Leading Remotely: Maintaining Team Morale and Motivation
On initial consideration, the subject of team morale and motivation may seem to be solely a matter of empathy, encouragement and collaboration. When one looks a little deeper, it becomes clear that team morale is impacted by everything from feedback and discussion, to workflow tools and tech assistance. Leaders of today are involved in almost every aspect of their team’s work day – How the morning begins, how the day progresses, and of course how productively it ends. Here it’s also important to set the right example and to set the bar high – Whether it is in terms of subject-matter expertise or compassion, a leader needs to stay ahead of the curve while also exhibiting the humility to rally behind their team as a pillar of support.
This can be a tough road to navigate, simply because it involves striking a delicate balance. And in current times, with uncertainty gnawing at motivation levels across the globe, being a people-leader seems even more daunting. In such circumstances, I’ve found that it helps to identify a set of broad guidelines that work for your leadership style, and use them to give you a sense of direction in the most unclear of times. With the right approach, you as a leader can be the voice of reassurance and stability that your people need.
Tune into tech, tune into your people
To put it simply, your team needs you to be approachable and available. Whether it is to conduct regular videocalls with the entire team or to do individual daily check-ins with your direct reports, the communication space of today is entirely digital and there’s no avoiding it. The more comfortable leaders become with using virtual communication platforms, workflow automation tools, and digital connectivity in general, the more they can enable remote collaboration, employee engagement and regular upskilling in these dynamic times.
This becomes even more important if leaders want to remain transparent and communicative – something that the pandemic has taught us, especially because no one ever imagined that we would have to entirely do away with physical meetings. But here we are, one and a half years later in this new reality.
It’s noteworthy here to observe that many MNCs have done remarkably well in this area. Equipped with digital-savviness, they have ensured that leaders are regularly reaching out to employees via virtual townhalls and proactive communication. This has led to a degree of transparency despite the remote working context, making the workforce feel more secure, thereby boosting motivation levels. Virtual communication is an absolutely integral part of business continuity. Being tech savvy, thus, cannot be about one project or one initiative; it needs to become a way of life.
Open the doors to flexibility and two-way communication
True agility is only possible when we’re open to the fact that things can and will change. This is where flexibility comes into the picture. I think we have some amazing opportunities for the global workforce to implement streamlined hybrid work models even after the virus is quelled. Across the world, employees have learnt the value and importance of agility, and it’s time that organisations start respecting this by availing flexi-working hours, a hybrid arrangement, and remote working options, ultimately instilling a strong sense of autonomy and security in the team. This will also positively impact the mental wellbeing of employees, leading to a happy workforce that does not feel the need to compromise on their personal and familial responsibilities.
For all of this, managers need to be accountable to the senior leadership, just as individuals need be accountable to their managers. What better way to cultivate a high level of interpersonal trust that can permeate through the organisation and positively impact the culture?! To make this possible, it’s crucial to put in place a robust feedback mechanism. Apart from a formal mid-year checkpoint to see if employee goals are aligned to the business objective, more frequent and regular course-correction is also advisable. This means periodic guidance, concrete feedback with examples, and a high degree of empowerment. Personally, I try my best to empower my team by really trusting them to do the job they were hired for. Of course, everyone makes mistakes, and I make it a point to tell my teams that it’s absolutely okay, as long the same mistake doesn’t get repeated.
Essentially, your team needs to know you’re on their side, just a call away, ready to help them get back on track if they ever need it. This combination of trust and approachability is the key to sustained empowerment and ownership.
In conclusion, I’d like to emphasise one thing: Staying authentic and true to yourself will never go out of style. Relate to your teams not just as a leader but also as the human and the individual you are. Check on them, have a no-work videocall with the team, plan one-on-one coffee sessions with employees, and every once in a while, be sure to ask that ever-important three-word question – “How are you?”
The author, Karen Lim has recently been named in 2021 & 2020 Top 15 APAC HRD Global 100, and is a senior HR executive with 18+ years of strategic business partnering experience with C-suite leaders in an international environment. A strong advocate of authentic leadership, she is currently Head of Human Resources, Asia Pacific Japan & Greater China at Skyworks Solutions Inc.