As COVID-19 continues to accelerate changes to the way we work, our teams at Kin + Carta have been adapting quickly to support our clients, our teams and each other. It’s exciting to see people from all disciplines enhancing their leadership skills, promoting optimal decision making and minimising waste. As a company that iterates and develops every process within projects, I’ve been looking for ways to do the same by adapting my own leadership style to support a fully distributed team. Here are my top six tips if you’re looking to adapt your leadership style to drive positive change and support a fully remote team.
Six tips to bolster remote leadership and promote trust
Make explicit requests
With a surge in conference calls it's important to be clear about your requirements in order to make the best use of your own time and your teams. Clear requests lead to smooth operations. In highly collaborative environments like ours groups of people all contribute towards aligned outcomes. It's a dense network of interactions which is why it's vital that we leave as little room as possible for ambiguity. To do this, it’s important to make explicit requests to others in order to gain the necessary context, assets, information or direction.
Be respectfully directive
Within any team you are likely to be someone's mentor or leadership figure on a specific project or within your discipline. A key requirement of leadership is to be directive. Many people struggle with the need to be direct as it can often be mistaken as forceful or bossy. However it is crucial to show direction and empower others to reach the destination in their own way. In these current uncertain circumstances, providing clarity and showing clear direction is central to being an effective leader. I found it useful to communicate this intention to my team, making them aware that I would be more direct and explicit about my requests due to the problems that can arise with remote working and asked that they do the same in return.
Defragment your calendar
A problem voiced by many is a genuine struggle to find time to do work. As we began the enforced remote working, I noticed my calendar suddenly looked like a Windows 95 fragmented hard drive making my operations slower and the stress on the system higher.
I decided to get rid of several recurring meetings, reminders and anything not essential at this point, asking my team to do the same. We now have slots of time during the week where we avoid booking meetings thus allowing us all to progress with our work. It is worth noting that like many other teams, we already had a non-meeting day (Wednesday), but that framework, too, needed change – we simply distributed the hours during the week. This system allows team members to make requests, offer direction, gather context and execute on the most valuable piece of work, day in, day out.
Slow down to speed up
After defragmenting and decluttering your calendar, you’ll have a chance to make time. It’s key for me to be intentional in the way I use my time and provide others with the ability to do the same. Here is why: regardless of your specialism, doing work happens in two phases; understand and deliver. Whatever the size and type of your tasks ahead, you need some context, assets, requirements, direction and decisions in order to deliver. To thrive in busy and remote environments, dedicate time to gather all you need, provide others with what they need and shelter some hours to deliver on your work. Adopting an action-driven, intentional approach will guarantee that your team keeps on moving forward, fighting off the need for more meetings and requests for clarity.
Check in, then check out
This crisis demands resilience. The past couple weeks have seen a surge in communication via messaging. People's need for community and solidarity increased and strengthened. A dense network of support was wired in a matter of hours and with this many opportunities to digitally connect with one another arose. I feel lucky to be part of such an altruistic community, however such communication density comes with a cost; increased strain on our mental health. It's vital that we make ourselves available and visible, but I find it essential to check out and diligently respect working hours. No commute doesn't mean more working hours; make time to take care of yourself. Make use of the extra hour to meditate, exercise, cook something nice, read a book, paint, fix that cupboard that has been bothering you for weeks, curl up in bed. Again, be intentional and request others to respect your needs and be the director of your wellbeing.
Concrete solutions over abstract ideas
Whether you’re a designer or not, now is the time to bring your visualisations to the table and encourage others to do the same. While video conference calls are a blessing, they can also represent a less than optimal forum to share ideas, collaborate and make meaningful progress. Words are volatile and can sometimes pave the way for discussions over opinions and ambiguity, rather than solutions. In these scenarios, I have found it incredibly useful to support ideas and words with visual aids. Using visuals will enable you and your team to align faster and move forward more easily. Lock down your thoughts in whatever way and share it with your team so that it can be assessed by others.
I feel that my purpose at Kin + Carta is to design the best circumstances on projects so people can do their best work. Adapting my work and leadership style has helped me promote a network of ideas and direction that enables my team to reduce waste, continue to move at pace and ultimately promote trust. If you feel similar about design leadership or simply about teamwork, you too can adopt them right away and drive meaningful change.