How To Lead Remote Teams Effectively:
5 Simple Tips on How to Look After Your Staff And Keep Them Connected, Productive and Upskilled
As a result of the current Covid-19 lockdown, we’re all doing a lot of working, leading and managing people remotely.
The feedback I’ve had from school leaders is that staff in their teams are responding differently to remote working; some are struggling with not being able to check in physically with the team leader and the rest of the team, some are feeling insecure with having to structure their own working day, or with using communication technology in a new way, and so on. As a result, some are doing less than normal, and some are doing far too much.
And then there’s the leaders themselves, who have never had to deal with leading their teams remotely. It’s a bit like being thrown into a swimming pool before your first swimming lesson. So if you’re a line manager who’s never experienced leading your team remotely, this is for you.
It’s also for those of you who’ve got people in your team who are struggling with the new technology or who are feeling anxious, lonely or demotivated.
I’ve worked with a lot of colleagues and outsourcers remotely over the past 8 years. I remember being on such a steep learning curve when I first moved to this new way of managing staff.
So I’ve put together 5 practical tips from my years of experience to help you lead your remote teams effectively.
Plan your team’s weekly schedule & stick to it!
It’s important to create a sense of normality for the team during these abnormal times. Creating a weekly team schedule will help with this. However, it must be done with the team, not for the team so that the schedule fits around each person’s home commitments and responsibilities. Key things to agree are: team meeting days and times, line management meeting days and times, specific times for the team to communicate formally with each other, and specified social check in times. This level of clarity will allow the team to work productively without distracting each other, without offending each other…and without losing touch!
Once agreed, stick to these times for the entire week! Then review & revise them if necessary.
Review the current communication systems you’re using – and change them if there’s something better & simpler available!
Your existing communication systems may well have worked like a dream when you were all in the same building, but they may not be suited to remote working. If you, or some of your team, are struggling with any of your communication systems, then sticking with them is likely to cause a lot more stress & anxiety than changing to something new which is simpler and better suited to remote working – I’ll give you some examples of simple systems later.
Grasp lockdown as an opportunity to explore some of the communication systems used in business settings that really do work. You never know, you may decide to keep using some of them after lockdown!
Agree with your team how & when to use these 5 channels of communication below:
The main aim is to help your team (and you) to work from home as efficiently and effectively as possible. You also want to make sure you all stay feeling connected with each other and avoid feeling isolated. So the 5 key communication channels it’s important to think about are:
1 = video call
I recommend Zoom or Google Hangouts because they’re both easy to use and easy set up as the event location when you add a meeting to google calendar.
So when should your team ‘meet’ on a video call?
- For your regular, full team meeting
- For social chats, set up a ‘virtual staff room.’ Agree opening times (see tip 1) so the team knows when it’s OK to sign in. This will help individuals in the team to feel connected and engaged, and keep up team spirit.
2 = project management system
An electronic project management system allows the team leader and team members to manage all tasks and communication relating to a specific project. This includes prioritising tasks, assigning tasks to different team members, and recording completed tasks. It gives everyone in the team an overview of each project broken down into its constituent parts, and tracks progress against each task to be completed. It’s a great tool for managing projects included in the School Improvement Plan, for example.
I recommend Trello (trello.com) because it’s so easy to use. It’s a programme the team will be able to pick up and run with really quickly without the need for training from your IT manager. And from your point of view as a leader, it means you can:
- Drastically reduce or even replace emails for task-based communication
- Keep task-based communication in one place
- See exactly what people have achieved
- Make accountability really easy for you and the team
If you want more details on how I use Trello with my remote staff, feel free to get in touch and I’ll give you some tips to help you use it as effectively as possible.
3 = phone calls
When should the team call you or each other?
Again, it’s important to agree specific times for work calls and social chats to avoid time-wasting and awkward situations.
Give each other permission not to take phone calls outside the agreed times. This will avoid any embarrassment or ‘hard feelings.’
If anyone forgets, then a simple, “I’ll be available at [agreed time]. Ring me back then, and I’ll be able to talk,” will remind them.
4 = text/voice message
Set up a WhatsApp group, Gmail chat or FaceBook group for the team – whichever suits everyone best.
When should you use text/voice messages?
- For urgent team messages only.
- Use your chosen chat forum for social communication at the agreed times only. A constant pinging of social messages will distract people, and work tasks will take them a lot longer!
- If using WhatsApp, send a voice memo to save time (hold down the mic while recording & release it to send).
5 = email message
When should the team use email? My answer is, as little as possible! Let’s be honest, emails are the bane of most people’s life in schools. Lockdown is a golden opportunity to explore alternatives to email.
If you’re wedded to using email with the team, and the thought of trialling a new system brings you out in a cold sweat, it’s important to agree to limit emails to the following communications:
- Urgent, task-based communications that are absolutely necessary to get tasks completed
- Sharing documents, minutes, longer written communication
Agree as a team when you’ll all be checking and sending emails. Try to limit it to twice a day, maximum.
Agree to respond to emails in priority order to ensure everyone can work as efficiently and effectively as possible.
NB: If you do reply to emails at different times, then schedule them to go out at the agreed times!
Give your team & staff access to relevant professional development & training.
Don’t neglect your team’s ongoing professional development and training during lockdown.Factor in regular line management meetings and coaching sessions with/for individuals in your team, as you would normally do.
Teaching and support staff also need to be kept in mind when it comes to ongoing professional development.
Since the start of lockdown, I’ve spoken to dozens of Heads & Senior Leaders who are wanting to book our online training because they want to capitalise on staff being at home. They realise that it’s the perfect opportunity for staff to learn in a more relaxed, focussed way. And they also want to ensure that staff can ‘hit the ground running’ as soon as their schools re-open.
As a response to these enquiries, we’ve drastically reduced the price of our online Coach Approach course so that schools can afford for all of their staff to access it, because it’s one way we can support schools during the coronavirus epidemic.
(By the way, if you’d potentially like to take advantage of this offer as well, I’m happy for you to do that. Just send me a quick message and I’ll send you a link to the details).
So think about what sort of training would benefit your team, and give them access to this whilst they’ve got time to focus on it.
Collectively agree to avoid interruptions & distractions as much as possible!
I’ll let you into a secret – I was amazed last week when I reviewed the pattern of social media usage. There used to be a surge between 7-9pm during the working week. Now the graphs show social media usage going on almost all day! It’s so difficult to work as efficiently or as effectively when you’re constantly being distracted by social media alerts and messages pinging in!
This is a major problem for schools using Facebook groups as one of their formal communication channels. So that’s why I would NEVER recommend using a Facebook group etc for ‘work’ communication for any team!
So here are 3 things that can help your team to avoid these pitfalls:
- Agree as a team to turn off emails, phone alerts & social media notifications while working
- Encourage the team to take regular breaks during the day to work as productively as possible. Explain the need to step away from the home desk during these breaks to get a change of scene, and to reinforce the separation between home life and work life! (I suggest using Pomodoro as a great tool for dividing work time into healthy chunks https://pomodoro-tracker.com/).
- Use ‘focus at will’ (on YouTube) to aid concentration.
The idea is to get more done in less time, so that you have more time for yourself and anyone else in your life.
I hope you’ve found these tips useful. If so, please comment or share this with other people you think it’ll help.
And remember – the more people you help, the more successful you’ll be.
I’m Annie Boate, CEO at Coachinginschools, and if you’ve got any questions (or if you’d like a PDF download of this article) please get in touch.