For many managers, leading a remote team is something new. After a few months, you’ve probably worked out many of the technical issues and settled into a rhythm of remote work. As many companies go back to the office, some team members may remain remote due to childcare issues, caring for family members, pre-existing medical conditions that increase their risk, or myriad other reasons. Some companies may continue remote working for the foreseeable future. As you navigate shifting team dynamics, how do you know if your team health is as strong as it should be?
In a Remote Work Report released by HubSpot in 2019, lack of social connection (29%) and communicating with co-workers (29%) were the two biggest challenges faced by remote workers. If you can’t see your co-workers and interact with them in the office, how do you know your team is experiencing these problems?
Here are some early signs you may have trouble brewing for your remote team:
- You stop hearing from someone on your team.
- Your team doesn’t express appreciation for each other.
- Long emails and complex threads make it hard to figure out what’s going on.
- Nobody talks about life outside of work.
- A few project deadlines or client deliverables fall threw the cracks.
- Your team members spend their days jumping from Zoom meeting to Zoom meeting with no time to get work done.
- People aren’t taking breaks or vacation days.
Trust and safety can be fragile—over time, missed deadlines, building frustrations, and exhaustion lead to a lack of trust, isolation, and burnout. Protecting your team’s health, safety and productivity is a top priority for you as a leader. You need to be vigilant for the signs above in addition to frequently directly asking your team members about their health. You should do this in a few different ways via a few different channels. You can use an Employee Health Index KPI, an employee pulse survey, a round-robin check-in during team meetings, and time in your 1:1s to directly ask each person for an update on how they are feeling.
If you are picking up on signs of remote working fatigue or if your team members are directly telling you they are feeling overwhelmed or isolated, what next? What can you do as a leader to help your remote team navigate these rough waters?
- If you are having trouble with team morale and people are feeling isolated, try some remote team building. Here’s a good list of ideas that include some very simple and doable ideas for even the busiest and most Zoom-weary among us.
- If you have team members who are not as communicative as you’d like, be direct with the person. If they’ve suddenly stopped sharing in meetings or responding to chat/email, call the person. Find out what’s going on, and offer support. The person may need to take a few days off to recharge or focus on family or other pressing issues.
- Encourage team members to take time away from work. Model this as the leader by using your vacation time and refraining from replying to emails on nights and weekends so your team doesn’t feel you expect them to do the same. Ask people to take their lunch break outside and share a picture of their outdoor view with the team via chat. Our co-founders just gave our company an additional day off to enjoy a long weekend.
- Build-in time to share personal news. We do this at the start of every weekly team meeting to help us stay connected to each other.
- Instead of email threads, try asynchronous communication. Rhythm software is great for this, because you can comment on the priority or project you are working on, and everyone can reference your communication in the context of the work. You could also try recording a short video message for team members instead of typing a dissertation into an email.
- Show gratitude to your team. Send a card, shout out a team member in your weekly meeting or over chat, leave a voicemail (it doesn’t matter how you do it). Ensure you are modeling gratitude for their contributions, and encourage them to do the same. This simple practice can go a long way to make your team members feel connected and that their work is important.
Hopefully, these signs and tactics will help you keep your team healthy and strong and ready for whatever comes next.
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