How to lead a work-from-home team

The Secret to Leading a Work-From-Home Team

So you wake up, go to work, say hello to your team, maybe have a brief huddle, then go to your office to begin the day.

Oh, wait. That doesn’t happen so much anymore.

If you are like many managers in the world right now, the commute to your office is often a walk down a hallway, and your interactions with your team are by telephone, Zoom, or some other video technology.  And if you are like most managers now leading a work-from-home team, you also have a strong sense that something is… well… missing. You’re connecting to your team, but not with your team as much as you’d like.

It’s a very real problem, with a very real negative impact on employee engagement, retention and productivity. What should you do?

There's no single solution

The reality is that there is no single right answer. Every organization has a different set of work-from-home protocols, and every employee has a unique home environment presenting it’s own unique challenges. The approach that might work wonderfully for one manager could actually work against another.

Having said this, here are a few core principles that will get you on the right path:

1. Focus on individuals first, team second

Think of your team as a jigsaw puzzle.  Individual pieces with unique shapes that, when assembled correctly, create a cohesive picture.  For you to put it together, of course, you first need to have a clear understanding of what each piece looks like.  In terms of your employees, this means learning about each one’s home situations and all the little things they have to navigate to do their job.  One may have a young child at home, Another might be sharing a small space with someone who is also working from home. Someone might have limited internet bandwidth and so on. There are a million different scenarios. (This, by the way, is best done through individual conversations – not an impersonal survey.)

2. Agree on expectations and unique workflows

Have a conversation with each employee. Make sure they clearly understand your expectations.  Then work together to establish how they can meet those expectations consistently in their unique situation.

It’s also important to remember that all of your team – all of them – are experiencing some degree of emotional exhaustion right now.  While productivity is important, it is unrealistic to expect the same high level of focus and performance they were able to deliver before the pandemic hit. You don’t want to compromise on deliverables, of course, but you may have to explore different approaches to achieving them.

3. Step up relevant communications

Your communication with your team – collectively and individually – are critical to your success. You are now, more than ever, the glue that holds them together. You have to do this right, though, or you risk it backfiring. You can see more on how to communicate effectively with a remote team here.

4. Help your team improve their communications

Communicating virtually, even when you involve a visual technology, is harder than we think. And the consequences of miscommunication can be serious indeed.  All it takes is one of your employees to phrase something poorly, or use a tone of voice that sends negative messages, for things to go sideways in a big way.

With team members already feeling a bit isolated and emotionally disconnected, this is a skill set you don’t want to ignore.  Belding Training has a terrific e-learning program on voice mastery for this purpose. There are other resources as well that you should look into.

“Successful leaders create successful employees.”

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