Shaping a new normality: how can leaders engage their teams in a remote work environment?

Remote work

How to leverage remote working ?

The coronavirus has fundamentally changed the way we work together and in a very short time frame, has forced organizations to move to a new virtual workplace and to embrace remote teamwork collaboration with little or no preparation.

Many organizations were not ready for this shift and still finding their ways to make the most out of it.

Now that we are realising that this new normality is probably here to stay, it becomes very important for organization to adapt to this new virtual work environment and rethink its operating model in terms of people, structure, process and of course, technology.

The sudden shift to remote working has meant leading and managing in new ways and brings its new challenges. Done right, remote working can boost productivity and engagement; done badly, it can lead to inefficiency, damage work relationships, and demotivate employees.

One of the biggest challenges in managing remote teams isn’t the actual physical distance between the employees but rather the psychological distance remote employees feel that can impact teamwork and collaboration.

Providing purpose

Revisiting the company’s purpose and team roles is important to provide direction and a sense of belonging to virtual teams, as it reconnects them to the bigger picture and helps understand how each individual can contribute.

During uncertain times, leaders need to energize their teams and provide a strong inspiring vision and a realistic outlook. It is about transparent communication and building trust with the teams.

Revisiting the Operating Model and its structure

As priorities may shift, organizations are reviewing and aligning structure, ways of working and teams to reflect this new reality and to allow more flexibility. Annual priorities and objectives often have changed and traditional teams evolved into smaller, cross-functional teams with clear short-term objectives or projects, to provide more flexibility and to bring together diverse teams with specific set of skills. It is a good moment to reflect and rethink how the workforce is organised and identify the skills needed to build a flexible organizational structure around these priorities and needs.

These uncertain times provides the opportunity to reassess their workforce strategies and leverage a remote workplace  by creating a structure and teams based on skills and needs rather than on geographical location or function.

Rethinking organizational structure across different employment models allows companies to tap into a broader talent pool leveraging freelances, outsourced models beyond their own workforce especially for a specific expertise and provides a more flexible cost structure.

Fostering an outcome driven culture and adapting the performance management processes

It’s essential to foster an outcome-driven culture that empowers and holds teams accountable for getting things done, while encouraging open, honest, and productive communication. HR processes and procedures will also need to adapt as the annual approaches towards measuring, managing people need to evolve and show some more flexibility. The first process to reconsider is the annual performance review process, which often needs to be revisited and move towards a more flexible approach where objectives are set on a more frequent basis as environment or competition evolves, and provides a more flexible approach to engage employees in defining these objectives  such as OKRs (Objectives and Key Results).

Reinforcing ongoing communication: Finding new communication routines

The challenges of not being in one room together can be overcome by creating a digitally facilitated cadence of meetings and new rhythm for the team and beyond.

Establishing routines, regular check-ins, robust working norms, workflows is critical to keep teams informed and connected.

Leaders often question how often they should communicate with their teams virtually and what type of format should be used. However, there is no such thing as  overcommunicating when it comes to virtual leadership. Poor communication is one of the key reasons remote offices are not productive.

Leaders need to choose the right rhythm and set in place a cadence of meetings with their teams using the right communication channel and frequency. To stay relevant and dynamic, we should be creative in the way we communicate and think about different formats and platforms to leverage.

Involving team members in setting up these routines or coming up with new creative ways to connect is a good opportunity to encourage ownership and teamwork.

Connecting on a personal level

It is also really important to be intentional about informal gatherings and create space where people can connect on a personal level and just share how they’re feeling and check in. This makes a huge difference towards creating a community.

Connecting on a personal level and fostering empathy within the culture is even more important when working remotely. Within the current context, we have been emerged into our colleagues’s lives through home video conference from their kitchen remodels or with their kids or pets interrupting the zoom calls, creating intimacy which is a foundation for developing trust and sense of community and belonging,

Informal gatherings are invaluable to engagement and productivity, but they need to be planned when you work virtually. Setting up regular and informal communication channels and routines helps reduce that psychological distance.

Re engaging the teams

For managers, the challenge is to lead, inspire, and direct their team in their daily course of work, while being physically remote. It will be important for the leaders to be resilient as they guide and motivate their employees throughout these uncertain times while embedding trust, to not only reframe the situation in a positive way, but also actively re-energize their team.

As companies are bringing back their employees to work, it is time to take advantage of this crisis and rethink how to rebuild our new normality. Organization have now the opportunity to reinforce their sense of purpose, build stronger and connected teams, more efficient work models and create a better experience for their employees by leveraging technology, improving collaboration and driving more efficiency.  Fostering a strong and consistent culture will be critical and serve as a backbone for delivering sustainable results and building engaged and connected teams.

Ophelia Johns

HR Practice Lead Ngage

Discover how we bring another chair into the Human transformation game.


 Examples of offering to include in our toolkit  

  • Remote Leadership skills assessment

  • Workshops to review and redefine Team Purpose / goals

  • Tool to map work/ activities split between remote vs office

  • Org structure assessment based on priorities & / skills

  • Review Org structure:  teams redesign – traditional vs small cross functional teams for high priorities

  • Review of Communication tools and routines/cadence

  • Performance management new approach

  • Objectives / projects Monitoring process & tools

  • Culture assessment

  • Engagement surveys – with specific questions for remote work

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