IIDM: A guide to leading remote teams - Michelle Gibbings

For International Institute of Directors & Manager, in this article, Michelle provides guidance on how to successful lead your team, remotely.

Before COVID-19, close to 50% of employees had never worked from home before. Today, for many organisations, remote working is now an ongoing part of the organisational dynamic.

Atlassian said employees only need to come into the office four times a year. In addition, tech companies including Twitter, Dropbox, Amazon, and HubSpot are embracing the work from anywhere mantra for either all or parts of their workforce.

Participants in the World Economic Forum’s Chief Economist Survey (2021), when asked the question, “In your view, which of the following pandemic-induced/reinforced developments will have the longest-lasting impacts?” the answer was remote work. 

The World Economic Forum noted that while the long term impact of remote work on workplaces and productivity is still unclear, early evidence suggests that employees worked longer hours and were more productive at home (on average).

Bosses who were sceptical of its workability were proven wrong—work from home works when all involved, particularly leaders, focus on making it work.

Different Impacts – Different Needs

The rapid move to working from home has been successful for many employees – less commuting, better work-life balance, and access to effective technology to support productivity.  So much so that a UK study by Citrix found approximately 75% of employees value working remotely so much they would take a put cut in return for a flexible job.

It has been stressful for others as they juggle home-schooling, have no defined workspace or the technology needed to work effectively.  Also, for people who draw energy from connecting with colleagues, they miss the office banter and casual conversations.

Recent research from Mainstreet supports this view, finding that 70% of Australians find their most meaningful and regular social connections at work, with Gen-Z employees the most keen to return to the workplace.

These impacts translate into variations in productivity and engagement.  Consequently, it’s essential to recognise each team member’s needs and to understand what they need to be at their best at work.  Then, examine your workforce and roles to determine the best options and flexibility to support your organisation’s objectives and elevate employee productivity.

Step up and lead

Leadership matters no matter the working environment – be it the office or home.  The best leaders appreciate this and are shifting and elevating their leadership style to suit these new circumstances.

Working from home means that leaders need to pay more, not less, attention to team dynamics and to finding ways to elevate team engagement and connection. First, prioritise knowing your team members.

Next, leaders should have regular times to check in with their team. These check-ins aren’t just about how tasks are progressing; they’re about finding out how the team member is going on an emotional and mental health level too.

Be selective

Humans are tribal creatures who are hard-wired for connection. Part of the joy and happiness people experience at work comes from the banter and chats they have with colleagues.   Nothing can replace the casual corridor conversation or chat in the tea room.

Not everything translates as well virtually. There is a time and place for in-person, face-to-face sessions.  Take the time to consider and deliberately select when, where and how you engage and connect with your team.

Fix technology gaps

Working remotely is hampered by ineffective technology, processes and systems. While many organisations put in place workarounds to enable swift adaptation, assess which workarounds now need a more permanent solution.

Zoom fatigue is real

The pandemic workday can feel like groundhog day – with increased workplace stress, never-ending zoom meetings and the blurring between home and work-life. Plus, sitting down and participating in online meetings all day is exhausting.  This challenge is exacerbated for introverts.

It’s crucial, therefore, to provide options for connection and enable space for quiet time.  Remember, the phone is still an effective communication device.

Encourage your team members to take regular breaks during the day and when they can to step away from their workspace. They can put their ear-pods in and hold walking meetings, do some stretching or deep breathing and meditation. The goal is to shift their environment, which alters their state and helps to refresh their perspective.

Set boundaries

Lastly, talk to your team about the boundaries between the workday and home life. Then, together, agree on what’s acceptable regarding requests for work outside standard working hours.  This practice makes it easier for team members to know when they can switch their phone and laptop off.


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