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Hack Your Team: How to Stay Connected With Your Remote Team

Internal Communication
Motivation
Psychological Safety
Team Processes

24 February, 2022

Meena Rajvaidya
Meena Rajvaidya

Director of Engineering at Cisco

Meena Rajvaidya, Sr Engineering Manager at Cisco, highlights how she made remote productive and engaging for her team with empathetic and practical actions.

Remote Work Leading to Fragmented Team Communication

As more and more companies are transitioning to 100% remote work as a measure of social distancing, the sudden change has not only led to stress but put a distance among coworkers. It's no surprise that communication becomes substantially less among teammates as they work remotely soon enough. Watercooler conversations, coffee chats, and lunches with colleagues are no more a thing. Many have been working day and night, leading them to have a lesser work-life balance.

While the pandemic was taking its toll on how we worked as a team, soon, we saw our team culture and project deliveries into a shatter. I found myself in a position where I was moving from one meeting to another, unable to have enough focus time or spend enough time with my team members. A couple of months down the line, I realized that I did not have the personal touch with my direct reports anymore. Besides, reducing the frequency of the one-on-one meetings led them to have a hard time connecting with me.

Tips to Keep Your Team Connected While Working From Home

Establish blocked times: In a remote work environment, when your manager and direct reports start expecting so much from you, the best that can be done is to establish a good routine. For instance, I blocked time for different teams reporting to me. I'd have an extra slot for product teams, while I'd have another slot for my direct reports and their concerns. Instead of having to-do lists, it's certainly easier to have blocked times where I could perform specific tasks and responsibilities rather than having a chaotic mess in my calendar.

Read the room: Listening is my superpower. While pre-covid times, I'd assess my direct reports' body language and behavior to decipher how they were feeling. However, if I thought that any of my direct reports did not sound well in a remote work environment, I'd reach out to them via a one-on-one session without further delay. I knew my team well enough, and I always knew how they would sound whether they were happy, motivated, or other typical reactions.

Set up regular interaction points: The regular one-on-one meetings were not entirely possible anymore as I managed a team of 20+ individuals. However, I'd reach out to them anytime I noticed an unusual sign of burnout, indicating that the person may be suffering from a personal issue. Reasons like postponed weddings due to the pandemic or a preterm birth by their parts were unique. As their leader, I took it upon myself to ask them if everything was fine in their personal lives. Because, directly or indirectly, I was impacting their lives, and the more I knew them, the more improvements I could make.

Be cognizant: Putting everything into perspective is crucial. We are all becoming increasingly anxious about what the future holds, but at the same time, looking at the brighter side of things, I'd always try to be as cognizant as possible towards my direct reports. While work is important, everything else can still wait. In the grand scheme of things, health and well-being, including one's family members, should always be a top priority.

Trust Your Teammates

  • Regardless of the situation, nurturing team relationships and creating bonds is essential for a leader. In the light of times, anyone can be a manager, but it takes ample soft skills to become a leader.
  • Know that it's ok to be vulnerable at times. Coming from personal experience, when I had a hard time maintaining a work-life balance, I'd share those pain points with my team members and manager. Most importantly, I'd prioritize and make things work accordingly.
  • Acknowledge any problems that come along the way. Something that may seem minor to you might be a more significant issue for someone else; not everyone has the same ability to deal with problems in the same way.
  • Differentiate between what's within your control as opposed to what's not. Sometimes we might spend a lot of time trying to solve a problem that's not within our reach.

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