From people's values to the way businesses operate, this pandemic has forever changed our world. That includes how we work together as teams.
And while the pandemic accelerated the demand for remote teamwork solutions like Slack and Zoom, there are few signs the “remote team” genie is headed back into the bottle anytime soon. Remote work will be a fact of life long past the pandemic.
But the switch to remote teams isn’t easy—you can’t operate remote teams the same way as you might a more traditional team that works together in the same physical space. Leading and motivating remote teams will be crucial to being a successful leader in this new hybrid world. Let’s explore what it takes to be a good leader in this brave new world.
One of the most important yet easily overlooked tools is simply listening to your employees to motivate a team. As a leader, listening and understanding employees’ motivations and goals allows for better decision-making and problem-solving.
With remote work, being in a position to listen isn’t always easy. No longer are office “sidebar” conversations or ad hoc brainstorming sessions in the hallway. Some teams may not even have the proper systems to allow team leaders to “listen” effectively in this new reality.
In the remote world, chat, email, and video calls are your primary communications tools. Each of these communications channels has its nuances, baggage, and — you guessed it — opportunities to improve your listening game.
Good leaders figure out their employees’ preferred communication style and boundaries and develop a system that works for everyone, like in the office. If you are unsure where to start listening to your employees, asking them how they want you to listen to them is a great place to start.
Once a healthy communication system has been established, it’s time to listen to your team.
One of the simplest ways is to meet with each team member and check in on how they are doing—however, this can be very time-consuming, especially with large teams. With larger teams, conducting a survey can be fast and efficient but easily come off as uncaring or cold.
Your team is still human —they are just behind a screen. Mindlessly holding team bonding events with uninterested employees could risk causing drama driving the team further apart. For example, hosting a
virtual happy hour may sound like a good solution, but when the team is already expected to be online over 45 hours a week, it will come off as insensitive and performative.
Employees will be more participatory and open to change if they feel heard and their concerns are addressed rather than jumping straight into band-aid solutions, like “team bonding” or “a fun competition.” Having this process be collaborative will determine the best solution for everyone.
Unlike the office, working from home blends the personal and professional space. Every Zoom call becomes a glimpse into an employees’ world, whether you are invited to look or not. Every employee may have a different circumstance and may require a different solution. Leaders
should find the balance between acknowledging these factors and not distracting from the work at hand.
According to Harvard Business Review, remote workers are generally less motivated than their office worker counterparts. This can be due to several factors; social isolation, lack of work-life balance, etc.
One of the most critical factors they point out is flexibility.
The lack of flexibility could be detrimental to employee motivation and exacerbated by poor communication or feeling left out of the conversation. On the other hand, increasing flexibility in the workplace allows employees to thrive.
Instinctively, a manager may be tempted to clamp down on work culture when the team is spread out. But having employees explore and find joy in their new work environment can increase their overall motivation. After all, an unconventional situation like a pandemic calls for unconventional solutions.
The Harvard Business Review pointed out that social and economic pressures can also affect employee motivation, especially in a pandemic or economic crisis. For them, work can become an additional stressor for them to overcome.
While specific tasks may be tedious and unchangeable, leaders can work with employees to change work from something that induces anxiety to an activity that gives assurance and stability. Especially in the face of global catastrophe, hopelessness can be one of the worst feelings for employees to face. In this situation, showing employees the positive impact and purpose of their work can be incredibly inspirational.
Leaders need to acknowledge their team’s value rather than have the team justify it themselves.
Recognition may sometimes not be enough either. Leaders should also take time to celebrate the big and small wins amongst their team.
At the top, the best leaders connect their team’s contributions to a greater purpose, which coincides with the company’s mission and vision yet goes beyond it—solving a problem that the world needs. Not all work activities need to move projects forward; without reflection, a team can lose its reason for working and thus losing motivation.
In a world where remote work will be the norm moving forward, it’s no longer nice to know how to lead a remote team: it’s a requirement. Understanding your team’s motivations, providing them flexibility and room to grow, and acknowledging and showing their impact are ways of making sure your team feels heard and actively contributes to a cause they feel strongly about, one that’s energizing to them. Only the best leaders will successfully bridge this global shift, and those that empower their teams to go beyond will rise to the top.
About The Author
Lomit Patel is the Senior Vice President of Growth at Together Labs (formely IMVU). Before Together labs, Lomit managed growth at early-stage startups, including Roku (IPO), TrustedID (acquired by Equifax), Texture (acquired. by Apple), and EarthLink. Lomit is a public speaker, author, advisor, and recognized as a Mobile Hero by Liftoff. Lomit’s book Lean AI, part of Eric Ries’ best-selling “The Lean Startup” series, is now available at Amazon.