Adapting to the current crisis – Remote Work 2.0

 In Blog, covid-19

What factors to consider, when you manage remote teams

The COVID-19 crisis has changed the way we work. Team leaders play a key role in the success of their remote teams. This has created a situation that is unexpected and novel to most managers and co-workers. Companies and organizations that previously did not have a home office practice and are experiencing it for the first time are more affected.

Even those, who already have such experience cannot fall behind, because the current situation is much different than before. It will not be a day or two, or a week, but you have to be prepared for the longer term, and not just a few colleagues, but all of them may be forced to work from home. During the day, we are not alone in our homes and many of the children stay at home and need to be taken care of. So, everyone is affected by the change.

In this situation, managers are forced to face additional challenges. They have to apply new management solutions. We would like to give you some advice on this.

The current challenges have three root causes:

  1. We lose all personal contacts with our colleagues
  2. Home office is not for everyone
  3. Self-isolation can cause anxiety

Diagnoses

Trust

The trust network in the organisation is very important in bridging misunderstandings and patching the gaps in the information network in good faith. The “trust bandwidth” of remote relationships is very low: it is difficult to give reassuring looks or “shoulder taps”. On the one hand, video connections do not allow this. On the other hand, because of the lack of “office corridor time” between meetings and discussions, where half-sentence recognitions and encouragement can be given. Therefore, weak connections are easily broken up and the effect is that the network becomes fragmented. Employees who did not belong to a group (although they had a relationship of trust) can be left behind now and feel that they will be on their own.

Metacommunication

Successful groups are characterized by the fact that their members recognize each other’s emotional reactions and response to them.

As a result of not seeing each other fully or not seeing everyone, metacommunication is reduced. This makes it more difficult to recognize the emotional reactions of our fellow human beings. At the same time, they do not perceive our emotional reaction as before, either. This increases the risk of misunderstanding. And not receiving as much attention as we used to, heavily contributes to the deterioration of our mood.

Micro Structure of communication:

The dynamics of virtual discussions differ from the personal ones. It is harder to interrupt; it is more difficult to express our opinions. Taking over the word is easier for the more demanding colleagues. The result is a more centralized communication network dominated by the mouthy colleagues. In a personal discussion, the mouthy ones dominate, but the quieter, more introverted colleagues are given the chance to speak if there is a good-hearted mediator, facilitator in the room who notices when to give the word to someone in the background. When more than 4-5 people (or place from which they join) are in a video conference, we might lose the oversight of the group. While we see and detect groups of more than 10 people in a room, we cannot do that in a video conference situation. The bandwidth of internet connections is limited due to the extra demand, there might be interruptions, loss of connectivity etc.

Information transfer:

The really big risk is that the informal communication network that runs your organisation gets stuck. Unplanned encounters that convey information that we did not intentionally seek – cease to exist. An organisation relies heavily on the flow of information that:

  1. it is not clear to the transferor that the target person should know this piece of information (or does not yet know); and
  2. the target person does not know he / she needs it.

In a remote work/home office situation, only the information that we consciously communicate is largely circulated: Either the transferor thinks the target person should know, or the target person thinks that his or her piece of information is missing.

Suggestions:

  • Every virtual team meeting should have a facilitator who has the empathy to recognise, if someone has something to tell. He/she should not allow the conversation to be monologized and the others should not remain silent for a long time.
  • Maximum 5 people should be in a video conference. This will ensure video connection and keep everyone active.
  • Create overlapping groups and provide the possibility for oversight for other colleagues. An overlapping group means that some colleagues are also involved in two or more video conferences.
  • Have loose, non-agenda occasions to provide a chance to pass on information. This can be especially important for those who live alone. Ex: common board games, book, movie recommendations etc.
  • Take the opportunity to express appreciation, provide a sense of community and personal support. This is where the creativity of the group comes in handy and it is advisable to share these ideas with other groups. E.g.:
  • More one-on-one meetings: These are more suitable for evaluating the employee’s mood. We behave differently if there is only one conversation partner.
  • Multiple summaries and a note for everyone in the video conference, electronic flipchart (technically: the facilitator occasionally shares his screen and makes his own notes visible) to avoid confusion
  • Establish a daily, weekly routine. One antidote to insecurity (and to loneliness) is the daily, weekly routine.
  • Personal interest, discussing personal topics without professional content helps prevent loneliness.
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