Current times have created a unique environment when it comes to working from home (WFH). There are many companies with very effective WFH policies, but the COVID-19 outbreak has forced many companies and families to adapt to those particular circumstances. There are many advantages and disadvantages of working from home, and some workers may log in much longer work hours while they’re telecommuting. According to data Bloomberg reported (paywall) from NordVPN, U.S. workers reported an additional three hours per day of work after March 11, 2020, compared to patterns before that date.
IT executives are adapting their leadership styles to these trends and need to ensure not only that their teams aren’t burned out, but also that they find the right balance between being productive and effective.
I spend a lot of time interviewing IT executives — whether as clients or guests on my podcast — and have compiled a list of recommendations for how they can lead effective and productive remote teams. Below are a few tips for execs leading remote teams (or who are currently adapting to remote work), with a focus on adapting to crises like the spread of COVID-19:
Schedule meetings wisely. Encourage your teams to keep the number of scheduled meetings to an absolute minimum, or at least minimize the number of required participants. Productive and effective meetings that result in deliverables are very difficult to facilitate and coordinate.
Be very selective with collaboration tools. There are a plethora of available tools, and most likely, your teams have already adopted many of them. It is easy to get overwhelmed by the number of tools and resources your teams are utilizing. Some online collaboration and video conferencing tools have seen a significant increase in their usage in 2020. In fact, Zoom has reported a large increase in usage. Understand the purpose of each platform, and provide recommendations to your company for the consolidation and consistent utilization of collaboration tools.
Remember that being ‘online’ is not the priority. Some of your team members may feel obligated to ensure that the “green” light is always on to demonstrate that they are working. With many now working from home with their families, this can become burdensome. Eliminate this pressure by communicating clearly that constant presence online is not a requirement. This can help you bring more trust to your team and enable them to become self-sufficient.
Allocate time for up-skilling. Many of your team members may spend time listening to audiobooks, podcasts and other educational materials on their commute to and from work. Utilize the time they’re saving now for up-skilling. Encourage your teams to allocate and block out times on their calendars for these educational activities.
Create scheduled and structured remote touch points. Having recurring and well-structured sessions (one-on-ones) with your team members can be an effective way to ensure you maintain your team’s alignment around focusing on the highest-priority items and get an understanding of potential roadblocks.
Overcommunicate. This does not necessarily mean you should overload your teams with emails and announcements. Instead, identify opportunities to diversify your communication channels. For instance, participate in or create a relevant podcast. Podcasts are a great resource for an IT executive to present and communicate their vision, challenges and insights. There are plenty of executive podcasts that can provide an effective platform to not only reach your own teams, but also expand your reach in your industry. Moreover, you can post your thoughts on a company blog or share a video recording to help you come across as more relatable, rather than just as an executive.
Demonstrate flexibility. Many people are working with their spouses, animals and kids at home. Demonstrate that it is acceptable and, in some instances, encouraged to have your loved ones partake in your professional activities, such as meetings and conference calls. For instance, bring your child with you to a video conference (at least for the initial few minutes as an introduction), and encourage others to do so.
Minimize the chat messages. Slack, Microsoft Teams and other tools can allow for great accessibility, but they can also create an unnecessary need to shift your focus and respond to a message when you receive it. Be cognizant of the fact that a lot of remote team members organize their daily routines, and sporadic chats and messages can lead to unnecessary disruptions.
Have fun. This may seem like common sense, but do not underestimate the value of hosting virtual lunches or happy hours. For instance, facilitate a late-afternoon happy hour via video conference on Fridays, and have each participant take turns describing their drink of choice at the moment.
Events like the COVID-19 outbreak can pose great challenges to businesses, as well as opportunities to improve their internal processes. IT executives should adapt and employ strategic communication methods, lead by example, and aim to demonstrate their flexibility and empathy regarding the difficult environment that everyone is trying their best to operate in.