Don’t lose track of your key responsibilities as a leader, especially maintaining connection as your team works remotely.
Leading virtually has its challenges, and it requires leaders to adjust how they assign work and interact with their employees. Your employees may feel challenged as well, since not only do they need to learn how to work differently, but they may have other stresses impacting their work, like having children at home during work hours due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Just because you don’t see most of your employees on a daily basis right now doesn’t mean they don’t need leadership. The same leadership principles you apply during “normal” times are still important today—it just takes more energy and effort in a virtual environment. As a leader, you don’t have the benefit of the daily interactions like passing a colleague in the hallway or chatting before a meeting to create connections. It will require more organization, planning, effort and energy to create and maintain connection with your team.
It’s important to be an active leader, not a passive leader, no matter where your employees are working. That means continuing to give and participate in:
- team meetings,
- support, and
According to a report from GigaOm, “87% of remote users feel more connected to their team and process when using video conferencing.” Video is an important tool for connecting people.
One way to ensure deeper connections is to require employees to use their video camera, if they have one available. You wouldn’t allow a member service representative to show up to work in their pajamas, would you? Of course not. It’s OK for employees to be more casual at home, but they are still coming to work, even on a Zoom call. Just like they are seen in a team meeting in the office, they should be “seen” in a virtual team meeting. Instill the same standards for video meetings—expect employees to come to the call ready to engage. Having some people on video and others not contributes to a lack of connection. For team video meetings with fewer than 10 people, consider having them keep their microphones unmuted so you can build off the natural comments and conversation.
While video is a great way to connect, it’s also important to consider that constant virtual meetings can be draining and exhausting. Consider other options for connecting such as a phone call, conference line or text chat when appropriate. Not every interaction needs to be a video call.
Being a caretaker of culture is also one of the main responsibilities of leaders, even in a virtual environment. It’s easier and more comfortable for most leaders to focus on tasks and results, but purposefully creating connection is important to keep your team engaged and productive.
Hold regular individual video calls with each one of your direct reports and connect with them. Don’t make this call all about work—make it a point to understand their personal challenges during this unprecedented time.
Below are some examples of questions you might ask. This should be a genuine, authentic call to demonstrate your care and concern for your employee.
- How are you doing through all of this?
- How has this challenging time impacted you and your family?
- Is there anything I can do to support you?
Listen to your employee and empathize with what they are going through. Some employees may be experiencing minimal impact (just navigating how to work remotely), while the pandemic may have a more significant impact on others (those with elderly parents, children they are trying to homeschool, or a spouse or partner whose job has been negatively affected).
One of the worst things leaders can do right now is to conduct work as usual. What is going on in our country—and in the world—is unprecedented and has an impact on each of your employees in different ways. Regular interactions can do a lot to help your employees feel valued and understood, which will impact how engaged they are in their work.
No matter where your employees are working, they need you. They need you to create clarity, foster a positive culture and support them through this time. Effective leaders are active leaders—they understand the importance and responsibility of leading their employees through challenging times.
Laurie Maddalena, MBA, CPCC, PHR, is a certified executive coach, leadership consultant and founder of Envision Excellence LLC in the Washington, D.C., area. Her mission is to create exceptional cultures by teaching leaders how to be exceptional. Maddalena facilitates management and executive training programs and team-building sessions and speaks at leadership events. Prior to starting her business, she was an HR executive at a $450 million credit union. Contact her at 240.605.7940 or firstname.lastname@example.org.