Recent events have forced a lot of businesses and teams to work from home, many for the very first time. If you are leading one of these teams and you have never worked remotely before, you are probably realizing you’re going to need to make some adjustments, most importantly to your communication.
Hopefully, you have already been putting thought into the way you communicate and how that will be received by your team. As your team transitions into working from home, the value of clear, deliberate communication becomes even more crucial, especially over text communication like Slack or email.
In an office setting, people can easily take things you say in a larger context, that includes your tone, your demeanor, and a ton of other factors. Remote work strips most of that context away. The sarcasm you think is obvious in your Slack message may not be so obvious to the person you send it to. Before you send anything, try to think about all the ways it could be interpreted by the recipient, and if you could make your message easier to interpret and understand. While it’s useful to ask your team to try to assume the best intent when reading messages from each other, YOU are responsible for doing everything possible to make your communication as clear as it can be.
Go out of your way to praise positive work
This is another skill that is useful in an office, but absolutely imperative when your team is working from different locations. Working remotely provides your team with hours and hours of time with their own thoughts (Yikes!). That’s a lot of time to wonder how their work is being perceived or dwell on one critical comment. Any places where you see your team performing well, call it out, either directly to that person or even better, in front of the whole team.
People need to know that their hard work is being recognized. Obviously, you want to make sure your praise is sincere, but if you are unsure if something positive a team member does rises to the level of meriting specific mention, always err on the side of calling out your team’s positive work too much. Of all the feedback I have heard from people I work with, I have yet to hear anyone complain about receiving too many compliments.
Anyone who has ever accidentally hit “Facetime” when they meant to hit “call” knows the crippling fear of unexpectedly being on camera. Left to their own devices, most sane people would never choose to be on camera for calls. The arduous work required to both make yourself look presentable and carefully choose a webcam sight-line that hides your collection of Star Wars figurines is a lot to ask, but for a team working remotely, it’s essential.
Slack and voice calls are fine for short-form communication, but any conversation that goes further than that, GREATLY benefits from video. I can’t tell you how many times I have been on a Zoom video call with devs where their facial expressions told a much different story than what their text or sound would have given me. Using video-enabled chat not only cuts down on misunderstandings, it also provides a much more personal form of communication. Teams working remotely for long periods of time can easily fall into a trap of seeing their teammates as just Slack handles and email addresses rather than people. To prevent that, video chat is the next best thing to meeting in person. There are several different services for this and our team recommends Zoom.
Facilitate an atmosphere that welcomes asking questions
Working in a shared physical location, when you have quick questions, you can easily lean over and ask someone. Even with Slack and Zoom making remote communication easy, people are often a bit more reluctant to ask questions or document they don’t know something. As a leader, you need to go out of your way to make this process as easy as possible. When people ask questions, praise them for it. Keep in mind that especially for questions that seem relatively simple, it may have taken some courage for them to ask it to begin with. Do your best to avoid criticizing anyone for asking a question you feel they should know the answer to and don’t tolerate this criticism from their teammates.
Your job is to assess everything your team doesn’t know, as quickly as possible, so you can get them answers, guidance, and direction, immediately. Along with encouraging their questions, you need to get better at the questions you ask them. Try to ask open ended questions that can’t be answered with a simple “Yes” or “No”. If you have standard questions worked into your meeting routine, think about how those questions can be rephrased or asked differently. Ask questions that people would want to answer.
Obviously, the points I covered here offer just a very brief overview of adjustments you will need to make as you and your team transition to working from home. We also recently shared, Combating COVID-19 Isolation Working From Home – Tips For New Remote Workers. Working remotely presents new challenges and, at times, you will have to work a lot harder to accomplish things that could be done in person, much easier. Leading an entire team of people, spread out across multiple geographical locations, while keeping them all on the same page, and focused on a common goal is a huge battle to take on. On the brightside, at least it’s a battle you get to fight from home in comfy sweatpants.