Queensland Government agencies are enacting their workforce-specific business continuity plans in response to the COVID-19 (coronavirus) health pandemic. In line with latest social distancing principles and health advice, leaders are encouraging employees not involved in critical frontline service delivery to work flexibly, including working from home (where possible).
When transitioning your team to flexible work due to COVID-19, keep in mind that a collaborative, connected and inclusive virtual work environment doesn’t happen overnight and requires you as a leader to take deliberate actions. Importantly, recognise that the foundations you have in place with your team stays the same and provides a solid platform for what may be different.
Remind yourself and your team what stays the same:
- Trust and relationships with your team members.
- Program of work/service delivery expectations (generally speaking). What outcomes are you accountable for?
- Lines of reporting and other team dynamics (generally speaking).
- Decision making frameworks.
- Clear communication around performance expectations and assessments. Help debunk myths about remote work.
When leading remote teams, keep in mind things that may feel different:
- A shift in your thinking regarding flexible work and ways in which your team collaborates and achieves the program of work. Reflect on your strengths as a leader and a team, and build a plan around those strengths.
- Alternative methods of connection and communication, including virtual meetings.
- Increased levels of anxiety and uncertainty across the board.
- Differing personal needs and circumstances of your team (potentially due to illness, home schooling responsibilities etc.), where new arrangements may apply.
- The requirement to be agile and collaborative to the constantly evolving economic, political and physical environment.
To have your team working remotely and successfully, focus on establishing safe, healthy and connected remote working habits centred around these principles:
Implementing routines to ensure your team continues to connect and communicate is vital. During times where your team is working remotely, aim to over-communicate. Some ideas to create open lines of communication include:
- scheduling time for regular team catch-ups, such as Monday's are for meetings
- managing the performance of your team and achieving team outcomes , regardless of location
- collaborating with your team. How will you describe your common goals? What milestones will you set for the work? What form will your deliverables take? Agree on roles, tasks and processes within the team and with external collaborators
- continuing inclusive work practices.
The growing availability of technology is ensuring there are numerous ways for teams to meet, connect, work and deliver on important projects and work. It is important to appreciate and understand that one mode of communication isn’t likely to achieve all goals. Therefore, as a leader, it is important to provide options. Email alone is insufficient. Team members may benefit from having access to ‘richer’ technology, such as video conferencing, that gives team members many of the visual cues that they would have if they were face-to-face.
As a leader, collaborate with your team to develop a sound set of operating rhythms to support positive and meaningful work. The development of a routine, shared work and meeting schedule will help your team to exercise and develop successful remote working habits, including:
- maintaining focus in a new environment, by using a tool that works for you and your team, such as the Pomodoro technique
- project management principles: establish structured daily check-ins. This could take the form of a series of one-on-one calls, if your team work more independently from each other, or a team call, if their work is highly collaborative.
- shared work: use centralised repositories. Whatever system you use, ensure the team sticks to the same rules around work/project updates (e.g. daily). This will take a load off your shoulders as a leader, ensuring you and your team are in sync.
- conducting virtual meetings. Communicate clearly and often the team goals. In uncertain times, clarity is the key to success. If you have the bandwidth aim to use video conferencing. Build in some social interaction at the beginning of team calls and take time to chat about non-work things.
As a leader you will need to maintain positive connections with your team members during extended remote working periods. Additionally, it will be important for your team members to continue connecting with each other. Some points to consider include:
- Encourage good mental health: you need to support your team whether in the office or working from home. Your Employee assistance program will provide tele-health coaching services for you as a leader and counselling for you and your team. There are a number of models that you and your team can use, such as, FACE and there is also support for young people and their carers.
- Foster engaging workplaces: when team members are engaged they experience a sense of personal achievement, job satisfaction and are more motivated to contribute to organisational success by always giving their best.
- Exercise empathy and understanding: each of your team members is different and may require different arrangements to cater to their own unique set of life circumstances.
- Build learning into each day and encourage your team to:
- explore the Leadership and learning hub for ideas and options on development through this time, in particular Keep learning during COVID-19.
- access the State Library of Queensland free resources, which includes 13,000 online courses through Lynda.com. You and your team can become members today. Pick a course and learn together as a team-building activity. Here’s some suggestions to get you started.
- Access to resilience building resources: the good news is that building resilience is a process we can all develop over time by learning and using helpful habits, such as making time to recognise the positives every day.
- Foster a growth mindset: being a manager with a growth mindset means thriving on challenge and seeing failure as a heartening springboard for growth and for stretching existing abilities.
- Now is the time to reach out to your fellow leaders and work out what is right for your service and agency. Build connections with other leaders, it doesn’t have to be as formal as reciprocal mentoring, reaching out and asking 'what would you do in this situation?', can help reduce unconscious bias.
- Encourage a positive physical environment: check out the steps to ensure an employee’s home work area meets work, health and safety requirements, including psychological health.
If this is your first experience in managing remote teams, there can be some confusion, assumptions and myths around teams who connect and work remotely.