High-performing individuals and teams feel well-connected to the things that matter most. That includes a deeper connection to mission and strategy, their goals, and to you and their fellow team members. Working remotely often leads to lower levels of connection. Here are some ways you can build a more connected – and better performing – team.
A good deal of research shows that remote employees are often more productive than their on-site peers. But, as a manager, as a leader, you’re more interested in performance than productivity. Productivity is a measure of how much you do… in other words, activity. “I get a lot done when I work from home.” Performance is about how effective your work is. “My team improved client satisfaction by 5% over last quarter.” Certainly, productivity and performance often go hand in hand, but not always. We all know people who work hard and get a lot done; but, still, they just don’t seem to be able to move the needle far enough.
No doubt, over the last year or so, you’ve been flooded with all kinds of advice on how to keep your newly remote team of managers or professionals engaged and performing well . Here’s a slightly different way of looking at how to make that happen – by leveraging key leadership techniques in ways that keep people connected. Connected to their mission, their goals and to you and their team.
- Keep it in front of them. You can do this at team meetings. “This new project aligns with our mission to…” And when problem solving. “Part of our strategy calls for cross selling more technology products. With that as our primary criteria, let’s discuss which of these projects will make that happen more quickly?” When answering questions. “The reason we’re going to move to a 70/30 remote model is because of the upcoming business acquisition. We’ll need maximum levels of trust and collaboration to make this work. And that means more face-to-face time in the office.”
- Make it personal. Virtually every organization has a mission or vision and a business strategy. So too should every team. How does the overall business strategy map to your team? How do you make high-level strategy make sense in your part of the organization? In fact, how do you help each of your team members align what they do with mission and strategy? Take the time for a formal process of aligning your team’s mission and goals with the organization’s. One meeting isn’t likely to be enough. Make it a short project, assign a lead to it, and ask people to come prepared to the meetings with their own ideas.
- Keep their formal goals up to date. Don’t wait until the end of the year to align their work goals to new business goals and initiatives and new ways of working. These changes provide a perfect opportunity to get their attention. Talk about goals, find out what challenges they have, and help them create a plan for addressing them. Remember to make this a robust two-way conversation.
- Set clear expectations. Remote management is usually harder because communication is more difficult and less frequent. Don’t let distance get in the way of clarity. You’ll want to let your team and your employees know exactly what’s expected. For example, it’s not enough to tell them you want them to maintain or improve collaboration. How do you expect them to do that? “Remember, we’ll be switching to Flowdock next quarter. I expect everyone to have 100% of their team members attend the product training by no later than September 15th.”
- Hold people and teams accountable. Expectations without accountability are a half-measure. Even highly motivated people need to be accountable for how effectively they perform. Remember to role-model what you want to see. If you ask the managers who report to you to update their team’s performance goals, but you don’t do it with your own team, it’s likely to elicit a half-hearted and incomplete effort on their part as well. For more on remote accountability, look for our upcoming article.
- Empathy (and loads of it), not Sympathy. As organizations continue to sort out the future of their organization’s work structures and practices, it’s important that leaders be empathetic. Note that I did not say sympathetic. Here’s the difference. When a leader is empathetic, they understand and share the feelings of another person. They recognize the person’s challenges. “It must be hard to have to re-organize your personal life around the new work arrangements.” It’s supportive. On the other hand, when someone is sympathetic, they are signaling that they feel pity or distress for them. “I’m so sorry that you have to come back to work in the office full time. It really stinks.” This also sounds supportive. But managers who sympathize (instead of empathize) are more likely to excuse poor performance and lower their expectations. It also crosses the manager/employee boundary and makes it harder to be objective with an employee.
- Help them help themselves. People like and respect leaders who help them solve problems, not managers who dictate solutions. Ask questions. “You’ve been late getting the financials to me two months in a row. What’s going on? Why do you suppose that’s happening? What do you think will solve that problem?” Of course, if you see something else, you’ll want to mention it, but collaborative course corrections are the most effective. It’s also important to ask how you can help. This technique also works well for teams. Help them define and then solve the collaborative challenges they have, and ask what you can do to help.
- Set team goals. Individuals need to know that they will be held accountable for how well their team(s) perform, and that collaboration is critical to their success. See above.
- Remain focused on professional development. Don’t lose sight of helping your team members develop their skills and acquire important experiences. Remote employees are more likely to be overlooked when it comes to development opportunities. Pick your times wisely, but make sure it remains part of the ongoing dialogue you have with them.
Connection is Powerful. Connecting with others and with purpose are deep-seated personal needs, and that includes in one’s work life. High-performing teams thrive on the level of trust and respect that connection helps drive.