Things changed dramatically in march 2020 when everybody was told to work from home whenever possible. I love creating things together with people, having whiteboard jams, and doing face-to-face meetings walking around the block or in the park. In the beginning, it felt as if the most important platform for leadership just disappeared: presence!
Looking back I'd still say that I prefer working with people being in the same room and being able to collectively change locations for events such as meetings or team lunches. But on the other side, I also think this new situation is also a contrast medium for what it needs to create environments people love to work in.
Surprise surprise, it's not different ways but the same fundamental rules of good leadership that were always true. Being constrained by the new situation of remote work those just became more important.
In this blog post, I've collected a few thoughts about how can leaders can increase the engagement of individuals and teams when everyone is remote.
1 - Listen to your team members
Seek to really understand, and not just hear their answers. Do they feel appreciated? Do they have everything they need to do an amazing job? Are they doing every day what they can do best? Do they trust and like their colleagues?
2 - Starting (and ending) the day as a team.
Don't have daily stand-up meetings at 1 pm but as a way to check in with everyone at the start of the day. Try starting early to make everyone feel you're on sth important.
3 - Care about employees.
Build meaningful relationships and help them create balance. Respect their time by setting healthy boundaries around schedules, assignments, and performance expectations. Make time to chat with them about their family and personal hobbies, stress and mental or emotional health, their workload.
4 - Celebrate with them
Launching something meaningful? Fixed a major bug? Milestone achieved? Don't just write a random thank you note, but add context: Why is this meaningful, for you, for the team, for the company. Re-enforce the positive aspects that led to this achievement (learning). Join their meetings, such as a daily standup to show your gratitude and also to ask them about the achievement.
5 - Encourage human discussions in emails and chat groups.
Asking questions to people directly ('What do you think, Max?'), say thank you, summarize. Communicate as if this would be a real conversation. You won't go into a room on a Monday morning and say 'urgent: need input for doc ABC, asap. will invite for meeting at 2'. You would say "Good Morning folks, that was a great week... I hope you really enjoyed your weekend. I was thinking a lot about your feedback last week (etc etc.). I urgently need your help with ... because ...." - The extra effort is really worth it. We are talking to humans and not to a Terminal or chatbots.
6- Create transparency.
Summarize goal setting, progress, new projects, etc. Focus on a) the why b) context and c) connecting the dots (what's in it for me). It is a good practice of many successful leaders to write Newsletters, share thoughts, and have regular check-ins with people.
7- Skip Level Meetings.
If you lead managers, check in with all your skip levels regularly: monthly team meetings, and a few 1:1 each week. Focus on connecting to the team as a group of individuals, connect to their purpose, and why it matters to you.
8 - Build the stage for openly asking questions, failure, and honest feedback.
Asking people about how they do, allowing feedback, let them tell you if they are not happy and why. This is especially important because people are watching our behaviors as leaders. If we react to constructive feedback, for example about workload, in a negative or sarcastic way, we'll lose trust and their engagement immediately.