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Creating a remote, high performing team

No matter the size of your team, you want to ensure you’re performing as well as you can. In fact, the smaller your team, the more important this is. Greg Orme, author of The Human Edge: How curiosity and creativity are your superpowers in the digital economy, has this to say:

The definition of a high-performing remote team

A high-performing remote team is a group of people who manage to work and think together as effectively as they do in person. Whether remote or face to face, top teams are goal-orientated, have complementary skills and are able to balance being collaborative and supportive while consistently delivering results.

The challenges of a high-performing remote team

This year has shown how it isn’t always easy to form and manage remote teams. Individuals working from home can fall prey to depression, isolation and anxiety. In addition, the rapid merging of home and work life can lead to a lack of focus and efficiency. The three main business challenges to creating a high-performing team are: 1) maintaining clear two-way communication, 2) balancing productivity with individual and team wellbeing and 3) collaborating creatively online.

Maintaining structure when your team is based in different places

It’s important to establish a framework for the team’s remote working day. When we work from home, there is no externally imposed routine to our day, and we get no visual cues from those around us about what we should be doing. This means it’s easy to get distracted by social media, news reports, household chores, partners, housemates or kids.

Creating a helpful routine can be as basic as keeping an individual and/or team ‘to-do’ list on a whiteboard or online collaboration platform to show progress has been made. Individuals should keep their own work diary to show what they did each day. Managers I’ve worked with ensure there is a regular start-of-the-day online ‘huddle’ to connect the team with what’s going on that day and encourage people to raise issues and concerns.

Balancing productivity with people’s rights to have a home life

Just as a certain amount of structure is important, so is a little freedom. Remote managers need to have empathy for people who are constantly switching between their home and work hats. As long as productivity remains high, it’s important to offer as much individual freedom as possible.

Maintaining creative thinking?

The key is to protect time and space for spontaneous creative discussion. Of course, small businesses under pressure need to remain productive. Focused agendas have to be maintained for issues that require that discipline. However, again, a smart manager must be alive to the need for equilibrium. If all virtual meetings are too prescriptive, an agenda-driven ‘Zoom presenteeism’ creeps in that will squeeze out the space for ideas. This means ensuring there is enough unscripted ‘together time’ for serendipitous water cooler moments to happen: those ‘lucky conversations’ that spark ideas when one human being bumps into another.

Replicating the fun small businesses have in the office – but online – is a non-trivial challenge. One leader on a recent virtual programme I ran at London Business School meets online for lunch at 1pm each day, encouraging down time and an opportunity to chat and share ideas. Another puts an hour at the end of the week for colleagues to gather virtually for beers and ‘quarantinis’.

How do you help people to continue to learn?

The ability to unlearn and relearn amid disruption is vital. However, research shows it’s like a cognitive ‘muscle’. Neglect it, it gets flabby. Exercise it, and it becomes bigger and stronger.

Even the busiest people can experiment with the ‘Five-Hour Rule’. This means designing your working week to liberate one hour each day that’s ringfenced for reflection and learning. Team leaders should promote the idea that everyone needs a personal development agenda – even in a crisis – by regularly explaining what they are learning.

Greg Orme is the author of The Human Edge: How curiosity and creativity are your superpowers in the digital economy (Pearson, 2019), which was named as the Business Book of The Year 2020.

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