such as casual lunches, impromptu coffee breaks, or after-work social activities—are not possible in a virtual environment, new ways are needed.
Of course by now the internet is full of ideas for virtual team building. My personal favourite is the ”three truths and a lie” and the ”bucket list challenge”, mentioned e.g. in a post of Connecteam.
A lovely corporate retreat may be to organize virtual pizza parties, where pizza is delivered to all team members at the time of a videoconference, as mentioned in a recent article at Harvard Business Review.
When working remotely, it is all the more important to do everything possible to avoid miscommunication. For example, it may be necessary to document team discussions, producing a so-called single source of truth to memorialize agreements. Similarly, it may be important to keep backlogs clean, up to date, and well documented.
Adjust to asynchronous collaboration
Asynchronous communication, such as messaging boards and chat, can be effective means to coordinate teams working remotely. This has the benefit of allowing team members to raise red flags at any point during the day, and it serves as the registry of concerns that have been raised and addressed.
However, it is good to remember that teams that grow overly reliant on asynchronous channels may see team members feeling isolated, and the trust among them may suffer.
Adapting leadership approach
We may see examples where five-minute individual check-ins are in place with the team members throughout the week. The point is that team members feel heard without getting even more overwhelmed with communication.
Research on emotional intelligence shows that employees may tend to look to their managers for cues about how to react to sudden changes or crisis situations.
Effective leaders take a two-pronged approach, both acknowledging the stress and anxiety that employees may be feeling in difficult circumstances, but also providing affirmation of their confidence in their teams.
The Forbes’s suggestions to strengthen communication and team cohesion of remotely working teams include establishing regular morning team check-ins, starting with one-word check-ins. Ask each person to share one word to describe how they are feeling in that moment. There is no discussion in this practice, it is simply a way for team members to connect with how others are feeling in the moment.