Welcome to Richard Tams

Welcome to Richard Tams

This week we welcome our newest Associate Richard Tams who has kindly written an article on remote team-working and leadership. Before teaming up with Clearwater, Richard enjoyed a 27 year career at British Airways where he worked collaboratively with many cultures around the world and often remotely. His last roles were Head of UK & Ireland Sales and Marketing and Executive Vice President China, Hong Kong SAR and the Philippines. Richard has sat on a number of boards including airlines, tour operators and Chambers of Commerce and he currently runs his own consultancy, moderating and coaching business, Tailwind Advisory.

Home Alone

By Richard Tams

In these tempestuous times, I am comforted by a quote from Henry Ford that always seemed so appropriate during my many years in the notoriously turbulent airline business:

“When everything seems to be going against you, remember that the airplane takes off against the wind, not with it.”

To say that companies have been navigating uncharted waters over the past few weeks would be an understatement as large as Niagara Falls. The lockdown in many countries across the globe has led to offices emptying and working teams being scattered to the four winds. For those accustomed to working remotely, it’s just another day at the home office. For those not used to setting up shop in their box room, it’s another world altogether.

Some of these novices will adapt to this new way of working in the blink of an iPad, others (and I suspect the majority) will find it a lot more difficult. For those charged with leading these teams now dispersed across the country, or perhaps, the world, the challenge is even more daunting. Having spent a large part of my career working remotely from my co-workers, I have had ample experience of how this can work …and how it can go terribly wrong.

The joys of working from home are self-evident. The absence of a daily commute, being detached from the noise and distractions of the office and seeing the kids get back from school rank among the most highly rated aspects of being a ‘home alone’ worker. However, it isn’t everyone’s dream ticket.

For a team to continue to be effective remotely requires a very different way of working. First up, the structure of the team will need to adapt, with more clearly defined team goals, personal accountability and reporting lines. Believe me, any ambiguity in these areas can have exaggerated effects on the functioning remote teams. If at all possible, try to keep working teams as compact as possible and inject just a dash of ‘command and control’ into their management. Be careful not to become a dictator and remain open to suggestions as to how to improve team productivity.

Most home workers will agree that the most important characteristic of a successful remote team is robust and open communication. You’ll need to quickly establish a new routine with more regular meetings and 1:1s. As George Bernard Shaw once said, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place”.

Needless to say, teams will be able to take advantage of the vast array of ubiquitous video conferencing platforms for this communication. Despite the many delights of tools like Zoom and Microsoft Teams, it’s worth remembering that attention spans diminish even faster in virtual meetings, so these ‘check-ins’ will need to be short and tightly run. Outside of these more formal channels, try using chat platforms like Slack in place of email, as they make it easier for participants to focus their attention on distinct projects and have better functionality. However, I will sound a word of warning here. Be careful not to engage in communication overload, which will prevent team members from actually doing their job. Constant communication can seriously disrupt productivity. As with everything, test and learn.

Strong communication within virtual teams is intrinsically linked to interpersonal trust, which in turn leads to individual and team success. This collegiate trust is most critical between manager and team member. You must trust and empower your team to work effectively from home.

The reality of remote team working is probably most challenging for the manager, especially when it’s imposed on the uninitiated. As a team leader, you need to speak confidently about your team goals and direction. Now is the time to inspire and empower your direct reports. In Virtual Teams, Jessica Lipnack refers to this as the need to light “fire in the belly” of your team. Before those remote 1:1s, dust off those old Effective Coaching course notes and coach the members of your team towards success.

Finally, and most relevant in these stressful times, the virtual team must make sure that it takes care of itself and each other. To that end, the team leader will need to promote a more caring and understanding culture within the team to ensure the well-being of everyone in it. Don’t forget the other pressures colleagues may be under right now, not least with the home schooling of children, care for vulnerable relatives and need to forage for ever-diminishing food supplies. Be sure to create a safe and empathetic environment for all.

At Clearwater Advisers, we can help you and your team adjust to the challenges of remote working and remote management. Our new webinars on Remote Teamworking and Remote Leadership provide tips and tools for bringing the principles of accountability, trust, communication and empowerment to life. To return to Henry Ford, we can teach you and your team how to fly high.

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