Leaders can sustain a high-performance team remotely
COVID-19 has created an opportunity to experiment with remote work. We’re essentially living through “the world’s largest work-from-home experiment.” It’s teaching organizations and leaders who weren’t on board with off-premises work that operations can be just as productive as ever – although it takes time and patience to reorient leaders to get high performance from a remote team.
Time and patience are in short supply. High employee performance is needed now more than ever for companies to sustain any momentum. To achieve this, leaders need to get themselves motivated more than ever to leading remote teams.
What we know about remote work
1. Frequent communication yields engagement
Communication is good and frequent communication is great. Frequent conversations could yield the biggest improvements in engagement. Remote workers are more likely to be engaged if they receive feedback from their leader at least a few times per month. So, communicate — ask what their preferences are. Don’t make it a guessing game, make it a conversation.
2. Accountability comes from expectations
In his book Soar With Your Strengths, Gallup’s first chairman Don Clifton advised leaders that, “Nothing happens until someone expects something of you in ways you can achieve.” Remote or not, employees can only be accountable for what’s expected of them. Remote workers can only be held accountable by leaders who provide clear and collaborative expectations.
Leaders have to be explicit about the remote workers’ responsibilities and metrics — and excellence should always be the standard. That said, leaders and employees should define success together, based on an overall organisational performance management framework. Doing so prevents future conflicts and aligns the worker with the goals of the team and organization. In other words, to make things happen, your expectations for your employees must be clear and achievable for them.
3. Individualize to optimize
Workers are beginning to realize that the presence of others and the structure of the office kept them focused. For others, the reverse is very much the case. That’s not to suggest that leaders can exactly replicate workplace personalisation conditions for remote workers. That’s clearly not possible. But they can identify the conditions that allow people to thrive and set them up to succeed at home.
Things like a daily team video conference so socially motivated workers can see the rest of the team as they work. Or leaders can set up an opt-in, team check-in system, using time-intervals that team members can agree on. Some employees don’t need or want that level of attention — they’ll find it intrusive — but others do. Either way, individualizing to the employee is the heart of great coaching, which is the key to optimizing performance.
Many sociologists feel the world will probably never get back to the pre-COVID normal. Leaders will have to make some decisions about flexibility. Those who have taken the time to build remote-work accountability, communicate and individualize expectations, will have a competitive head-start. Those who have not may just be caught holding the bag.
Welcome to the new world of work!