An Open Letter To Leaders Of Newly Remote Teams

Dear Team Leader,

It doesn’t matter if you run a corporation or a department, a software development team or a start-up, a division or small team of any kind, if you “line manage” - what a hateful term that is!- and have had your people move to remote working in light of this crisis, then this one’s for you. 

It’s a terrible time for everyone but for you, it’s been blindingly hard. And not the work in itself. That’s the least of your problems. In fact, you found you did very little of that unless it has been to pick up what you thought was slack from some of your people that haven’t settled into this new reality fast enough. 

No one knows exactly what you’re facing but yourself. 

Maybe you are cc-ed in frightful chains about firings - scenario planning, disaster modelling, business continuity plans and so forth- that make your blood curl and fill you with dread. 

Maybe you just really miss the day-to-day structure you were accustomed to.

Maybe you wish you still had the school run excuse.

Maybe you’re struggling with the home set-up just like everyone else - tech that’s not working as it should, corners in the house that work for emails but are a nightmare for video calls, VPNs that fail, internet connections that are wobbly, the suddenly mandated strange project management or communication software you were sent home with, and your team facing the same things so you have to cheerlead not commiserate.

Maybe you’re stunned to discover you now have to factor in housework or this dreaded new role of a school teacher that gives you impostor syndrome hives in front of the kids as well.

Maybe you find you have less mental space to think of work even if there are so many more hours to execute.

Maybe you feel always on the back-foot, dropping balls, overwhelmed, always catching-up, never ahead of the game and eternally behind.

Maybe you feel completely unqualified to deal with people from afar when it was hard enough in person where you could smile or high five or hold a door open, whereas now you have to probe, face being potentially intrusive and spend a massive amount of your time asking and speaking and doing none of what you used to think was your “day job”. Make no mistake about it, while our work tool and others like it, go a long way alleviate some of that by helping you keep an eye on the team’s pulse, it doesn’t replace your relentless and very deeply human curiosity about your people.

Here’s the thing though - it’s ok. 

It’s ok to be scared - deeply and intensely, this is the most effed up thing either of us will ever have to live through and we just really need to do the latter.

It’s ok to be paralysed by sheer worry. 

It’s ok to feel unprepared to deal with these humans who look at you as a leader/parent when you were barely adulting before this all happened.

It’s ok to feel like your “actual job” is slipping.

It’s ok to organise -or ask the company to organise- a same-level, cross-departmental manager/team-lead support group - at the very least a Slack channel so you post tips to each other or feel you have a place to have a moan. - Ask us about some of the ones we helped set-up with our clients.

It’s ok to trust your people - everything good that you’ve ever thought of your teammates is probably true and it will come to play now, you’ll witness them being flexible, courageous and pick up the balls you fear they’re dropping.

It’s ok not to be productive week #1 or really, even week #3, take your time to find your rhythm and define flexible work as it best plays out for you, this is the new normal, settle in.

It’s ok to think of how you feel and put “self-care” in place. You’re not a “key worker” for the nation but you’re the “key worker” for your team and your family and if you won’t stop and process and find equilibrium, they’ll feel it. 

It’s ok to be resentful of how much more is being asked of you now all of a sudden, all the courage, the inspiration and the stability.

It’s ok to pry. It’s more than "ok" - it's needed. 

It’s ok to share with your team that you feel that way - just not incessantly as a negativity-fest but occasionally as a sign of honesty and because you trust them with it. It’s ok to be vulnerable, that’s where the courage lives. It’s ok to be human.

It’s tough. It feels like all roles are a sham. The work one, the household contributor one and even the parenting one. Your entire job description changed overnight to being an astute and wise people shaman and doing so digitally, a facilitator extraordinaire, an exceptional empath, an experienced counsellor, a knowledgeable and reassuring pedagogue and an inspiring leader at a Steve-Jobs-on-a-good-day level. 

This will get better. It’s already ever so slightly easier than it was last week. It will keep improving. You’ll emerge out of this having aced this new JD and with a whole set of new superhuman abilities. Breath and get help. From your people, from software, from friends and family. We’ll all emerge out of this undoubtedly stronger, we just have to hold on tight and focus on our team and think of the mountains we can move once this is all over. 

Related: Why COVID-19 Is Good For The Future Of Work