More organizations than ever are operating with a blend of in-person and remote work. To successfully lead in this environment, take a FACT-based approach: one built on flexibility, accountability, communication and trust.
By Kara Jorvig
Many leaders experienced a crash course in managing a remote workforce this spring, as the coronavirus abruptly forced most businesses to close their physical offices. As restrictions ease, organizations face a new challenge: creating effective organizational processes that allow for varying blends of in-person and remote work.
There is no one-size-fits-all structure for success. Each business has unique operational demands, and each workforce has unique circumstances. But four core principles underpin every successful team. I call this a FACT-based approach: one built on flexibility, accountability, communication and trust.
Organizations that offer a blend of in-person and remote work often do so in part to provide more flexibility to their team members. When executed well, this is proven to enhance employee engagement and, in turn, business outcomes. Unfortunately, it’s easy to miss the mark.
Moving from in-person to remote work requires a transition, as does switching back to an in-office or blended environment. If you have team members who made a change but weren’t able to plan their transition thoughtfully, now is your time as a leader to help them put that in place retroactively. Have their childcare needs changed? Is their home equipped to serve as an office comfortably? Are there other new demands on their time? You aren’t responsible for organizing your employees’ personal lives, but it is entirely appropriate for you to spark them to think about what they need to be successful. If your business has resources such as an employee assistance program as part of your benefits package, be sure to remind folks that those services are there to help.
Open communication will help you, as the leader, to understand how your people are doing and where they are struggling. In an environment with a large percentage of remote work, it’s easier for people to hide their problems than in an entirely in-person environment. Everyone can show up on a video call and give the appearance that everything is fine. But what you might not be seeing is how they’re barely holding it together professionally, personally or, perhaps, both. We’ve all come to joke about pairing our business tops with pajama bottoms, but this can be a warning sign that formerly good habits are slipping away. Watch for signs of trouble, offer flexibility when appropriate and provide plenty of support. High performers will reward your caring approach with better results and loyalty.
There are all kinds of good corporate cultures, but high-performance teams share two attributes: a culture of growth and a culture of accountability.
It’s not enough to set the bar high. As the leader, you also must create discipline throughout your organization to set milestone goals and rigorously track progress. Deadlines and timelines must mean something to everyone on the team, and everyone should be clear about his or her roles and responsibilities.
Accountability isn’t just about tracking performance. High-performance leaders also understand that they need to provide a support structure for their team members that sets them up for success. You will have some members of your team that are disciplined and self-motivated, and they will likely be able to figure out how to be successful in a group that includes remote work. You will have others who are equally talented individuals but, for whatever reason, aren’t equipped to thrive in this environment.
Part of your accountability system needs to include coaching and guidance. Don’t leave people adrift; make sure they have specific direction as to how to use the communication systems you’ve put in place, how to organize their day to meet the new team expectations and how you will measure their success. Your very highest performers will find a way to figure it out or power through, but many great contributors are not equipped to navigate that on their own. They need their leader to help them.
If you’re leading a team that includes people working at different hours because your business spans multiple time zones or various shifts, developing a customized communication rhythm is vital. Set expectations about the cadence for communication and encourage everyone to be flexible if that cadence needs to change. Use dashboards, project management systems and work-in-progress documents to ensure that everyone has a clear line of sight to project status and key performance indicators. Leaders need to be able to keep a pulse on everything without relying on the ability to pop by someone’s desk whenever they need a status update.
Teams that include some mix of remote work also require every participant to step up the quality of his or her written communication. This includes email but also applies to any asynchronous message systems, such as Slack or Microsoft Teams. If this is a weak area in your organization, provide training on how to craft clear, concise messages and avoid pitfalls. LinkedIn Learning is an excellent resource for delivering inexpensive training programs that people can complete relatively quickly and from any location. You also may want to codify your organization’s etiquette for digital communication so that everyone is on the same page.
Finally, it’s important not to allow your communication systems to cause your team to lose the personal connection they would have in a traditional work environment. This can be hard for some high performers, who may tend to view the lack of water cooler talk as a path to greater efficiency. People who fall into this camp love the idea of hopping on a call, getting the business done and moving on to the next task. If that’s you or if that describes some of the leaders who work under you in your organization, it’s important to remember that building and maintaining relationships is not a one-and-done task in an organization. These require a steady drip of activity sustained over some time. Be intentional about your organization’s culture. Know what you want that culture to be and then map out an action plan to ensure that you are doing the work to build and sustain it.
One of the most common areas on which we work with teams is how to build or rebuild trust, even in the best of times. When you, as an owner or executive, trust your team and your team trusts the corporate leadership, the odds of overcoming a challenging business environment rise exponentially. In high-performance organizations, everyone at every level works together to rise to a challenge. If one leader is out, the next one stands. Mutual trust gives leaders the ability to rally the troops around the mission, and a do-what-it-takes spirit can carry everyone through. Without trust, the team will respond to a rallying cry with skepticism and resist calls for change.
The first pillars of building trust are having integrity, a set of shared values and operating with pure and honest motives. If you’re stuck on the first pillars, you may see more drama, conflict and office politics within your team. If you are continuing to build on those pillars, you can begin to work on the next set: consistent results, consistent communication, and awareness of and developing the team’s competencies.
Building and retaining trust is a continuous process and a two-way street. From the business side, owners and executives should be consistent with their communication, set clear expectations and be transparent about why objectives and requirements are set the way they are. They should lead by example, show compassion and demonstrate a commitment to their team members’ ongoing professional development. Employees can contribute to trust by demonstrating engagement, communicating consistently and asking for help when they need it.
Flexibility, accountability, communication and trust all work together to create an environment that fosters high performance. Focus on these four principles, and your team will be in a strong position to tackle any challenge. If you need help and expertise in this area, contact Allegro Group at allegro-group.com/contact-us.
Kara Jorvig is the founder and CEO of Allegro Group, a premier consulting, organizational development and talent acquisition firm. For nearly 20 years, she has partnered with CEOs and executive teams to help them build leadership teams that place their companies among the elite in their field. For more from Kara, follow her on Instagram @kara.jorvig or LinkedIn @KaraJorvig.