5 things we learned about managing remote teams

Patrick Cournoyer
5 things we learned about managing remote teams

Over the past few months, COVID-19 has profoundly changed the way we work. Almost overnight, many managers have been faced with leading fully — or at least partially — remote workforces, while others are heading up teams of key and frontline workers caught in the eye of the storm.

In our latest series In Conversation with Patrick Cournoyer, I’ve been talking to employees at different levels of seniority within organisations to help us understand how COVID-19 has impacted the world of work. 

In our first episode, we tackled the challenges that COVID-19 has brought to the world of work from the perspective of the employee. In today’s episode, we’ll look at this issue from the perspective of the manager — and how the pandemic has changed the way they lead and communicate with their teams.

I’ll be speaking to Joy Rees and Gabriel Dizon, two managers here at Peakon, who have been managing their teams 100 percent remotely for the first time during the pandemic. I’ll also speak to Jessica Marucci, Head of People and Places at Catalyst Software, who shares her experience of working with a primarily remote team while working at cloud infrastructure provider DigitalOcean. Hit play below to hear the full conversation.

“With everybody working from home, you actually get a deeper insight into some people’s lives because we are actually in their living room. They are able to share more of themselves than they might usually bring to work.”

Joy Rees, Senior Director of Customer Success at Peakon

5 things we learned about managing remote teams

Clear communication is key to leading remote teams…

As we start to transition to go back to the office, it may mean that some teams are working remotely, while others are office-based. This is why Jessica recommends doubling down on communication during this time, noting that “managers must overcommunicate”.

This might mean communicating over multiple different platforms, including Slack, email and verbally to make sure the message resonates with different team members.

Above all, Jessica notes that managers must ensure that they are communicating clearly when it comes to setting expectations around work and priorities — especially when it comes to looking after team members’ wellbeing. “There will be a lot of burnout after this, where people will keep working after hours and don’t know what is expected of them, or if they’re doing enough,” she says. “Setting clear expectations is critical to success.”

…But how you communicate matters

Teams globally are now using technology to stay connected, but Jessica points out that “tonality is not easily communicated through Slack”. She advises that when communicating with their teams via messages or email, managers need to be more aware that their words may be interpreted differently depending on how team members are feeling.

Instead, Jessica recommends communicating projects via video calls and having a conversation, as well as encouraging team members to leave their video on if they’re able to. This drives higher quality communication, and means that team members are more present.

Teams need to stay connected on a human level

As we now connect over video calls for our team meetings, it’s more important than ever to make sure we’re keeping teams connected beyond the projects and priorities. “What you miss most from the office are those chats when you are getting some food or some coffee,” notes Joy. “It’s more difficult to recreate those moments when you’re working virtually all the time.”

Joy recommends setting up remote lunch video calls where team members can chat, or learn something from one another — whether that’s learning bonsai tree care or making the perfect sourdough loaf. Gabe agrees: “The fun that you have together is valuable — it helps you stay connected as a team.”

Working remotely gives you a unique opportunity to learn more about your team members

As Gabe notes, working together in an office-based environment never gives you much pause to consider “the importance of people’s personal lives in their day-to-day work”. But as the pandemic has brought our personal and professional lives together, Gabe is experiencing how this is having a direct impact on his team members.

Joy agrees, adding: “You get a better insight into people’s lives — they’re able to share a bit more of themselves than they might bring to work. I’m hoping we might be able to emerge from this with some closer relationships.”

You might need to adjust processes to make work work

One thing that both Joy and Gabe have learned is that the processes and structures that may have worked in an office-based environment have needed a little adjusting when working with a remote team.

For Joy, it has meant changing the structure of team meetings to give each employee the chance to voice how they’re feeling, because, as she puts it, “we’re all humans on the call”. Gabe, who has been onboarding new employees during this time, has had to be more intentional about directing learning during this time: “We take for granted the learning that happens during osmosis,” he says. “I’ve had to be very intentional about the learning moments that I give to my team.”

Stay tuned for next week’s episode, where I’ll be talking to senior leaders on how COVID-19 has impacted them.

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