Give Your Suddenly Remote Team What They Need: Structure


Are you, like many of us, suddenly leading a remote team? A team that until a short time ago had a shared office, shared meeting space, and a shared daily experience that is now no longer even possible?

During the first few weeks of this change, most of us adjusted to the strangeness of the situation and the general uncertainty across the globe of what will happen next, especially as it permeated our organizations and our teams. And while we don’t have specifics on the future, we do know that even as social distancing measures are gradually eased, there will be a sustained call for teams who can operate remotely to continue to do so. 

One of the most challenging aspects of this sudden shift has been the loss of our daily and weekly routines. Everything has been upended -- from getting out the door by a set time in the morning to settling into the office and readying ourselves for work. Even our awareness for when we need to stop for lunch or end the day has been interrupted. 

The structure of the workday and office life gave employees a framework to build their routines around and learning how to most effectively operate without it is challenging. Now is the time to thoughtfully and intentionally design a remote structure that will work for the long term -- for individuals and your teams as a whole. Poor routines now will create a shoddy foundation that could sabotage future individual productivity and team engagement. 


The Power of Routine


Routines impact everything from our productivity and effectiveness to our mental health. They make us more efficient by reducing the number of decisions we must make each day.  By virtue of completing one task, we can often know what comes next without being thrown into deep uncertainty every minute. 

Routines give us a running start for planning out our days and they help us understand where we have space to improvise. Routines also help us prioritize important tasks and automatically  directing our individual willpower, and they can often reduce our natural tendency toward procrastination. 

Importantly, routines greatly reduce stress by taking the guesswork out of our days and helps us focus on what we can control. They also help signal to our brain when it is time to relax either because we have completed our daily routines or because we have built-in time throughout our day for small moments of rest. 


Establishing Structure for Your Remote Team


The benefits of helping your team develop routines that assist them in working well from home extend beyond the individual. Creating a uniform structure helps you prevent power struggles while building a sense of team unity by maintaining consistent expectations for all individuals. It also frees you from the impulse to micromanage you may be feeling now that your team is physically distanced from you. 

Every team has unique needs, and many of our employees are juggling new responsibilities and need some added flexibility in order to meet all the demands placed on them at this moment. Here are a few of the best ideas I have heard for creating a structure that offers enough stability for individuals to shape their personal routines around while creating space to meet individual needs. 


Schedule a regular, daily team meeting in the morning. 

In the office, you may have waited until 10 am so everyone had time to get settled in for the day, check their emails, and prepare for the meeting.  As working remotely is still new to many of us, I suggest you schedule this meeting earlier in the day to give your team a solid start time for each day. This will help them know that every weekday morning, without fail, they are expected to be ready and working by this time in the day. 


Insist on video - even if you hate being on camera

It’s tempting to not require video, but doing so makes getting dressed and ready for work a daily necessity. The mental health and productivity benefits of being dressed and ready for work are well worth the discomfort one may feel on video - and maintaining the video habit will help everyone feel more comfortable with using it in meetings with others outside of your team whether they are at the same organization or if they are a vendor.


Designate Expected Meeting Availability

To the best of your ability, designate windows of time for meetings to be scheduled - both for meetings within the team and for those your employees must attend. Some teams and organizations create meeting free days (with the exception of your morning check-in) while others prefer to block out a few hours each day for meetings. This approach gives your team vital information they can use to structure their own time - whether they need to balance out their meetings with their partner so one person can be responsible for taking care of the children or reserve the quietest space in the house for that time. 


Have a lunch hour

You can do this in part by avoiding scheduling meetings around the lunch hour, or you can choose to invite team members to a shared lunchtime where the focus is on socializing. Or you may choose to schedule a daily reminder either through email or your instant message application. This will help replicate the social cues one gets from being in an office and seeing everyone head toward food. 


Follow Up With Individual Support


Leaders will also have some added responsibility to check in with individuals during one-on-one meetings. You will want to use this time to address how each employee is doing in terms of setting boundaries around their work or helping those struggling with productivity. 

Shifting to working from home is never an easy transition and it’s made harder by the circumstances driving this change. Creating a reliable structure, and backing it up with supports for your individual team members will help you and your team weather this change brilliantly. 


About the Author:

Daniel Stewart, President of Stewart Leadership, is a sought-after talent management and leadership development coach and consultant. He is the co-author of the award-winning book, LEAD NOW! A Personal Leadership Coaching Guide for Results Driven Leaders. Connect with him on LinkedIn.