Opinion: Communication secrets of effective remote teams

By Birgitta Sjöstrand, leadership coach
With middle managers providing an essential link during remote working, good communication is key, argues leadership coach Birgitta Sjöstrand...

With the office more or less empty and employees and managers working from home, it's an opportunity for the middle manager to step up, become more widely known and take on more responsibilities from their manager. Some middle managers I talk to believe they are out of the loop in terms of influencing the development strategy, and their job is solely implementing it. Others are becoming the role models they always wanted to be. It's all about communication.

When we don't have access to people in the office setting, we have to find alternative ways to check in with them and structure it continually, so that nobody feels out of sight or out of mind. We still need engagement and working remotely for more extended periods puts a significant strain on everybody, manager and employees alike.

Here are my top three communication tips for the middle manager:

1. Make time to connect with people of all levels 

Ensure you talk with your peers, team members, your reporting managers and boss several times a week, preferably in calls where you can see each other. Discuss how you can help and work out how together you can bring value to the company. Don't just talk about work though, be interested in how people are feeling and coping with the situation. One of the middle managers I coach does a walk and talk over the phone every day with his reporting managers, one at the time. The managers need to have a good work/life balance too and require extra support from you to keep the workforce happy, motivated and doing their job.

2. Communicate broadly 

Pick a channel; it could be a specific place on the intranet, e-mail, or chat where you tell the employees in your section what is going on in the company. When everyone knows which channel, day and time each week you broadcast, they will start to look forward to it. It doesn't have to be a long, detailed text. This will keep your section together, and when you want to implement changes, you already have a working channel in place. It makes information transparent and will demonstrate you are accessible. Research shows the best improvements in organisations come from the employees so keep the channel open.

3. Get your team onto a group development plan 

Now is the time to get the team tight and working closer together for better collaboration and efficiency. Often, we spend lots of time getting the employees doing team development exercises for better results and forget the management teams. In quite a few organisations, where I have trained middle managers in leadership and communication they have told me they mainly exchange information in their own management groups. When the different management teams get more evolved and are working efficiently together, the organisation becomes more profitable, healthier and happier.      

Start with the teams' purpose and boil it down to one sentence. It's a great exercise and not as easy as you might think. You can carry on with the teams inner and outer focus. Activities on the internal focus can be rules and expectations, team members functions, ambition levels and goals. The external focus can be about image; how do we want to be perceived by our stakeholders? Who are our stakeholders? How do we live our team's values incorporated into the organisation's values? All this can be done, even remotely on the technical platform of your choice.

When you take the time and elevate your communication skills, you become the essential link and are leading from the front. This helps you to be a great role model and seen as someone who steps up and makes the lives of all of the employees better in this time of uncertainty.

About the Author Birgitta Sjöstrand is a professional public speaker, leadership trainer, facilitator and coach. She works internationally with both large and small organisations. Her area of expertise is leadership, communication, motivation and neuro-linguistic programming (NLP). Birgitta is the founder and chief executive of Inre styrka, Sverige AB, formed in 2003. (Inre styrka means PowerWithin). Birgitta was working in the financial market in Stockholm and London for ten years. After having three children, she studied again – leadership, behaviour psychology, communication – and has a number of different certifications. Birgitta is the author of Outstanding in the Middle, a practical and accessible guide to excelling in all aspects of middle management.


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