Opinion: Communication secrets of effective remote teams
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.
5 minutes with... Janthana Kaenprakhamroy, CEO, Tapoly
Founder and CEO of award-winning insurtech firm Tapoly, Janthana Kaenprakhamroy heads up Europe’s first on-demand insurance platform for the gig economy, winning industry awards, innovating in the digital insurance space, and leading with inclusivity.
Here, Business Chief talks to Janthana about her leadership style and skills.
What do you do, in a nutshell?
I’m founder and CEO of Tapoly, a digital MGA providing a full stack of commercial lines insurance specifically for SMEs and freelancers, as well as a SaaS solution to connect insurers with their distribution partners. We build bespoke, end-to-end platforms encompassing the whole customer journey, but can also integrate our APIs within existing systems. We were proud to win Insurance Provider of the Year at the British Small Business Awards 2018 and receive silver in the Insurtech category at the Efma & Accenture Innovation in Insurance Awards 2019.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I try to be as inclusive a leader as possible. I’m committed to creating space for everyone to shine. Many of the roles at Tapoly are performed by women and I speak at industry events to encourage more people to get involved in insurance/insurtech. Similarly, I always try to maintain a growth mindset. I think it’s important to retain values to support learning and development, like reliability, working hard and punctuality.
What’s the best leadership advice you’ve received?
Build your network and seek advice. As a leader, you need smart people around you to help you grow your business. It’s not about personally being the best, but being able to find resources and get help where needed.
How do you see leadership changing in a COVID world?
I think the pandemic has proven the importance of inclusive leadership so that everyone feels supported and valued. It’s also shown the importance of being flexible as a leader. We’ve had to remain adaptable to continue delivering high levels of customer service. This flexibility has also been important when supporting employees as everyone has had individual pressures to deal with during this time. Leaders should continue to embed this flexibility within their organisations moving forward.
They say ‘from every crisis comes opportunity’, what opportunities do you see?
The past year has been challenging, but it has also proven the importance of digital transformation in insurance. When working from home was required, it was much harder for insurers to adjust who had not embedded technology within their operating processes because they did not have data stored in the cloud and it caused communication delays with concerned customers at a time when this communication should have been a priority, which ultimately impacts the level of customer satisfaction. This demonstrates the importance of what we are trying to achieve at Tapoly in driving digitalisation in insurance and making communication between insurers and distribution partners seamless.
What advice would you give to your younger self just starting out in the industry?
Start sooner, don’t be afraid to take (calculated) risks and make sure you raise enough money to get you through the initial seed stage.