A big concern with pre-pandemic remote work was a fragmented workplace. But with more than five years of working and managing remotely, I was confident my teams could make the transition to fully remote during the pandemic, while delivering world-class results.
I didn’t anticipate it would so quickly shrink the boundaries between work and home life, and that even while working with my teammates every day, I would lose touch with them. The COVID-19 pandemic took away regular in-person get-togethers. And with meetings increasing, we set aside small talk and ended as early as possible to respect everyone’s time and chaotic schedules.
Our high-performing teams couldn’t continue operating that way. People thrive on connections. I needed to become more intentional about sustaining compassion during remote work, where every interaction is structured or planned. However, there were also some upsides to remote work as it leveled the playing field and made it easier to bring new ideas to the table.
Over this past year and a half, I’ve learned a lot about how we can strengthen camaraderie and collaboration to fuel innovation. Here’s what I’ve done to lead my team through one of its best years yet:
1. Keep agendas short and make time to connect with the team.
I found myself ticking off the boxes at a furious pace during the pandemic, my team right there with me. Then we’d log off, disconnect, and do what we needed to recharge. When I looked at how the team was progressing, I realized something was off. The team-centric style I had cultivated while a remote work manager before, hadn’t translated into our new fully remote environment.
It was an issue many were dealing with. To remedy this chronic problem, some leaders grabbed coffees with co-workers on video. I opted to limit call agendas and consciously spend time connecting and talking about family. I needed to make sure people were okay and give them space to share. Oftentimes an initial business problem is rooted in something personal, but I had lost that clearer insight during the pandemic.
It’s important for leaders to find a new way to connect that’s authentic, too. Removing one or two items on the agenda did that for me. For you, maybe it’s switching from doing a sitting, video one-on-one conversation to a phone call and outdoor stroll. It’s another approach I would have never taken before the pandemic, but times have changed, and we need to find new ways to rebuild our team connections. As the situation around hybrid work remains dynamic and fluid, we need to adapt with it.
2. Get creative with brainstorming to give everyone a voice.
Trying to manage meetings remotely while everyone else was in the same room was a big challenge in the early days of hybrid work. Before the pandemic, I had even recommended everyone stay home for these collaborative meetings to make it easier to follow conversations and build new ideas.
Now, it’s easy to have everyone chime in as everyone’s remote. Each person can follow the conversation easily and participants can also contribute in a way that’s easiest for them. Maybe that’s speaking up or it’s commenting in the chat.
As businesses look to go back to in-person working in some capacity, I encourage IT leaders to get creative in how they brainstorm, whether it’s asynchronous or real-time, remote or in-person, or a combination of every option. This is key to making room for everyone to share ideas and to drive innovation within teams.
Some people may choose to keep brainstorming either all remote or all in-person. Or the hybrid approach lets everyone contribute while in the environment that’s best for them. Try a few approaches and figure out what works best for your team, seeing which way gives everyone a voice and the opportunity to contribute.
3. Revisit the company mission and vision.
As technology leaders, it can be easy to zero-in on technology and to orient your team around that, too. However, human connections and the company’s culture ultimately guide and drive innovation. We need to embrace both when leading tech teams.
When you’re building your remote or hybrid team and identifying the next project to focus on, be sure to clearly reinforce how it fits with your company’s mission and vision. We spent time building this out at Boomi over the last year, and it’s made it possible for us to take everything we all felt about working at the company and put it into words. One result from this was a deeper camaraderie across teams. By definitively knowing our values, we could center our team updates, communications, presentations, and more around them and build a deeper culture.
Leading teams can be daunting, whether it’s a team of two or 200. Yet I’ve led my highest performing teams by making time for connections, giving everyone a voice, and reorienting my teams around the company mission and vision.