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Maintaining the morale and efficient collaboration of remote teammates requires its own strategy

Depending on when you read this, the Coronavirus pandemic is either still raging, or – hopefully! – has finally been brought under control. Either way, a huge work culture shift is upon us, as remote working is prioritised, given the infection risks associated with being co-located in the same office.

But, despite the conveniences, e.g. no longer needing to fight traffic to and from an external workplace, or the flexibility to oversee important family responsibilities when needed, it’s still a challenge to keep up the morale and foster person-to-person connections of teams who work remotely.

As solo operators, introverts are the best suited to being productive without the in-person feedback and interaction with colleagues.

Ambiverts (halfway between introverts and the people-oriented extroverts) are also able to adjust to working geographically apart from colleagues – as long as they get opportunities for ‘social’ moments.

Extroverts suffer the most from the remote working set-up, as they really thrive on the banter and in-person synergies with colleagues.

So, how do we ensure that the motivation and alignment with team goals and overall mission are kept healthy while working together remotely? The following six suggestions will get you on the right track.

  1. Be attentive in video interactions: we’ll be hearing a lot about the ins and outs of video-conferencing software like Zoom and GoToMeeting over this period. And until we fully enter the era of Virtual Reality work spaces, video will be the closest we’ll have to viewing and responding to our colleagues’ gestures, body language, tone of voice and individual mode of expression, in real time. When holding video group meetings, bring all of your attention to your team mates – not just regarding what they say, but – just as you would if they were with you – read their body language, facial expression, engagement, comfort and preparedness in participating in the discussion.
  2. Use tech to make team meetings more dynamic: people learn and absorb and engage material much more deeply when it is offered to them in diverse forms. So make the most of your conferencing software’s capacity to share links, images, videos, slides and audio with your team during meetings. Engagement leads to positive meetings, which then leads to motivated and connected teams. However, to avoid drifting off topic by over-use of external elements, prepare for such meetings as you would for an in-person meeting, and share only what ADDS, but doesn’t DEVIATE from the main agenda of the meeting.
  3. Adopt a communication strategy or a work-life strategy that plays to your teammates’ personality traits: If they’re more introverted, they’re going to need more time alone to process tasks and ideas alone – and you’ll need to be aware of their boundaries and extra need for solo, uninterrupted work. Ambiverts and extroverts will require check-ins where they can invite feedback on their workflow or share important discoveries – or simply soothe themselves after a difficult work phase.
  4. Allow non-work-related interactions: These are opportunities to get to know your teammates in their ‘natural’ environments, to bond and build trust. Of course, these have to boundaries so that they do not catch teammates off guard, or interrupt their workflow. A live-streamed tour of a co-worker’s home, for example, will likely be an unwelcome interruption, but a simple ‘hello’ from a coworker’s partner or child, or, depending on time constraints, a few minutes ‘warming up’ to a meeting by sharing thoughts on a hobby or a TV show, is fine. Obviously, the work you do together is the priority, but appropriate moments of non-work-related interactions will go a long way to keeping collaborations human.
  5. Schedule social ‘check-ins’: These serve as a substitute to the banter of chatting in the office kitchen or knocking on a colleague’s door or stopping by their desk for a friendly encounter during the lunch break. Schedule get-togethers – e.g. weekly or monthly – and invite teammates to share where they are at, both in terms of immediate work targets, but also more generally in terms of their personal well-being, family and life.
  6. Strategically match tasks and form of communication: Keep your free-form, brain-storming for video calls. Use instant chats for questions that can yield a brief, practical answer. Discussions of complicated issues that require a lot of links, slides, images, etc. should be handled over an email – preferably using bullets to clearly organise the data you’re sharing. People management interactions that touch on sensitive issues, are best tackled via a phone-call, where privacy and individualised attention can be maximised. One of the perks of working from home is you can agree, as a team, the hierarchy and task-fit for all possible ways of communicating. Respecting and helping preserve your teammates’ workflow and focus, goes a long way to preserving morale, trust and performance.

To learn more about my corporate training services and to book a free consultation, please visit: www.leonidasalexandrou.com/services/evolution/

Leading organisational consultant, speaker and author Simon Sinek has an excellent video about which professional traits are genuinely appreciated in the workplace, and which are actually valued in terms of rewards and promotion…

What he discovered was a profound disconnect in how we evaluate those who ‘hit the numbers’ and those who are great people to work with or be managed by.

To give you the gist: in the workplace, the parameters of ‘performance’ and ‘trust’ are what set a ‘value’ to someone’s contribution.

As expected, those employees who score high in terms of both their performance and how greatly others trust them, are those seen as the most valuable, and this is reflected in their pay, status and responsibilities.

Those who are the least able to fulfill their responsibilities and who inspire a minimal amount of trust, are the most ‘unattractive’ people. Their diminished contribution and trustworthiness is also reflected in their lesser status and reward.

But then Sinek zooms into something contradictory.

And that is that, very often, professional norms reward those who score high on performance… but whose indifference to their teammates’ feelings or comfort levels rank them low in terms of ‘trust’.

These are the ‘toxic’ yet ‘high-performing’ leaders who push their people relentlessly to achieve targets, but who noone actually likes, or who actually inspire fear or anxiety, who demean and diminish their teammates’ self-respect, confidence and dignity.

Up to now, such people have often been rewarded handsomely for their high scores in ‘performance’… despite their long-term negative effect on their colleagues.

Conversely, there are those people who may not be as high-performing in terms of the numbers, yet, in the eyes of their colleagues, nevertheless score very highly in terms of trust, and who their peers know will be at their side when the pressure mounts, and unexpected trouble strikes.

These are the people who will not play blame games and seek to throw others under the bus at times when mistakes are made or losses are suffered. Who are generous and gracious when others are exhibiting weakness or pain.

And they are the same people who will share the praise and lift up others when things are going well, rather than claiming all the credit as their own.

And yet… these same high-trust-scoring people are often valued and rewarded far below the toxic ‘high performing’ people by organisations, despite the long-term cost to the team’s well-being. And even though, given enough time, the high-in-trust people can even potentially ‘overtake’ the toxic people in terms of performance.

The takeaways from these insights?

For an organisation to have a healthy work culture in the long-term, i.e. able to carry out its mission while sustaining its success… it is vital for people to feel ‘safe’ working shoulder to shoulder with each other.

It is vital that they can ‘trust’ that their leaders are as invested in their well-being as in achieving company goals.

In other words, it is vital to ‘reward’ the ‘trust’ generators and not overlook their irreplaceable contribution, because this will also signal to potential high-performance toxic people that their technical achievements will not excuse their negative relations with their teammates.

In a day and age when it is more challenging than ever to build a sustainable work culture, organisations prioritising performance at the expense of trust, will eventually fall victim to competitors optimised for trust.

To learn more about my corporate training services and to book a free consultation, please visit: www.leonidasalexandrou.com/services/evolution/

 

When it comes to managing others, there are so many factors that can influence whether or not workplace teams fail or succeed.

Each group has its own dynamic, its own character, its own preferences and strengths, dislikes and weaknesses.

Change one person in the line-up, and you can dramatically amplify or diminish the self-belief or confidence of the individual members.

Place them in a new environment or set them unfamiliar expectations or responsibilities… and the transition can either inspire or oppress, delight or provoke them.

Nevertheless, in the nearly two decades I have spent as a corporate trainer, I have learned that managing teams to express their optimal performance comes down to four critical keys.

1. Getting communication right

Teams are made up of people, and people have their own personal aspirations and individual concerns, pressures and fears. A manager has to make the time to check in and communicate with those who will be looking to him/her for direction, motivation and feedback.

Funnily enough, effective team-related communication is not just about a manager asking the right questions and listening attentively to responses… it’s also about timing. Knowing when to ask the right questions, is as important as knowing which questions to ask.

A crisis is hardly going to be the ideal time to learn about a teammate’s background, or their more personal or family circumstances. Conversely, when things are going smoothly, not inviting team members to share their professional opinions and suggestions, is a squandered opportunity for effective, team-boosting communication.

Establishing good channels of communication, and making it safe to share views and show up authentically at work, is a vital component for the health, unity and impact of a team.

2. Aligning company vision and purpose

Does a team believe their organisation is setting the right goals? Do they feel its purpose and vision are aligned?

Noone wants to work for a company that, deep down, they believe is failing to live up to, or is out of touch, with what it says it wants to accomplish.

There are those who believe that the only things employees should care about are a steady pay cheque and a stable job position. But this is a cynical and very short-sighted perspective, and produces teams who fall apart at the first sign of crisis or disagreement, or whose members simply disappear when a financially more attractive offer comes along.

In order to get the best from its people, an organisation has to continually challenge itself to ensure that what it says it stands for, is being expressed in the goals and initiatives – i.e. the purpose – that it professionally undertakes.

And managers must rely on effective communication, to ensure that awareness of such alignment reaches their team.

3. Aligning company’s and employees’ goals

This also works the other way.

A manager who has taken the time to discover each team member’s dreams and aspirations, must also demonstrate how the company’s goals are aligned with, and serve to advance, each individual’s own personal targets.

The performance momentum that this builds in terms of team members’ goodwill, focus and willingness to invest individual energy and creativity and stamina – often outside of their ‘official’ responsibilities – is immeasurable.

And finally…

4. Maintaining organisational transparency

This is, perhaps the biggest hurdle to ensuring the unity and high performance of teams.

Large, long-established organisations often have a culture of secrecy baked into their structures, and the higher one rises up the ranks, the greater the ’emotional’ distance between the leadership and employees.

Just as people prefer to work with companies that have integrity, and whose initiatives, practices and stated vision all line up… they also prefer to be employed by organisations where they feel confident they know where they stand, and where the ‘higher ups’ don’t seem to be distant or making unspoken ‘deals’ or taking covert decisions about their future.

The other side of this is that people need to feel like their input and suggestions matter, and in work cultures where the leadership is on a metaphorical ‘mountain of Olympus’ while the employees are framed as powerless, insignificant cogs in a machine… resentment, mutiny and abandonment for better opportunities will be unrelenting dangers, undermining the cohesion and high performance of a team.

Managing isn’t an easy task, and getting the best out of people of varying backgrounds, abilities and aspirations is one of the hardest responsibilities to undertake.

Nevertheless, applying the four keys mentioned, over time, and with patience, persistence and dedication, will yield a team that is empowered, inspired and motivated to give its best not just when things are easy, but, even – and perhaps especially – when times are hard.

To learn more about my corporate training services and to book a free consultation, please visit: www.leonidasalexandrou.com/services/evolution/