Being a leader is never easy, let alone during times of crisis.
With the coronavirus pandemic, managers across the nation and world are reckoning with a new reality: leading their teams from afar.
Managing distributed employees might be completely new to you. You may have concerns like:
- How do I keep morale and productivity high?
- What can we do to communicate differently if we can’t be face-to-face?
- How do I emotionally support my team and allay their fears about economic uncertainty?
These are just a few of the questions I’ve heard from my coaching clients over the past few days.
If you’re asking yourself similar questions, then the fact that you are says so much about you and your level of self-awareness as a leader. It also means you’re mindful of the pivots and adjustments you’ll have to make to your own leadership style as well as how you manage your team in the upcoming weeks and months.
Now more than ever, your team needs you to step up and provide much-needed structure, direction, and support. You can be the manager they need, all without sacrificing your well-being or stressing yourself out in the process.
How to Manage a Distributed Team
Swap Audio for Video
If you’re still holding your meetings via conference call, then you’re missing a big opportunity for engagement and interaction. Video calls are the new norm for a reason: they’re a placeholder for genuine connection when you can be co-located. There’s a productivity bonus, too — being on video makes it harder for your team to multitask during meetings. The result? Your people are more present and engaged.
Err on the side of overcommunication with your distributed team, especially in the beginning. Level set expectations, such as how the team will:
- Share information
- Give feedback
- Manage projects and deadlines
- Make decisions
- Assign task owners
Defining standards provides a sense of calm amidst fast-moving chaos.
Also, make sure to reinforce the team’s goals and purpose. Encourage them not to see this as a vacation, but an opportunity to contribute and create value. Make it very explicit that transparency, trust, and knowledge-sharing are key priorities.
Have a Daily Huddle
When your team is in the office, it’s fairly easy to know who is working on what and when. Less so when you’re remote. To bridge the gap, schedule a daily huddle or “stand-up,” in scrum terms. This is a simple 15–20 meeting, the same time every morning, where every team member (including you) answers three questions:
- What did I accomplish yesterday?
- What will I do today?
- What obstacles, if any, are impeding my progress?
Set Up Pairing Sessions
Match up two team members to work together on a project. They can each work on separate tasks or use the time as a brainstorming / working session on a shared project. This is a great way to stave off loneliness and isolation as well as boost accountability.
Remember Not Everything Has to be a Meeting
Use a tool like Loom to record short videos and screen shares. This is a great way to send feedback or share instructions with your team without having to call a meeting to do it. It also means you can delegate more easily and preserve your time and energy for higher priority items.
Don’t Use Messenger as Attendance
Trust your team and allow them to pop on “Do Not Disturb” mode to get focused work done, because you’ll probably want to do the same. Likewise, be flexible and understanding if there’s some background noise or kids running by on video calls. Everyone is adjusting to having family at home and doing their best.
Create a Celebration Channel
In this trying time, keep morale high by making a deliberate effort to celebrate and recognize your employees. Frequent and visible recognition is even more important when you’re not in-person so create a channel in Slack or a similar tool where your team can high-five each other and share wins. You can also start meetings by going around and asking each team member to share a highlight from their day.
Use One on Ones to Check-In
Exercise empathy and don’t forget that your team is human, too. They may be wrestling with worries and concerns that are blocking them from performing at their best, so surface concerns. Use one-on-ones as an opportunity to check-in and ask questions like:
- What is working well?
- Where are you feeling challenged?
- How can I support you?
- What do you need from me to be successful?
Manage Your Mindset
This is new territory so don’t be surprised if your imposter syndrome flares. Self-doubt is a natural response to uncertainty and change. It’s a sign you care deeply about doing a good job and achieving the best possible results. Watch out for perfectionism and overworking. Tackle negative self-talk when it arises.
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