5 Keys to Managing Remote Teams During Crisis
We are living through a once in a century event, there is no playbook, everyone is doing the best they can as circumstances are constantly evolving. As we work to protect our health and maintain business continuity, we are experiencing unprecedented disruption to our daily lives. Guiding our companies, employees, and families through this experience requires that we adjust our leadership styles and embrace socially disconnected collaboration.
Leadership During Crisis Requires Emotional Intelligence
Beyond the fear of the virus itself, global stock markets are volatile, recession fears are mounting, and oil prices have sustained their worst losses since the Gulf War in 1991. While we expect that the coronavirus will follow the normal course of epidemiology and stop spreading; the long-term effects are unclear and the constant barrage of negative news serves to magnify anxiety. Managing teams to protect business continuity in the immediate future is going to require that leaders exercise high levels of flexibility and emotional intelligence.
How I’m Supporting My Remote Employees
Extraordinary circumstances require extraordinary leadership. What we do as leaders now will have long-term implications for our companies. People often forget the words you used and the temporary hardships they experienced, but they will always remember how you made them feel. By applying a growth mindset, I see times like this as an opportunity to strengthen the organization and improve teamwork by creating a sense of place and purpose for everyone.
Five Tools to Manage Remote Employees and Minimize Business Disruption
My first priority is remembering that I am leading people and people are emotional. While everyone on my team is fully committed to the company, they are first and foremost mothers and fathers concerned with the security of their family. It’s imperative they know that the company values their wellbeing above all else; then can focus on the business task at hand.
Below are some of the steps I’m taking to keep our teams engaged so that business moves forward.
Clear and consistent communication. At times like this, the worst thing a leader can do is to “go dark.” Human beings are hard-wired for survival which means we instinctively monitor our environment for threats and assume the worst-case scenario to survive. When people are working remotely the need for communication increases exponentially as they may feel disconnected or isolated from their teams. We’ve taken several measures to protect our employees’ health (as well as that of our customers, healthcare workers, educators, and non-profit organizations). To ensure that everyone receives this critical information we’re using several communications vehicles (e.g. virtual team meetings, emails, intranet postings, signage, and our corporate blog).
Use video conferencing frequently. Messaging and email are efficient tools for many types of communication, but both lack the ability to convey emotion and therefore cannot provide reassurance or create calm in uncertain times.
UCLA researcher Albert Mehrabian conducted a study of interpersonal relations in the 1960s. The study found that when people do not have verbal or visual cues 93% of communications are misinterpreted.
Without non-verbal cues, your team will naturally question your sincerity and most-likely regress to a fear-based response. When they can see and hear you they’ll recognize authenticity and empathy allowing them to trust your leadership and maintain progress.
Make personal allowances. If your company commonly uses video meetings, there are likely some established expectations for employees when they are working remotely including dedicated office space free from distractions. Family members know to leave the remote employee alone and often are not in the home during business hours.
These are not usual circumstances, most of the family is in the home. Children are aware of the uncertainty. As such, they’ll naturally be concerned and may need extra attention or act out; at times like this leaders need to “roll with it.” Be aware of your team’s home environment and encourage them to share their situations with the team. This will foster understanding and acceptance of atypical behaviors encouraging everyone to work cohesively.
Create opportunities for friendly interactions. As social creatures, we perform better when we feel accepted as part of a group. Informal personal interactions are critical to team dynamics because they deepen connections and engagement. Make it a point to encourage people to talk about their lives outside of the company. Ask your team how are they feeling; perhaps they watched something amazing on Netflix, consider sharing how your family is coping. This will help to normalize the situation and keep people moving forward.
Address changing priorities and clarify objectives. The coronavirus, social distancing, and the ensuing economic pressures require all businesses to constantly reevaluate their day-to-day priorities.
In my team’s case, we just learned that one of our major events for the year which was scheduled for the end of March will now take place in August. We have to immediately pivot to accomplish our objectives in light of this unforeseen situation. One important tool, I hold virtual meetings on a daily basis with the entire team to ensure everyone is working towards the same goals. And we have set up team spaces allowing for real-time communications the entire team.
By eliminating one-off email threads we’re aligned and it’s apparent in our morale and productivity. We’ve all had the experience of putting immense effort into a project only to learn that you were working from old information, when people are already under stress it’s important to avoid these situations.
Leadership is about showing up for your team and removing barriers to success, this is true in all business circumstances. In stressful and uncertain times it’s important to demonstrate empathy and be authentic. Use the technology tools available to keep your staff connected and communicate while we are physically distanced from each other. Don’t risk being misinterpreted because of silence or the limitations of one-dimensional communications tools. Be flexible and understanding. We are all in this together and we will come out of it as a team.