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Leading Remote Teams in the Face of a Pandemic

Smiling, young man sitting at a desk wearing headphones working on a computer

Leading Remote Teams in the Face of a Pandemic

by Ben DeSpain, Chief People Officer

An interesting article recently came across one of my news feeds. I found it to be timely, and it resonated with me as a reminder of some of the things many have spoken about in the past year — and we probably need to speak about more often.

Published by the Society for Human Resource Management, the article talks about the many challenges of working remotely, including burnout, loss of work culture and feelings of isolation. It also discusses some of the strategies managers can use to keep their employees uplifted, productive and happy.

The article stresses — and I firmly agree — that compassion is entirely appropriate in the workplace and is needed now more than ever.

At Velocity, we have dealt with the majority of our people working remotely — and it has required changes to our approach. Being a leader and managing teams isn’t an easy thing, even under normal circumstances. Doing so during a pandemic has been even more challenging. And yet, our team members handled it as well as any I’ve seen or heard about.

The article also referenced a Harvard Business Review survey that found many managers are struggling in their roles and would like more support. None of us were trained for working or managing during a pandemic — and there is no rule book.

Some key takeaways can help all of us make it through these times as productively and happily as possible. Here are a few highlights that stood out to me:

It is difficult to keep company culture going without human interaction.

Human interaction is critical to workplace culture and employee happiness — and we must find creative ways to foster it virtually. We’ve experienced this first-hand both in trying to keep our team members engaged and as we’ve hired and onboarded new team members and have seen how difficult it is to help them feel connected while working remotely. At Velocity, we planned a number of fun holiday events, including a virtual scavenger hunt and an ugly sweater contest. These events reminded us once again of the importance of being together. We must all find ways to give our teams these human interactions. Don’t forget the power of a simple thank you. It goes a long way.

Burnout is real.

While remote work has freed us from long commute times and enabled greater productivity in some ways, most of us have found that it has also equated to longer workdays with more back-to-back (to-back) meetings. At the same time, we also have to juggle our family members’ demands and needs. Our stress level has increased this past year, and the usual stress relievers for many — like going to the movies, out to dinner, travel or visiting with friends — aren’t much of an option. “Zoom Fatigue” is a term that didn’t exist a year ago, and yet we all know it very well today. Please keep checking in with your teams and colleagues and help them with those times it gets a little hard. Just as importantly, keep checking in with yourself and monitor your own mental health status and fatigue level. (Here’s another recent article with some solid advice worth checking out.)

Compassion and empathy are necessary.

The past year has been challenging on many fronts for our team members. Just because someone appears to be handling the situation well doesn’t mean that they really are — and we don’t know what they are dealing with in other areas. Assume positive intent in your interactions with others and be liberal by giving the benefit of the doubt. I have been uplifted by the increased openness of many leaders across multiple industries to show compassion and flexibility to help those around us. Being compassionate and showing empathy does not lessen our effectiveness as leaders. It increases our ability to be great managers and helps our team members do their best work. If there is any positive that comes out of this pandemic, it will be the increased understanding and acceptance of this fact. Mark Walker, our chief operating officer, said it best on several occasions this past year: “If we keep showing up for our team members when they need us to, they will show up for us when we need them to.”

Employees deserve to have great managers. Let’s keep learning and growing as leaders to help our team members do their best work — and live their best lives.

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