Although some people see work-from-home (WFH) as a temporary set-up–the kind that would be brushed aside when things return to normal–most experts think it’s here to stay. It’s the norm in the era of the COVID-19 pandemic, and it will be the new normal, post-pandemic.
After all, many professionals have grown accustomed to the grind of showing up to virtual meetings in only a polo shirt and a pair of boxers without worrying about uniforms and turning their kitchen counters into home offices. According to studies, many people would want to continue with the work-from-home set-up even after the pandemic.
As your employees ease into the new normal, you as a leader should, as well. For this matter, you must embrace a new kind of leadership in the virtual workplace that’s not bound by location or space. Instead, it’s responsive to the needs of remote teams. How do you embrace this kind of leadership?
Focus on P-A-C-T: productivity, accountability, collaboration, and trust. These four principles address the biggest challenges in remote work. That said, make a pact with these leadership goals, to better manage virtual teams in the workplace. Below is a breakdown of these objectives:
- Facilitate better productivity.
One of the biggest challenges in a WFH arrangement is the abundance of distractions. In an office, it’s easier to be in a finish-the-task mode, precisely because everyone and everything around is in that same mode. At home, in a comfortable space, it’s tempting to chat with family members, sleep, eat, or go on a movie marathon, as opposed to finishing a marketing report.
Without the support of good leadership, you could experience a slump in productivity as a team. Fortunately, there are many ways to address this and make your virtual workplace be more conducive. Try the following strategies:
- Encourage setting up a work zone. It could be a spare room at your home or a corner of your bedroom. The important thing is the space is free from distractions.
Aside from removing disturbances, a work zone at home helps increase your productivity because it conditions your mind to be in work mode whenever you spend time at that space.
- Promote WFH dress-ups. Similar to having a dedicated work space, getting dressed for work can also help prepare your mind and body for the job. Perhaps, once a week, you can do a WFH dress-up day. Start that special day with a meeting, with everyone dressed up in their office wear. This includes you. Leading virtual teams means leading by example.
- Be flexible, in terms of hours and days. At home, your employees carry another responsibility on top of their job: household duties. To some, it could be child care. To others, it’s running errands.
Consider this and everyone’s in the middle of a global pandemic, when adjusting your team members’ hours and days of work. Empathy is one of the best principles of effective leadership in virtual teams. Understand your employees’ concerns, and have an honest discussion about optimal times they can do their job.
- Set mini goals. It will be easier for employees to structure their days when they’re working around goals. However, rather than giving them a big objective, break it down into smaller steps that can be accomplished within a specific time frame. Part of a virtual leadership development is being conscientious of each member’s progress, especially because you’re not physically with them to check on their work
- Create a culture of accountability.
Another huge obstacle in remote work is the lack of personal supervision. On the one hand, this can be positive for team members, as it gives them autonomy to do their job in the way they think best. On the other hand, autonomy could be a little too much that people may not work as hard as they should. There’s no one looking over their shoulder, anyway.
The antidote to this issue is to make team members accountable. For this to happen, you should be able to communicate these important things to them:
- Why is the task important for success? The purpose of what you’re doing as a team should be clear to all team members. Most of the time, this is obvious. Other times, in the midst of routines, your employees would need reminders of the importance of the task and their role. Why are you doing this new marketing campaign? Why are you pitching this service to this or that brand? Leading remote and virtual teams entails rallying them towards a common purpose.
- What does the picture of success look like? This goal should likewise be clear, especially when tasks have to be accomplished. Lay down and manage expectations on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. Clarify who’s accountable for specific aspects of the work. In other words, delegate effectively. When they have a clear idea of the big picture, employees can find where they can fit in and own their role.
- Where are we in our success journey? Communicate to your colleagues that you’ll be tracking developments. For each milestone, celebrate. Recognize the people who made it happen. At the same time, review your processes, focusing on what worked and what could have worked better.
It’s best if assessments come from the team members themselves, as these will encourage owning up to shortcomings and committing to improvements, moving forward. This is one way you’ll keep a virtual team engaged.
- Promote collaboration.
Physically apart, it’s hard to work together as a team. In fact, your employees may feel like they’re not part of a team in the absence of those usual morning huddles or brainstorming sessions at the conference room. When there’s no active collaboration happening, your project will stall, if not fail.
One of the most interesting characteristics of virtual team leaders is that they’re cheerleaders. They’re able to inspire working together despite working in different locations. How do they do it? Below are some of the best practices for managing remote teams:
- Provide the technology. Of course, tools for communication and collaboration are essential in a work-from-home set-up. In communication, you need business messaging apps for urgent matters and video conferencing tools for lengthy discussions such as brainstorming sessions and town hall meetings.
For collaboration, you need file storage platforms, like Google Drive, and task trackers such as Trello or Asana. As exchanging information and resources become easier, remote work becomes less of a challenge.
- Learn from one another. Have an employee share what they do or how they work; so that the rest would know how to best communicate needs.Best practices would also shine in these sessions, thus sharpening knowledge and skills. If you can provide mentors to your staff, this would be very helpful in making them more confident in collaborating with one another.
- Do something fun outside of work. This will improve relationships within the team and make one another more comfortable despite working remotely, leading to better working relationships. Fun, informal interactions can take many forms: virtual show-and-tell icebreakers, trivia games, happy hours (bring your own bottle style).
- Build trust.
With virtual systems, distrust can easily seep into the team. A colleague who takes too late to long to reply to messages may seem like they’re not working and that the person reaching out may feel like they’re unfairly doing all the work. Or, your employees may be growing insecure about their job, fearing that they might get laid off or hit by major changes in the business.
All these can create ill feelings among virtual teams in the workplace, affecting the work flow and performance. Before this negativity breeds in your midst, use the following strategies to build trust:
- Exercise transparency. Trust exists in a climate of honesty. Model being open to employees by constantly communicating to them. If there are indeed big changes happening to the business, inform your staff with clarity. At every step, reassure them of support.
- Promote an open virtual-door policy. Encourage your staff to ask questions and raise concerns freely. Be mindful of your words and non-verbals, as you would want to create a safe space where they’ll be comfortable to talk about sensitive matters. Remember, you’re leading virtual teams in which digital communications can be easily misunderstood.
- Resolve conflicts immediately. A swift action is necessary when dealing with conflicts among team members. Once you learn about it or sense that something’s up, confirm, learn more about the situation, and settle the problem right away. Don’t let disputes brew. Exercising decisive virtual leadership by nipping sources of distrust in the bud.
Working from home is here to stay in some way, shape, or form. Some may adopt it fully with their entire workforce remotely operating, while others will probably have only a portion of their staff. Without a doubt, WFH is going to be the norm, moving forward. As such, be prepared as an effective virtual workplace leader as early as now. As you prepare, make a PACT with the right priorities.