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Managing Remote Teams

Managing remote teams with Emotional intelligence at the heart of it. 

So, the debate is over in the UK, it’s back to working from home. Three months was mentioned, which will take us to March 2021. Very frustrating for business owners, managers, and leadership teams especially after all the fantastic efforts made to make workspaces “Covid Safe”. Obviously not everyone can work from home, but loads can, and this leads us to two particularly important questions.

     1.       Can your team members be productive working from home?

     2.       Can your managers support your team members to be productive whilst working from home?

Pre-lock down I delivered short sessions firstly to managers on how to manage a flexible and remote team and secondly how to work within a flexible and remote team, so the team members knew what was about to happen and the managers were confident of buy in from their team.

In my research for the managing remote teams course I came up with some great advice from various sources. One of the best was a report I found of how Google manage their remote teams and I guess a company like Google would know, they’ve been doing it for a while.

I found a survey which was conducted with more than 5,000 Google employees. The focus groups were focused on measuring:

1.       Their well-being

2.       The performance

3.       Team and individual connectedness

4.       Overall productivity

This sits well with what we discuss in the management skills course I deliver as part of the 12-month action focused leadership program, the two most important tasks of a manager. Firstly, to hit targets and secondary to keep people.

Google then came up with several recommendations on how to managing remote teams and keep things as consistent as possible for their team members working flexibly and remotely.

Here are some of the highlights, along with my own additions

1. Make team meetings a priority

“Team meetings are often some of the only interactions you'll have with your team when working apart so schedule them, prioritise them, even if there isn't anything urgent, and be socially present" says Google. 

But be careful, meetings are still considered a huge waste of time and can be viewed as a manager micro manging the team. I remember a client of mine told me how that when lockdown happened and everyone was sent home to work their manager just couldn’t come to their desk so they zoomed them most of the day which was exhausting. In fact, I heard another insisting on their team working on zoom all day so they could see each other which is incredibly controlling. 

2. Show personal interest

Google also recommends using meeting time to get to know your teammates better and this is key. You might even schedule a virtual breakfast or lunch get together for a social, not every day, could be a mid-week lunch hour for example.

But remember if team members are working flexible while working remotely, they may start at different times, I start at 6am and finish my day at 3pm which is when I go for a 10 km hike, and there isn’t much that will stop me. 

In the leadership session of the 12-month program I ask the team of learners if there is anyone in their team who is married with kids. There is usually someone. I then ask them for their team members other half’s name and their kid’s names. Not many know which is shocking. How can you know what motivates your team if you know nothing about them? My flexibility motivates me, ask me to do a 9 – 5 and you won’t get the best out of me.

3. Be present

"Some engagement signals are lost when working together virtually," says Google, "particularly when we mute the microphone or focus intently on our laptops."

There needs to be some guidelines about managing remote teams and here are a few we discuss on our training courses

  • Ensure your camera is on, no excuses, this is a team meeting
  • Don’t mute your microphone
  • Use positive affirmations so the team are confident that you are involved 
  • To avoid distractions put your phone away and don’t have multiple screens up
  • Break up the group and use breakout rooms (on Zoom for example)
  • Use online team building sessions as an alternative

Managing Remote Teams

4. Check in 

You need to give your team space and time to do their work but you could also arrange a get together for 30 mins over a coffee. It gives you a chance to catch up and talk about the week and possibly plans at the weekend

5. Recognise your teammates

"When working remotely, it isn't as easy to say a quick 'thanks' or 'good job' to a teammate," says Google. "Be sure to send a message to a colleague congratulating or thanking them, share kudos in team meetings, and utilise your company's recognition program".

Get some company postcards with some quotes on the front or inspiration pictures and hand write your message on the back, then send it as you would a post card (no envelope)

6. Invite colleagues' participation

It can be challenging for more introverted colleagues to participate in-group meetings and even more so in a virtual environment. Team leads can help compensate for this by directly asking these participants for their input. I advise clients who have quieter team members (more introverted) to warn them where possible about the questions they will ask the more introverted team member, so they have time to prepare.

On the same line, stay in tune with participants' expressions and body language. If you see they may be trying to enter the conversation, give them the chance to speak. If you find this difficult because you are leading the meeting, have a second that changes each week. They can watch for ques and let you know.

7. Set team norms

"Norms set clear expectations for how you work together with your team," says Google. "But they're often assumed rather than explicitly stated, leaving opportunities for confusion."

Google's researchers recommend discussing team norms with colleagues. These would include:

  • Expectations for how long it should take to respond to emails/pings, taking off-hours and time zones into account if needed
  • Clarifying task expectations and ownership within a team, including when they can move forward if a team member is unreachable and when it's better to get a response
  • The best way to share information and how often to stay in touch. This comes under a communication charter we put together in the training course

Once you establish these norms, they should be documented and circulated to everyone on the team. Doing so puts everyone on the same page, reduces stress, and can reduce the problem of low productivity because one team member is waiting on something from other team members.

Managing remote teams with Emotional intelligence at the heart of it

8. Use the right medium

How do you decide whether to send a message or do a call?

"Video is best for more sensitive or detailed discussions," says Google, "while a quick message is great for check-ins or clarifying simple matters."

It's important to recognise the difference. Too many calls and your people will feel burnt out. But you can also waste lots of time exchanging messages when a five-minute telephone call could provide answers to multiple questions. And watch out for cc all emails - they are so annoying and clog up the system.

9. Make well-being a priority

In the midst of a pandemic, your well-being is more important than ever.

In recognition of this, Google recommends:

     -> Setting up a comfortable office space to physically separate your work and home life

     -> Setting limits on your workday so as not to work too many hours

     -> Organising real breaks away from work, I recommend 15 minutes after every 90 mins work session

Top Tip for Managing Remote Teams: First thing in the morning, 10 minutes before you start work, leave home, and go to work. Walk around the block, to get some fresh air and arrive at work (on time). At the end of the day, pack up and leave work, walk around the block and go home. Sounds a little strange but it works a treat.

By following these research-backed suggestions, you put emotional intelligence at the heart of your remote and flexible work/management strategy.

I now deliver the 12 month action focused leadership program in bitesize chunks virtually - Contact me for more details

If you need help with developing your team’s emotional intelligence let me know, I can include it into the managing remote and flexible teams training session if you need one

  • Adrian Close - Learning and Development Director

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Managing remote teams with Emotional intelligence at the heart of it

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Please contact us to discuss any training requirements you have, we either deliver for you or sell you the course for your trainers to deliver to your team

Thanks for visiting our managing remote teams page here's a link to our homepage. If you need a book recommendation for Managing remote teams with Emotional intelligence at the heart of it, we recommend our emotional intelligence e-book which comes with it's own test emotional intelligence test paper or Daniel Goleman's book called emotional Intelligence

Other Links that may be of Interest:

Managing remote teams for councils - Online team building tools for remote teams - Managing remote workers training - Managing remote workers - Online training Games for Remote Workers - Team Building for Remote Teams - Training Games for Remote Teams - 90 Minute Training Sessions 

Managing remote teams with Emotional intelligence at the heart of it. One day managing remote workers training course, shorter on or offline training via zoom for remote teams available, training games for remote teams