Do you lead a team, big or small? If yes, you probably spend at least part of your day thinking about how to keep people connected, engaged, and productive.
Individuals and teams are under many different stresses right now, fueled by public health concerns, rising economic stress, and increased attention to systemic racism and racial justice. That can leave any leader feeling bewildered about how to balance competing priorities, and how to shift best practice for things like team-building or performance reviews into a virtual or physically-distanced environment.
There are plenty of timely tips, just a quick internet search away, about managing a newly virtual team or talking about race at work in ways that honor both history and current events. I've pasted some of my favorite recent reads at the end of this post. It's also worth remembering that some teams, both U.S. and global, have worked virtually for a long time; and there's solid pre-pandemic evidence and advice about effective working-from-home. But our times are calling for leaders to build the capacity to do both familiar and unfamiliar work in a new context.
No matter the topic, the principle that comes up for me is the headline for this post: Turn up the volume, turn down the noise.
Anything that was a good practice pre-COVID, like frequent short check-ins with individuals? You probably need more of it. If you can't drop by someone's desk, try daily "office hours" via an open Zoom link or unscheduled phone calls just to say hello. Did you have tacit norms that operated in your weekly team meetings? Make them explicit, and video-meeting friendly. Did your team have a weekly Friday social hour in the summer? Maybe you can end the day early on Wednesdays and Fridays for shared socializing, a team yoga class, or a socially-distanced brown-bag picnic. Do you need to have a tough conversation about performance or money? Schedule it, plan for it, and give some space around it in the participants' schedules.
Then, be attentive to the "noise" in everyone's environment -- the hours of screen time, the laptop and papers on the dining room table, the national news, the protests down the street, the multi-age homeschooling or camp, the aging parent sheltering-in-place across town or across the country. What can you clear away? What can you give more time and space? How can you communicate expectations and information, prioritize what's truly urgent, and support your team to get things done in ways you can all be proud of today and tomorrow?
Want to learn more on this topic? Here are a few things I recommend.
- Read this 6-page Harvard Business Review article, How to Prepare Your Virtual Teams for the Long Haul, for a useful and timely framework.
- Subscribe to Harvard Business Review's Management Tip of the Day.
- Listen to recent episodes of Lindsey Pollack's Work Remix podcast.
- Read for empathy, "No, I Am Not Okay": A Black Journalist Addresses His White Friends.
- Read for tips, How to Manage When Things Are Not Okay -- and Haven't Been for Centuries.