8 Ways Leaders Can Engage and Support Their Remote Teams – and be a more human leader

Kate Lee By Kate Lee

How to engage and support your remote team for the long-haul

In February, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the world’s largest work-from-home experiment. Six months later, many organizations have announced that their employees will never have to return to the office, while others have pushed the return-to-office date to June 2021

Throughout the pandemic, employee engagement has been on a roller coaster ride. Employee engagement accelerated to a new high in May (38%), then realized a historic drop (31%) in mid-June. The latest Gallup poll puts engagement at a new high – 40%. 

While 40% employee engagement is positive, other numbers are concerning. Forty-seven percent of workers are “not engaged,” and 13% are actively disengaged. What’s more, 41% of employees report feeling “burnt out,” and 27% of parents say they plan to quit their jobs because of the pandemic (up from 6% in April).

For leaders, this means identifying ways to engage and support their remote teams for the long-haul.

Last week I spoke with a Managing Director at a Fortune 100 multinational investment bank and financial services company to learn how she is engaging and supporting her remote team. 

Looking back at my notes, this stood out – “Leading a team in this environment forces one to be more human. Whether you want to or not, you develop closer relationships, and get to know each other on a very different level.”

Research shows that we are driven by basic needs for meaning, happiness, human connectedness, and a desire to contribute positively to others. The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged these intrinsic motivations. More than ever, leaders need to be humans first and lead in a way that enables these basic needs.

Here are eight ways you can engage and support your team – and be a more human leader:

Communicate. Communicate. Communicate.

When the pandemic started, the Managing Director I spoke with started by scheduling a daily Zoom meeting with her team. This meeting informed everything she did going forward and it remains on the calendar today. Sometimes the focus is work-related, but the majority of the time, the meeting is used to chat and connect. 

At the start of the pandemic, she also had weekly one-on-ones with her direct reports. A couple of months in, she realized that she needed to go further. In addition to the weekly one-on-ones with her direct reports, she now has weekly one-on-one with all of her team members.  

When asked how she manages all of these calls, she admitted that sometimes she considers canceling a call, or eliminating it altogether – “Reducing the amount of time I connect with my team would be easy, but it is not the right thing to do. These regular touchpoints have, and continue to, create a stronger relationship and a stronger team.”

Talk about everything

People are scared, anxious, and uncertain about what’s next. They are trying to balance work and family. They are trying to take care of sick family members and take care of children at home. None of this can be swept under the rug. Talking about these issues, addressing these issues, and respecting them – this is critical. 

Respect and celebrate the workspace

Everyone is in a different place. Some people have a home office, but the majority do not. Some people are working at a dining room table, others in a bedroom, others on a couch. Make people feel comfortable with whatever they have and wherever they are.

Recognize People

Being able to recognize people in front of people they care about, shares the Managing Director, is a silver lining in the pandemic:

“With my team working from home, I have the unique opportunity to make my team members look good in front of their family members. When a child walks into the room, for example, I always say hello, ask how they are doing, what they are up to, and then tell them how amazing their mom or dad is. 

In the office, I don’t have the ability to make my team members shine in front of their family – with how much people are navigating and balancing now; it is so important to take the time and highlight what a great job they are doing.”

Be Creative

People don’t have the social outlets and the support systems they had before the pandemic. Be creative about developing opportunities for the team such as starting a book club.

Celebrate Everything

Celebrate everything. Celebrations break up the monotony of being at home and not being able to connect with people in person, and they place focus on the positive.

Make a big deal of everything. For a birthday, for example, send a birthday present and cake to the person’s house, and get the team together on Zoom and celebrate.

Be honest. Be human.

We are all human. We all have feelings. We are all trying to figure out our lives, and balance so many things. It is important to connect with people on a human level.

“If I am honest,” said the Managing Director, “my team members will be honest with me. So I share, for example, my anxiety about what the fall will look like – will my kids be back in school? Being honest and being human spurs conversation.” 

Take Time Off

Encourage people to take time off. The pace of work has been relentless, and everyone is tired. Everyone needs a break – even if it is just for a day or two.

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