While the fundamentals of leadership have not changed during this unprecedented period of remote working, we propose that all managers consider giving extra attention to their communication skills and relationships. This can bridge any distance, perceived or real, that has developed among people as a result of working remotely.
Here are a few middle management tools to consider developing (or dusting off), in order to successfully jump start your remote team.
Basic Understanding of Behavioral Styles
Keep in mind that many of your team members are working from home – a place with children, parents, partners, and domestic responsibilities – and may be under more mental and emotional stress than normal. Therefore, empathy and interpersonal communication are even more important than they were before.
There are numerous behavioral styles assessment models, such as DISC or Myers-Briggs. Either of these two are simple and effective maps that quickly orient the student to basic behavior differences among people.
For example, if you are learning about DISC, you will learn that the most effective mode of communicating with a Dominant type will be quite different from the most effective mode of communicating with a Cautious or Supportive type.
Why is this? Because each type favors certain modes of communicating and working. Each type also contributes something different to the team in a collaborative working context.
It’s important to point out that Behavioral styles aren’t there for labelling or stereotyping people, but as a starting point for understanding important general differences among us that affect everyone in the workplace.
Begin the process with yourself: take one of the behavioral styles assessments available on the marketplace, and learn about your own dominant behavioral modality. Does the model fit? Once you feel comfortable with the map, what does it reveal about your behavior, and your peers’ behavior in the workplace? Given this information, what new and constructive approaches can you bring into interactions with your co-workers?
Once you’ve given a behavioral styles assessment a test run on yourself, consider introducing it to your team as a way for everyone to get to know each other better, connect and laugh together, and brainstorm possibilities for collaboration.
Employ The Team Check-in At The Beginning of Meetings
Again, when people are working from their places of residence, they don’t have the same objective work / life separation that they did when everyone was coming into the office – therefore always take a few minutes at the beginning of each call to check in with everyone and see where they’re at. Taking this extra step for everyone to share and connect sets a tone for the virtual meeting that is personal and caring.
For example, at the start of a call, the team leader can call for a status check, and people can say how well they’re feeling on a scale of 1-10. Or everyone can go around and mention one thing they are grateful for.
Whatever your check-in activity at the beginning of your virtual meeting, we trust that you can find something that opens up dialogue and connection, and fits with the culture of your company.
Be Available To Everyone On The Team For Individual Check-ins
Your team members will appreciate it if you, as leader, step up and make yourself available offline for personal check-ins, or to receive comments or feedback from people on the team. This is a simple and powerful way to show them you care, and that at the center of the ambiguous remote workplace arrangement is a steady and open human being who has their best interests at heart.
Individual check-in time also presents an opportunity to provide what is needed for the individual in question – whether it is an ear to listen, coaching on some task or project, or giving and receiving feedback.
Which brings us back to the most effective (and cost-efficient) management tool:
Feedback (Giving & Receiving)
Giving and receiving feedback is key all the time, and in every working context – but while working remotely, it is incredibly important among peers,bosses and direct reports. Feedback airs out tension. Tension accrues naturally through the process of human beings working together on anything. But remote working itself brings a new, unique kind of stress into our lives – the stress of ambiguity, isolation, and uncertainty. So keep the air of your digital working environment clean by periodically exchanging feedback with your direct reports.
Here are a few ideas for effectively facilitating feedback exchanges in remote work meetings.
Frame the exchange with two statements that people will complete with each other in partnership.
“What I really admire about you is _____”
“How you could be even better at <your work> is ______”
Then, once you have framed the exchange, send everyone into breakout rooms in pairs. Call them back and then send each of them out again with a new partner as many times as necessary for everyone to have a chance to speak with each other.
In the event that this approach is not workable given your context (too many people on the call, for example), have people message others they would like to partner with, and have them connect offline after the meeting to exchange their feedback. Just remember to frame the process on the group call and give specific instructions so that no one feels their boss has invited their co-workers to “ambush” them.
Any tension or negative energy that accrues among your remote workers is also being carried into their homes – so do give your workers AND their families the gift of airing out the team atmosphere with feedback. Keep your company, and your workers’ living environments bright and positive.
We hope these middle management tools support you and your team in achieving your goals and projects during this time of widespread remote collaboration. Please get in touch if curious about what worthwhile training activities you might bring to your remote team.