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Due to the current COVID-19 pandemic, many team leaders have found themselves managing a remote team for the first time. This brings with it different challenges and opportunities, but above all, it’s essential to encourage collaboration within your team – especially in times of uncertainty.
Tiger’s Head of the Permanent Division in the West End, Missy Shutt-Vine, recently hosted a webinar with Tessa Cooper, Founder of Collaborative Future, HR and collaboration specialist. During the session, she offered practical tips for managers on how to foster a collaborative environment while working remotely.
Ten Tips to Encourage Collaboration Remotely
Be open with your anxieties
Tessa says managers need to be “able to share the things they’re going through themselves, what’s new to them and what they’re struggling with”. In the current climate, many people are worried about supporting a team in a situation where no one knows how long it will last or its future implications. If this is you, communicate openly and transparently with your team, as this will allow them to really understand your situation. You can’t “have all the answers for everyone all the time”, she says.
Managers need to be “able to share the things they’re going through themselves, what’s new to them and what they’re struggling with”.
This also sets an example in communicating the way you’re working. Whether that’s “signalling to your team when you’re coming online or when you’re leaving for lunch. Or it could be on a much larger scale, [such as] how you set…flexibility…for yourself [due to] children at home…or caring responsibilities. You may also be suffering from anxieties and stress, so ask for the flexibility you need from your team to demonstrate to them that it’s OK to ask for [the same from you]”, Tess explains.
Missy adds that, “In this situation, communication is key! Despite not being able to be face-to-face with your remote team, constantly stay in touch so you can empathise with their challenges on both the work and personal side.”
Change the focus
While this is an uncertain period for everyone and may bring with it high stress and anxiety, it’s important to try to, “see this as an opportunity to take a pause as a team. Your routine [and the way you communicate] might have changed, [so] talk about what your expectations are of one another and how this change can be best managed together”, Tessa explains.
If you and your team now have the space and time to work on things you’ve never had the chance to before, take advantage of it! Tessa says that could include “a whole host of things – a new strategy, team-building, learning new skills together [or working on] personal development.” It will allow the team to feel involved in the plan of action over the next few weeks, motivating them to dive head-first into this new focus.
Let your team know if your workload has changed
If you and your team are now working from home, it may feel like you get to the end of the day and realise you’ve not ticked one thing off your to-do list due to the never-ending stream of phone calls and video meetings! If this is you, Tessa suggests that you “should feel comfortable sharing with [your] teams that it’s having a knock-on effect on [your] work. A lot of people don’t realise that their managers have a lot of other things to focus on, so we really need to work on being a lot more open with our teams and sharing the pressures on us.” Communication and collaboration go hand in hand!
A practical solution may be a shift in thinking with our calendars. Instead of “blocking out time [where] we need to focus on one particular thing”, Tessa has seen it work much more effectively if “you can block out time that people can proactively make appointments with you. That way, [your team] knows…there’s a section of time in the day or week where you are having one-to-one conversations.” She says this has other benefits too, as it “will also help you with task switching, which is another difficult thing when you’re jumping on and off calls: It’s really hard to sit down for the 20 minutes you have between calls to crack on with something else.”
Managers also may be able to use this time to start to implement more of a coaching mindset with their team, to allow them the scope and ability to come up with ideas and make decisions for themselves. “That’s a much longer-term thing around how you ensure people are much more self-sufficient”, Tessa explains, but it may allow the pressure to be released slightly on a manager whose team constantly looks to them for guidance.
Think mindfully about company announcements
In times of crises, managers and business leaders need to balance internal communication very carefully. Tessa says that “there’s a real risk of under-communicating now you’re not based in an office together and [are] potentially working different hours from one another.” However, keep in mind that “people are already feeling a heightened sense of stress in all sorts of ways, so businesses need to tread a careful line between the types of communication they send out [and] how regularly [they are sent].”
Also, think about the timing of these messages. For example, don’t send anything that may provoke anxiety or questions “late at night, when people are about to log off and go spend time with their families – that is unhelpful as it is going to cause them stress overnight and won’t allow them to talk to their managers about it”, Tess says. This may cause negative feelings within a remote team, hindering an open and collaborative environment.
Manage your own stress
Alongside worrying about your team’s health and wellbeing, you’re probably also feeling uncertain and anxious about the current situation. Tessa has seen that, “one of the challenges is about how you manage your own stress, worries and fears so they don’t have a knock-on effect for people who are also experiencing [the same thing].”
Whether it’s “stress to do with the coronavirus outbreak, using new technology and ways of working, [or] feeling like you may be judged for your ability to manage this sort of change, [realise] that everyone is in the same situation.” It’s unprecedented and there isn’t a guide book to follow – so you’re allowed to make mistakes!
Tessa suggests that “managers [should take] time to think of ways to release their stress, [including] taking breaks from work when they need it [or] doing things outside of work [they enjoy]. [This means] when they are working with people and are relied upon to answer difficult questions, they are not projecting that stress and anxiety onto other people.”
Understand that every team within the business is different
“Teams within businesses have all been affected very differently,” Tessa explains. “Up until now, a lot of businesses think that being fair is about treating everyone equally. [However], the reality is that this situation is impacting people a lot differently.” For example, some front-line teams may find their workload has significantly decreased due to the pandemic, whereas others, like operations, may find they’re busier than before. Missy adds, “I think the only thing that everyone has in common at the moment is that things are uncertain. We’re all trying to change and adapt to work out the next steps forward as best we can.”
“So,” Tessa continues, “it’s really important that managers take time to understand what each individual in their team needs and how they can best be supported through this time.” It’s also a good idea to encourage your remote team to take this into account when collaborating with others within the company.
Future-proof your team
“The most important thing a manager can do right now is really seeing this as an opportunity to future-proof your team and business,” Tessa says. “I don’t think there’s any going back to normal or the way things were. Some people are going to now [expect] more flexibility because they can actually see that it’s helped them to do their job. Other people are going to continue to be affected by the last few weeks, even after the situation has passed.”
“So, I think making time to actually work out what’s important as a company and as a team [is a good idea].” Experiment with new ways of working, like implementing flexible hours, upgrading remote systems, or trying new ways to collaborate with online programs such as Trello or Monday.
Tessa says that “while the tools we use are important, most important are the people you’re working with. Without those people, you can’t do the work that you need to do, [which means] you don’t have a business. Now is an important time to make sure we’re really looking after our people in one way or another and giving them the support they need. In terms of those needs, [managers should be flexible]…to help those people in the best way that suits them.”
Focus on what’s certain
Tessa explains that “the other thing I’ve been encouraging teams to do is focus on what they do know is certain.” Identify these things first, whether it be your company mission, your customer base or your commitment to your staff and use these as a way to motivate your remote team. It’s “just [about] reiterating the basic things that aren’t going to falter in one way or another.” They will find this comforting and “be able to hold onto that” when carrying out their work and communicating with others.
Facilitate team learning
There are a few things you can do to facilitate team collaboration beyond the company-wide meeting. Tessa shares that she’s “seen lots of teams learning or [taking] online courses together and sharing the [lessons]. [For example, they can] self-organise workshops using Zoom, [or try out] an online learning platform [where the team] can all come together to learn, [such as] Future Learn or EdX”.
Don’t forget the fun!
It may not be the first thing on your mind when encouraging your team to collaborate remotely, but the fun and social side of work can bridge the geographical divide between colleagues. Missy explains that, “at Tiger, keeping up our social interaction has been really important while we’re remote working. One of the initiatives we’ve put in place is a weekly running competition on Strava. This week, we’ve challenged our team to draw the funniest-looking GPS track on their daily run. This is just one of the ways we’re trying to get the business to all come together while we’re apart.”
The fun and social side of work can bridge the geographical divide between colleagues.
Tessa suggests that “just having remote cups of tea and things like that [help], as you don’t get to stop off at the kitchen and chat with people [anymore].” Other ideas include:
- Bingo/trivia game on a Friday afternoon
- Daily wellbeing email from someone in the team
- A virtual exercise/yoga class at lunchtime
Trying these is a great way to promote team bonding, considering technology offers us so many opportunities to stay connected while online.
Tiger is working hard to bring you content to help you navigate this new situation. Find the ‘Motivating Remote Teams’ webinar, alongside other helpful articles, on our Insights page.