Lessons from leading remote teams & people

Within my roles at Yahoo!, AOL & News Corp, I have had to lead remote teams or distributed teams across 4 continents, who together aligned around global or regional customer & business outcomes.

These experiences, alongside the improvement in collaboration tools, has meant that the teams at IAG have been able to step into lockdown and working remotely quite easily, but leading teams in these circumstances requires different skills, mindsets and disciplines than when the teams are co-located or in an office.

One of the best ways to describe the core mindset of a leader in this situations, I learn’t at Yahoo!, which was: “that every team is remote”. Meaning, that when you have distributed discovery and delivery teams, every person is operating remotely from each other.

So, here are some of my lesson from leading these teams & people.

Dedicate time to continuously adjust your ways of working

You need to reset expectations of the teams and adjust team charter. These help pressure-check when and how team mates can check-in on progress, align on how decisions get made, and what kind of interaction you really need to be productive. The more you practice having conversations about what you need as a team, the better you’ll get at creating new norms together.

What is driving changes in behaviour

Teams can be hugely productive when there are less distractions, meetings and commuting, and I am sure across your teams you are seeing massive increases in productivity. Yet, you need to determine whether this is due to positive factors (e.g., fewer distractions in the work day) or negative ones (e.g., people working longer hours). You should investigate any significant swing in metrics within your teams and also ask people honestly when and how they are working, then adjust if this is not in line with maintaining team health.

Ask for help and ask “How can I help?”

Asking for help is a vital skill, and displaying this regularly to your peers and team helps increase psychological safety across a team. It’s critical for building a team’s learning capacity, which is more important than ever. Leaders have outsize influence in this current environment, so think about how you can model both vulnerability and the need to establish boundaries.

It is also important to focus on your energy and well-being, so here are a few lesson in this space:

Create a “wedge”

Break out a small sliver of time and space for yourself only. Not talking to anyone. Not scrolling through LinkedIn on your phone. Not checking Slack. This could be 10 minutes before you check your email in the morning, to make yourself a cup of tea and breathe. Or, at the end of the day.

You’re not alone

Acknowledge, if you are, that you’re worn thin. You’re operating with less fuel. For example, it could be as simple as saying the phrase to yourself: “It’s okay.” Or, “You’re not alone” or “This is harder than usual right now.”

Step away

Distance gives perspective to everything, including what you perceive as ‘urgent’ or ‘important’ right now. When you’re in the weeds of the work, you cannot always accurately nor effectively see things as they are. As the saying goes: you can’t work on the business if you’re working in the business all the time.

Give to yourself and to your team by stepping away. Find a bit of time to step back, take stock, and reflect. Yes, even amidst these crazy times, you can likely find 30 minutes, to take a step back and reflect on the work, instead of just barreling forward.

These 6 lessons might just help you to lead your teams with more empathy, vulnerability and honesty in this current situation and also into the future, as the ‘new normal’ will look and feel a lot like today. Therefore, those leaders that are able to remember that ‘every team & person is remote’, will be those leaders that shape our future teams.

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