What's the key to leading a remote team?
I attend a lot of meetings (a lot of Zoom meetings) with my industry peers and the subject of working from home comes up in conversation regularly. I often feel a bit of an outsider, as the general consensus is always that the team needs to be in the office and that remote working doesn’t work, especially for the younger generation.
Except that, in my events agency, I really think it does.
Pre Covid, Broadsword was based in Somerset House which was a stunning location for the agency. However, it’s easy to look back with rose tinted spectacles. It was very rare that the office was at full capacity, with a busy team meeting clients and delivering events across London and further afield. Yes, there were those magical moments when we got everyone around the table to work on a pitch but in all reality, with short lead times and busy diaries, the lightbulbs shone most brightly while we were burning the midnight oil.
What I love about Broadsword is the way we roll up our sleeves and get on with it. When we were forced to work remotely full time, this is exactly what happened. I would argue we had to be our most innovative, creative and resourceful at a time when all communication was not face to face. I also had the privilege of watching and working with my two children, as they navigated their GCSEs and A Levels at this time. What they struggled with most, during the lockdowns, was the lack of variety but both adapted to the situation and were driven to succeed. My son produced his final film project in VR, with a remote production team and company of actors. Post pandemic I have been determined that we build on this period, rather than reset.
“Folks are usually about as happy as they make their minds up to be.” Abraham Lincoln.
Personally I think this is the trick to making a remote team work – it’s about mindset, responding to obstacles as opportunities, seeing the glass as half full, rather than half empty, focusing on what we gain, rather than what we have lost.
Let’s dispel the myth. Working remotely doesn’t mean you are chained to your home office.
As we did pre pandemic, much of the Broadsword team’s time is spent out and about, visiting clients, attending site visits and delivering events. We regularly book hot desks and meeting spaces in shared workspaces and arrange team socials. But equally we benefit from more time with our families, including our pets, and more time to exercise and focus on our out of work activities, as we aren’t commuting as much.
Alongside a positive mindset, building good working relationships is essential to the success of any team and this sits at the heart of a remote team. Good working relationships are based on trust and open communication. Whether you’re sending emails or direct messages or meeting face-to-face or on video calls, the more open and honest the communication, the better colleagues will connect with each other. Equally the more comfortable team members are around one another, the more confident they’ll feel voicing their opinions and sharing ideas.
Developing everyone’s emotional intelligence is another strategy to achieving comfortability within the team; individuals become more adept at identifying and handling the emotions and needs of others which builds self-awareness and trust.
Appreciating each other is also key. Praise and recognition opens the door to great working relationships. We use an appreciative enquiry model for annual reviews at Broadsword which encourages positive relationships between managers and their direct reports.
For the younger generation, I think the reason so many agencies don’t think it can work, is that they can’t learn remotely. Whilst I agree, it can be more challenging, I do believe the way young people are learning is changing at pace, plus they like variety, so the combination of working from home and meeting colleagues in person works brilliantly. Equally, spending more time with junior members of a remote team is possible, involve them in projects and meetings, even if they are just observing, because this will give them the opportunity to enter the conversations and listen to more experienced members of the team. Provide lots of touch points throughout the week, with formal and informal catch ups and make sure you give regular feedback. It also helps to have more than one young person working in your team. Bringing in a pair of apprentices or ensuring a new hire has a buddy of a similar age and experience level, is a great way to develop confidence and encourage interaction and engagement.
I’ve heard a lot about employees fitting work around their life rather than life around their work. I see this new era as an opportunity to find a better balance between the two because if we are happy and healthy, our output at work will benefit. Work and life are intrinsically linked. Let’s make our minds up to get the best out of both.
The Broadsword team shared their ‘non-negotiables’ to make remote working life easier and what they enjoy about the remote working life, which include:
- ‘Being able to take my daughter to school a few times a week! And always picking her up on a Friday.’
- ‘I have to have a second screen and a supportive chair.’
- ‘Getting out and about regularly to mix up the week such as using a co-working space with other team members or being on site at an event.’ Or even ‘a change of scenery in the home; working at my desk for a bit, then moving to the kitchen table for a bit.’
- ‘A decent coffee machine and home cooked food.’
- ‘Something I find helps is being able to set up facing a window — I find it hard to focus If I’m facing a wall.’
- ‘A regular catch up with other members of the team. We have recently implemented a regular informal call to chat about topics inside and outside of work.’
- ‘I don’t get much time for walks but I’ve joined a running club for after work so hoping that will get my body moving after sitting at a desk all day!’
- ‘The biggest plus for me, is the lack of a daily commute, the associated cost, and wasting time, that could be spent more effectively whether it be time spent with family etc.’