Like no other time before, there are more people working remotely from home. And, even though you get to wear yoga pants (or better yet…pajama bottoms!), it’s not all sunshine and rainbows.
Not only do you have to figure out what works best for YOU to be effective, your team needs to figure out how they can work together under these new challenging circumstances. The ease of popping in to your colleague’s office or chatting about that project while refilling your coffee is gone.
Needless to say, it doesn’t all just work itself out naturally!
Well I’ve been working from home for the last seven years since I left Senator Kohl’s office and launched my business. And there is a lot I have learned (often the hard way!) about how to effectively work together as a remote team.
So I thought I’d share six tips that might help your team work together effectively:
- Cut yourself and everyone else some slack. Remote teams take time to find their groove. It’s very possible the first week of working remotely was unproductive, painful or both. That doesn’t mean it will stay that way. Assess as a team what went well and what didn’t work. The goal isn’t to be perfect. Give each other a pass for wearing a baseball cap, having a cat walk over the keyboard, or seeing a toddler wander into view. Cut everyone some slack.
- Talk about expectations. My team is used to working remotely, but we are still navigating new territory having kids at home with this COVID-19 isolation. We are talking about expectations all the time. When are people available? How quickly should we expect responses? How do we need to adjust our project timelines in these unchartered waters? Discuss with your team to make sure everyone is on the same page.
- Have a plan for when things get frustrating. Because things will get frustrating! How many emails go back and forth before you pick up the phone? How do you want to interact when things don’t go as expected? What about when teammates hit a breaking point from being cooped up and need a moment (or hour) to recharge? Talk about it before it happens so you are ready to deal with it.
- Use technology to stay connected. If you don’t have videoconferencing set up, get a camera on your computer or phone (yes, you can still wear your pj’s!). Maintaining connection is key, and it’s a lot easier to do when you can see each other’s faces. My team meets every Monday, and we have a set agenda. We identify our action items and design accountability by capturing them all in a shared Google Doc and report on our progress the next week.
- Recognize that small talk is big. Find a way to replicate those conversations that you have at the bubbler (yup, that’s what we call it in Wisconsin) or in the hallway. Schedule virtual coffee breaks. Meet one-on-one to just check in without a specific agenda. Take 10 minutes at the beginning of your meeting to all answer a silly “question of the day”. Just find creative ways to connect without focusing on a specific task, similar to the way you would in the office.
- Focus on the possibilities, not just the restrictions. It is so easy right now to list all of the things you can’t do. And not just at work! Allow your team to discuss what new things might be possible because of the current circumstances. Work will be different for a while, and it can be a great time to spark some new perspectives and creative ideas that you wouldn’t otherwise have thought of in the status quo.
Bottom line, what I’ve learned is to find creative as well as structured ways to keep the lines of communication open. Check in on your team and see how everyone is doing, personally and professionally. Lean into increased empathy as you recognize that everyone is doing the best they can under challenging circumstances.
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