Leading Productive and Motivated Remote Teams

In the context of the global coronavirus pandemic, the world of work has entered a dramatic new phase as the need for social distancing has created a new normal based primarily on remote working. This poses a significant leadership challenge with repercussions on productivity, psychological and emotional wellbeing or teams. Leaders need to be creative with how they manage their people at this time. Members of the Retail Hive got together to pool their collective experience of leading teams over the last few weeks, sharing tips for keeping remote teams connected and motivated, and discussing ways to enable team members to continually add value.

POSITIVES CAN EMERGE FROM THE EXPERIENCE OF REMOTE WORKING:
  • Think about how your business can be Faster, Better, Stronger: Step back from the day to day noise and refocus on what your team needs when business resumes. Give everyone the headspace to think freshly about the business.
  • Cut unnecessary tasks by identifying activities that do not drive results & processes that need reworking to save time moving forward. 
  • Embrace the imperative to become digital, and digitally transform much faster. Everyone has to digitally transform, this is the time to make mistakes and not necessarily be held accountable.
  • Hone the practice of remote working so the team learns how to do this happily and productively.
  • Crisis can spur quick decision making that will benefit the team and customers: Get the most out of the opportunity for collaboration within the organisation, partly fuelled by remote working and the practice of regular leadership conversations that see the decision makers and entire teams working and communicating better than ever.
  • Seek opportunities to collaborate with other companies to share learnings.
  • Use the challenging situation to build trust and strengthen relationships with suppliers and partners as you work together to find solutions and support each other.
  • Push the urgency for investing in new tech solutions and work as a team to get these ushered in. 
  • Connect with people that you might not have been in touch with, it seems people in business- and personal-life are wanting to keep in touch more than pre-Covid.
  • Recognise the importance for staff to feel connected with their brand and with their boss. The organisations who ensure their people are feeling supported and encouraged will be remembered and leave a lasting legacy. 
  • Use this opportunity to upskill your team – training new skills that you might not previously have had time nor reason to do. This fills time productively and demonstrates how much you value your people.
  • When teams are distributed they are forced to communicate and collaborate. This drives a sense of community – there is no place to hide when you are working remotely…
  • Use the time to do work that is always IMPORTANT but not always URGENT: eg rewrite certain policies from scratch, build development plans for the teams
  • Adversity often brings out creativity so unleash this and empower your team to step up and come up with processes, solutions and suggestions for challenges large and small. 
  • Brands that sit within a larger group are seeing more inter-brand collaboration, sharing ideas and experiences regularly. Brands that sit in a global group are seeing more cross-border collaboration – sharing experiences that are going on in different parts of the world, what customers have to say, coming out of lock-down etc in different countries.
  • This is a great chance to get to know your team in different ways. Be transparent and be human and encourage your team to be creative in ways to engage their community: eg Employees going on Instagram, and talking about the product which encourages team and customers to not only buy the product but the story. Let your teams know that this can be an opportunity for traditional brands to reinvent themselves and see what they come up with.

SOME TECHNOLOGY/TOOLS TO COMMUNICATE WITH YOUR TEAMS

  • Zoom – Good for team meetings
  • MS Teams – Good for file sharing and collaboration
  • Houseparty- Good for more fun interactions 
  • Slack-Good for instant comms on specific projects; also for “watercooler moments”
  • Sharepoint Good for centralised data and to see live changes/updates 
  • Google Drive-Good for file sharing and collaboration
  • Discord-Good if people are resistant to using video chats, and the physical implications of moving around your house.
TIPS:
  • Beware too many channels and the expectation you need to be available across all of them
  • Think about tools to balance work with social
  • Issue guidelines on web chat etiquette to your staff
  • always imagine that you can be seen and heard
  • always speak the same language 
  • dress professionally – creates a productive mindset as well as positive image
KEEPING IT FUN AND HUMAN:

One impact of remote working is that people seem to be always on. Work has changed from 9-5 to 24/7 which is hard to adjust to. It is  important to ensure you are maintaining the fun, social and informal experiences of working in a team in an office environment. You could try:

  • Quiz Night
  • Fizzy Friday
  • Furry Thursday (bring pet to the chat)
  • Virtual team workout on Zoom
  • Movie clubs – watch the same film on Friday and discuss on Monday
  • Book clubs
  • Virtual lunches together (send your co-worked an uber eats lunch so you eats the same thing and catch up)

Consider appointing a Chief Fun Officer or Wellbeing Committee to think of things to add fun elements to the week. Remember this should not feel compulsory, it should be optional and fun. 

PUTTING STAFF ON FURLOUGH:

When difficult conversations arise such as furloughing/redundancy/pay cuts – think carefully about communication and be sensitive. When furlough is handled badly, it is very very bad. But when it is handled well it leave people feeling positive and looked after.

TIPS:

  1. First – can you re-deploy your staff?
  2. If furlough then prepare carefully before announcements, have all the information to hand
  3. Communicate clearly, walk people through options and benefits
  4. Handle delicately
  5. Consider offering voluntary furlough
  6. Make sure there is something social so those being furloughed can say goodbye
  7. Each state is different with different policies
  8. Provide extra support
PREPARING TO ACCELERATE OUT OF LOCKDOWN:

Covid is bringing about a sudden and seismic shift in retail, that has been overdue for so long. The retail industry is trying new ideas and time should be spent on planning how to accelerate out of lockdown. This is a great opportunity to empower your teams to make a positive difference to your organisation, your brand, your customers and the industry as a whole:

  • Seize the opportunity for change: Why should we go back to normal, when “normal” wasn’t perfect before? 
  • Challenge your staff to imagine what day 1 out of lockdown will look like, and how they will approach it. What will the store contain? How will it be laid out? How do they get the customer back? How will we come out stronger, better, faster?
  • Model around different timeframes and different scenarios: How to prepare for a lack of footfall? Or a surge in footfall? And how do you react quickly to demand?
  • How can you generate instant cash flow? And if you are discounting heavily now to generate cash and shift stock then what do you do in the medium term?
  • What will Retail look like? What will the High Street look like?
  • In preparation for reopening – how do you remain agile, and maintain relationships with the vendors? 
  • Rewrite what staff should be doing and get ahead on this from a training perspective. 
  • Re-launch your new policies WITH your team. What does the new normal look like in terms of service? Do you have a certain amount of people in the store? Virtual shopping experience? Curb side pick ups. 
  • Have a plan for how to re-energise and make the teams feel good about coming back.
  • Remember that connection to your brand is very important.
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