Managing Remote Teams

Over the last year, we’ve all had to adapt and change our ways of working. With many managers having to look after teams who are working from home, what can we learn from leading research on this topic?

Research by the Harvard Business Review has shown that people are, on average, less motivated when working from home, especially when they have had no choice in where they work, which is the case for many people at the moment. There are three positive motivators which can counteract this effect:

  • Opportunities to “play” such as problem-solving with a colleague
  • A sense of “purpose” such as being able to see the impact of efforts on clients and colleagues
  • Opportunities to fulfil “potential” such as access to colleagues in order to develop professionally and/or personally

Effective managers recognise the importance of their team’s motivation and provide opportunities for play, purpose and potential.

What you measure is a strong indicator of what is important to the business and to you, as a manager. There are many different motivation instruments available which you can use to quantitatively measure motivation over time, and these can be backed up by regular discussions with individual members of staff about how they are feeling and their motivation levels. These discussions can also allow you to brainstorm about further opportunities for play, purpose and potential that are specific to the team or the individual’s role.

Work can actually deliver a needed lift to people’s lives during this pandemic. They key is to not let your team’s work (and their targets) focus exclusively on tactics – files closed, calls answered, leads generated. Teams should feel empowered, and given time, to experiment and solve larger problems which are really important to the business, giving people the opportunity to “play” and be creative. How can we improve customer service? Get more repeat business? Increase our brand presence?  These are the sorts of questions which teams can tackle, individually and in groups, to come up with innovative solutions which will help the business, not just now, but in the coming months and years, as well as improve or maintain people’s motivation levels.

In addition, more practical suggestions for effective team leadership and management focus on the key themes of communication, support and social engagement:

  • Check in with your team regularly
  • Establish a schedule of how you will regularly communicate with the team as a whole and with individuals
  • Use a range of technology to give variety e.g. phone, Teams, Zoom, text, email
  • Encourage your team members to maintain a positive work/life balance e.g. take a lunch break, set an alarm for finishing time
  • Remind your team of support tools that are available e.g. employer assistance programmes, physical and mental wellbeing resources
  • Make sure staff working from home have the necessary tools and equipment they need
  • Tailor feedback and look for opportunities to praise – some individuals may be more sensitive to criticism than usual
  • Give your team opportunities to engage on a social basis e.g. post-work drinks or a quiz, or set aside time at the beginning or end of meetings for people to have a chat about how they’re doing

Ultimately, employees look to their managers and leaders for guidance. As much as is possible, managers need to recognise that this is an anxious and stressful time for people but, at the same time, demonstrate confidence in the team and the individuals within it. 

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