How To Manage a Team Remotely

Mic Berman

March 21, 2020

When I was at Mozilla Firefox, our team was literally all over the world, across multiple time zones, cultures and languages. We had to rangle many factors beyond video, chat and shared docs to enable connection and work to happen.

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In the face of a rapidly changing situation with Covid-19, most companies that can, have made the decision to go 100% remote for the foreseeable future.  In the tech sector, we’ve worked for decades with distributed teams leveraging technology to share work and maintain connection. Some teams and companies may not have all of the infrastructure in place at the ready, and leaders may have different levels of experience in understanding how to help their workforce to transition to an online environment. In fact, you may think that how you work now is simply how you will continue –no need for adaptation, right? Wrong. 

There’s a lot to unpack about leading in a remote context, and over the next few articles, I will unpack each piece for you. My approach is practical, immediately applicable, and ideally transformative. 

Today’s focus: Running a virtual meeting.

What you did before won’t work the same way now

Having a decision making, problem solving or update meeting via video is not the same as in person. Even though you can “see” your colleagues, you will not have the same physical cues for when to speak, interrupt or offer. You won’t have a whiteboard to draw on. Your quality of technology won’t be ubiquitous. You won’t be able to have the hallway chat on the way into the meeting, or on the way out.

Be deliberate. Be mindful. Be patient. 

Virtual meetings are an opportunity to enable greater focus, accountability and follow through. Preparation is key to ensure an easier transition. People want to keep going, they want to stay productive and move forward so keep up that confident future oriented focus and celebrate the success of each positive accomplishment big or small. 

Here are five tips and resources we use (and teach) that maximize productivity, deepen connection, and ensure focus.

1) Have an agenda. Send it in advance. 

  • What is the outcome you are looking for?
  • If a follow-up from another meeting, what changes from the last meeting are you trying to solve for
  • What data or pre-reading can you send in advance?
  • What questions can people come prepared to answer?

2) Do the math.

  • Consider how much time you have for the meeting, how long each person might speak and then shorten the list of attendees. For example, if you have 30 minutes and 8 people, even if each person said something for 2 minutes, that’s half your meeting. 
  • Who can directly impact the questions you need answered? 

3) Establish meeting norms

  • No distractions –be 100% there for 30, 60 or 90 minutes. Nothing is going to happen that will be so radical as to warrant the lack of productivity distractions create. For example,“Can you say that again, I wasn’t listening?” Being there but not being there demonstrates to others the meeting and this time is not important. 
  • All cameras on. Show your face. Humans communicate more through body language than speaking. 
  • Deliberate inclusion. When we are all 100% remote we will need new ways to hear from everyone in the meeting. No talking over each other –when asking a question either select a person to answer and then have them nominate the next person to speak, or let them pick the first person to answer and then nominate the next person. 
  • Check in and check out. Check in –does everyone have the agenda and does anyone need a change in the order? Check out –did everyone get what they needed and summarize next steps

4) Be clear on roles.

  • Facilitator – this person ensures great discussion is had and holds time relative to the agenda, some times it’s easier to give the time keeper to someone else so you can focus on the quality of participation
  • Note taker – this is the driver of accountability. Capture the decisions that were made, who is doing what by when, etc.How will those notes and actions be captured? Eg gDoc? other?
  • Devil’s advocate – when aiming for greater creativity it’s excellent to use tools to counterbalance group think – one of them is the Devil’s advocate (although in many cases there’s plenty of skeptics and we need more inclusion) you can also try on DeBono’s 6 hats as another great resources
  • What else is needed? Can someone own the agenda and give the facilitator cues if you’re over time etc. 

5) Identify tools that work for you.

  • Zoom, Hangout, GDoc’s, Slack, Confluence, Jira, Asana, Workast, etc There are many tools you can use for many purposes. What will you use for what? What can you standardize on so everyone can find things as needed?
  • How will you capture notes and progress?
  • What about you and your surrounding – Ensure you’re in a quiet spot with everything you need (water, notes, etc)
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Let go of ‘being right’ and ease into the conversation

As a leader, your job is to stay calm in the face of rapid change and fear. You’ve got to hold the line (your north star of focus) while staying out of the weeds to determine what needs to shift when. Be available (with compassion and clarity) and be both open to and offer feedback balancing directness and empathy. 

Covid-19 is a unique global, human experience. People will be going through different emotional reactions at different times. It’s not linear. They will also want to get back to work and ‘normal’ as fast as possible. Support them, and also cut yourself some slack. It’s likely the first time this has happened for you and your team members. Don’t strive for perfect, just effective.

Stay curious about yourself and others through this time – how do you handle stress, fear, ambiguity? What support do you need to stay calm and resilient e.g., get out for a walk in nature, make a lovely tea, talk to a friend?

Thanks for listening, hope this was helpful 😀

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