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"It's a misconception that remote workers are lazy or not as productive or don't get as much done. Trust is so important. If you have relationship mistrust and require your team to be in front of you so you can stare over their shoulders and look at their computer screens, they're also not going to operate with a level of Trust. In a remote environment, you have that Trust, and people are generally getting more work done. They're more productive and are able to succeed." — Greg Caplan, Remote Year.
Trusting remote teams does not mean that you micromanage them and breathe down their necks to get the job done. Trust in any relationship is a two-way street. By encouraging and motivating the teams and coaching them as required, you can earn that Trust. But all this does not happen in a single day. The pandemic has thrown everyone out of their comfort zones; teams co-located within the four walls of an office have suddenly started working from their homes. There are expectations of managers to manage remote teams. The pressure on the managers is overwhelming. While they are struggling to up their team management skills, they also have the goals to deliver results. While there are many tools available to stay connected with the teams, Technology alone cannot help you build the Trust.
Dip in productivity
“We like to give people the freedom to work where they want, safe in the knowledge that they have the drive and expertise to perform excellently, whether they [are] at their desk or in their kitchen. Yours truly has never worked out of an office, and never will.” — Richard Branson.
Don't panic and get overly concerned if you see even a slight dip in the team's productivity. This dip could be because of several reasons. Try and find out what is bothering the individuals and offer a solution. A drop in productivity may not always be because the individual is busy surfing the net or doing household chores. There could be a genuine reason and concern preventing the person from delivering and completing the work. Trust your team members and support them. Look at their past performance as that would give you some indications of the person's behavior.
One of my clients, a senior professional, was very uncomfortable when he had to manage remotely. Even when in office, he had a challenge managing his team. He did not believe in building a relationship with the team members. There was no bonding among the team members and nor did the manager bother encouraging it. The manager's attitude was to do things my way, and everything had to go through him. There was no autonomy. In short, there was no trust. When the management asked the team to work remotely, the manager was utterly lost and overwhelmed because he did not know how to manage his people who worked remotely. He always felt that the team is not engaged and not committed. The net result was poor performance. During a 360 feedback session, his team members mentioned that they don't worry about the quality of work because they know that the manager would anyway get it redone.
With the pandemic forcing people to work remotely, the team members were an anxious lot. The manager failed to understand their issues and show any empathy; thus, there was no sense of belonging.
Can Technology help you achieve a well-bonded team while remote?
Technology supplements human interactions; it can never replace it. Technology cannot be the best option in every situation. Human to human interaction is fundamental. Your team member will always want to talk to you or to meet you in person. We are all social creatures, and tools cannot connect with us emotionally.
Technology can never 100% replace face to face meeting or a personal discussion on the phone. If you think by communicating with your team on WhatsApp or slack, or any other tool means you are in touch with your team members, you are mistaken. Please pick up the phone and call them, talk to them, and understand their problems. While you may not see the expression on their faces or observe their body language, the tone of their voice on the phone can help you understand their story. Use Technology and messaging apps to complement the communication channels and collaborate with the entire team, but don't forget to talk to them over the phone. Don't forget the human touch. Acknowledge their achievements, inquire about their well-being, offer than solutions, and empathize. Have frequent Zoom meetings so that each of you feels connected.
How to manage remote teams and develop a Trust relationship
Virtual teams are a new reality and are here to stay. Therefore it becomes crucial for all managers and leaders to learn the skills to promote bonding between their different team members.
Remote work is always lonely, and you miss the visits to the coffee machine and the hallway discussions. Bonding over lunch or networking after office hours is no longer available.
More important is ensuring that remote workers feel safe and respected at all times. Team members would juggle with multiple responsibilities of managing their kids, household chores, and office work. Under such circumstances, they would be under pressure to complete their work and manage other commitments. During such time, showing empathy towards them is crucial. Understanding what each person is dealing with at home is essential. Staying in touch with all your team members and respecting them during these challenging times is necessary. Respect is reciprocal.
Virtual communication can be difficult for some, and everyone on the team may not be comfortable communicating virtually. Coach such individuals and help them navigate difficult moments and guide them to write or escalate issues or talk if something is bothering them.
"Remote work is this incredible invitation to really get good at building inclusive cultures where there's a wide variety of types of people, and to build a culture where everyone feels included and everyone is experiencing ongoing growth and development on a regular basis. That's the challenge, and it's not an easy one. But the business isn't easy." — Shane Metcalf, 15Five