Many of you have been part of a team working remote, this past year. Maybe due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Or because you are part of an international team that meets face to face only a few times per year. Whatever the case may be, you likely have been working with a remote team in some degree of distress caused by the sudden switch to working from home in a crisis situation. So how to care for your remote team in this situation?
The first answer, in which many organizations invested a lot last year, is of course to provide the tools your team needs to work comfortably. Organizations started using online video conferencing tools, invested in equipment, rented desks and chairs for their staff, and provided support for improved Internet connections from home. (see also what I wrote about this a year ago, here)
Some organizations supported their team with an additional allowance to cover extra costs incurred by working from home. For instance, the costs of heating your home in the daytime, which you would not need to do if you were working from an office. (But also, as an organization supporting citizens with household budgeting calculated: extra costs for coffee, tea, toilet paper, electricity, water).
Obviously, it is important to make sure your team has everything it needs, technically and financially, to be able to actually do the work from home. But it is not the only thing needed. In fact, if you invest only in tools your team will certainly not thrive.
A big part of what your team members need is feeling connected. So if you want your team to flourish you need to invest in maintaining connections between all team members. Don’t skip those team meetings because you are tired of video calls. Make sure everyone is there and gets to speak their mind. Encourage individual calls between team members. Create opportunities and encourage different kinds of calls and meet-ups. Try out tools that simulate cocktail party mingling for more playful interactions.
But again, creating possibilities and encouraging calls and meetings is not enough. Because people not only seek connectivity but also the feeling of real togetherness. Like when you are in the office and you notice that your colleague has swollen eyes and ask them what’s up. Or when you are together doing last minute copying, sorting and stapling for a project proposal that needs to be sent out today. Or when you are waiting for the grant decision together. This feeling of togetherness cannot be re-created in meetings only, simply because in the office it also happens mostly outside the ‘official’ part of office life.
So you must find other ways to make sure your team does not lose this togetherness. You can create unofficial check-ins, coffee breaks, lunches or end of the week drinks. But it is also important to make sure you, in your role of leader, bring the individual stories to the fore. (hey guys, X has a challenging week this week because of that deadline. S/he may ask you for last minute help, so please make sure you check our Slack channel #helpneeded for messages).
The example I gave for togetherness actually also serves for the next level of caring for your team: to pay extra attention to individuals. Make sure they notice that you notice what they are doing and going through. This may mean that you need to exaggerate it, compared to how you would normally act (in passing, in the office when waiting for the coffee to brew together).
Plan calls with each team member individually every 10 to 14 days, just to hear how they are doing. What’s bugging them? What’s going well? What makes them feel part of the bigger picture of the organization and its mission? Make good notes of these calls and plan follow up actions straightaway after them. (also if it’s just a reminder to check back in with them about issue abc in 2 days)
Similar to the point made under paying attention to individuals, showing appreciation remotely may feel to you like overdoing it. You may think that your appreciation is clear enough, but it rarely is in this situation. Believe me. So you need to pay more compliments (perhaps about things you would normally consider ‘normal’ or ‘small’), and they need to be super clear and concrete and personal. And you need to share them both in individual calls and in team calls and check-ins.
Make sure your compliments and thank you’s come in different forms: a handwritten card, a bunch of flowers, in a call, in an e-mail, in your organization’s Slack channel #wins, etc. Keep surprising your team members with what you see and notice and with how you show appreciation for their achievements big and small.
My 3 Tips
Here are my 3 tips for you:
- Reserve a significant part of your working week for personal interaction (yes, more than before).
- Keep notes to keep track and plan follow up immediately after your calls and interactions, however small the task seems at the time.
- When you feel you are overdoing it, you are probably getting it right. You will know for sure when your team starts paying it forward.
Want to know more and ask questions?
If you want to discuss this more – jump into the Facebook group and get input from a wide range of peers and from myself!
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You can join my free Facebook group how to become a professional and resilient nonprofit with Suzanne Bakker here. In this group we will create a safe space for open exchange and discussion on potentially sensitive topics like boards, nonprofit management, fundraising, etc.