The new normal of social distancing inspired remote working has asked many leaders to question how they can motivate and maintain the wellbeing of their teams. Dave Taddei draws from his experience to offer a set of tools to help you answer those questions.

We are all experiencing a (hopefully) once in a lifetime set of circumstances with the outbreak of COVID-19. Isolated from friends, family, and most social interactions that we would normally use to bring balance into our lives. Tough times for us all in such a connected world.

As conscientious leaders, there are likely to be a great many concerns and doubts running through your mind when it comes to long term remote working, isolation, and the effect it will have on yourself, your team as a whole, and individuals within your team. Perhaps a feeling that you cannot be as effective a leader as you would be under normal circumstances. You are probably asking yourselves:

“How do I know my team is working effectively?”
“Are they hitting roadblocks and don’t want to ask?”
“Are there other stresses/strains hitting individuals which I am not aware of?”

The good news is that it’s not an impossible task to answer those questions. In each of these areas, there are indicators which you as a perceptive leader can spot if you know what to look for. Let us address these questions through the lens of long-term remote working.

Effective Working — “How do I know my team is working effectively?”

Effective working moves slightly into the less tangible team qualities category. You can achieve all set objectives in a given time frame but this does not necessarily mean it was done effectively. Key areas will now be missing from the daily team interactions which need to be substituted.

  1. Teams can no longer huddle around their tasks and bounce ideas off each other
  2. The casual interactions are no longer happening between teammates
  3. Whiteboards…oh how we miss whiteboards in the digital age and a rainbow of post-it notes

The chances are you are following a methodology that promotes frequent face to face communication which solves issues in these areas right?…No?

Well, you don’t need to go to the extent of being a full-blown Scrum Master to make this happen however you can take steps towards facilitating these interactions even if you as a leader are not in attendance.

  1. Daily stand-ups with the team and all cameras switched on (no exceptions). Promoting face to face contact retains the human element of our colleagues and can give clues as to their well being.
    Ensure each task has measurable outcomes. Quantifiable output is key to communicate outwards that objectives are being met but also to bolster morale by saying “hey team look what we achieved!”
  2. Have the entire team participate in reviewing tasks from their peers. Maintaining frequent communication is vital to effective working. Taking the time to peer review work also stimulates the mind as it is often an opportunity to learn something new or teach someone new.
  3. Celebrate your achievements as a team. Retrospectives are a powerful driver for change but it is also a balance. Only discussing failures or improvements can be demotivating, it is important to celebrate successes as well.
  4. Act as a matchmaker. Pairing individuals up on a task, specifically ask them to plan it out over video call then ask about it later. This forces team members to have an actual live conversation. A side effect of the video call is that each participant is forced to listen to the other much more closely which can create deeper understanding between individuals and foster mutual respect.

Hitting Roadblocks — “Are they hitting roadblocks and don’t want to ask?

So this is much more orientated to the individual but can also be applied to a team. In times of constant remote working and social distancing, the effect of a single roadblock can be magnified many times. Without external distractions that give us the mental break to solve problems we often find ourselves embedded in the problem and unable to escape.

But how do you spot roadblocks as a leader?

  1. Take some extra time to monitor the work of your team. Watch specifically for tasks that are not “blocked” but not moving either. Ask your team to discuss why tasks are not moving and how they can get some momentum behind them. Where possible empower them to solve their own problems and try their solutions rather than yours.
  2. During stand-ups listen for specifics or rather a lack of specifics. Updates in which team members say “it’s fine, just working away” should serve as an early warning. A much more convincing update is “I’m stuck but today I am going to try x, y, z and see where I get to”, you are able to see that the individual has a plan and strategy for dealing with the problem they are facing.

Alright…but what advice can you give people?

  1. Rubber ducking (yes this is a thing). Describing the problem to others often yields a solution before the other person speaks. This time-honored development practice may look ridiculous with inanimate objects but has positive results (yes when it’s with a person too). Even if a solution is not reached there is a powerful message when someone else can say “no you are not crazy, this is confusing”
  2. Regular break. Suggest a Pomodoro timer or other tool to ensure team members take regular break periods throughout a day. This helps them gain headspace and allows them to think about something else briefly, often solutions or new avenues of investigation can come like a bolt from the blue.
  3. Use the break time wisely. Stay off social media, news, etc. If possible get some fresh air, stretch and practice mindfulness. Allowing a break from thinking without being fed massive amounts of non-relevant information can pull the mind out of a rut and enable a fresh perspective.

Individuals Circumstances — ”Are they doing OK?”

In occupations that involve creativity, problem-solving, and lateral thinking, it pays to have a varied skill set in teams. This also carries with it the caveat that you cannot as a leader expect an identical output from all individuals under all circumstances. Remote working does not change this and like any problem, some team members will adapt easily and others not so much. Narrowing down a root cause of problems is often difficult and requires some open discussion in a non-work setting.

How can you identify out of work issues?

  1. Put down the staff development charter and instead just have a conversation. Reminding team members of goals not yet achieved may only serve to exacerbate the situation in a time where they are perhaps craving human contact.
  2. Without overstepping boundaries try and find out about their home life. Do they have kids? Are they homeschooling? Is their partner a key worker, furloughed or are they also working from home?
  3. What about extended family, parents, siblings etc., are they in contact, are they also well or having problems?

What can you do?

People’s personal boundaries and how they spend their own time must be respected. Their home, their time, their rules. What you can do however is make considered suggestions.

  1. Following a routine. Having a routine to follow helps bring a sense of normality and helps demarcation of the working day.
  2. Emphasize their time is theirs. Part of strong leadership is planning well enough that the personal time of staff is never invaded. Isolation makes personal time even more important to use.
  3. Ask their advice on how to handle the situation. Openness about your own struggles can help staff open up about theirs. Asking their advice continues to show how much you value each of them and you may learn something you hadn’t thought of!
  4. Create a workspace. Setting boundaries is the common theme here and workspace is no different. Clearing a workspace of hobby items and homely distractions helps reinforce the mental boundary you place around work. Leaving the workspace is leaving work, conversely, work stays contained to the workspace and does not invade personal life.
  5. Put their shoes on. A colleague told me about this one which I find very poignant. Although it can be taken literally it’s also metaphorical regarding preparing to work and then putting work down again. You put your shoes on for work and take them off for home.

This post will not solve many problems for leaders but it will help to equip leaders with a toolset to solve problems now and in the future. There is no one single guide that can answer all situations and for many of us this is uncharted waters but for leaders and team members a little direction can go a long way, we just need to put our shoes on together.

This blog was originally posted by David on Medium. Read the original here.

For information on how Cloudreach can help your organization rapidly scale remote working click here. To find out how Cloudreach’s Advisory services can help your team adapt and adopt new technologies, click here.