Leading Remotely in a Crisis: How to Set the Tone and Keep Your Team Intact

As workplaces close due to the coronavirus (COVID-19), many leaders are leading remotely for the first time. Challenging situations like this change work and team dynamics.

In times like this, where crisis is at the forefront, businesses and their people are impacted in ways we may not have anticipated and prepared for. It is a challenging time for everyone, and in these times, we want to empower leaders and their teams to thrive through it. Challenging situations change work and team dynamics. Teams have to find new grounds to move towards stability, one step at a time. In order to do that, it’s essential to set the tone, and this requires self-discipline. Here are a few steps to help set the tone consistently during times of crisis. Remember that as a leader, people are looking to you for guidance, direction, and to define the new way of working. The more consistent and intentional you are with these steps, the closer you’ll be to creating a workflow that everyone can adopt.

Setting the tone in every interaction

When challenges arise, we look to leaders for stability and guidance, and this is done by consistently setting the tone in every interaction. When we talk about setting the tone, preparation is essential to achieve that. It is important to note that in the current circumstances, we’re talking about virtual interactions due to social-distancing. In that context, the physical cues that we usually get in face-to-face interactions are lost. We have to rely on verbal presence only, and that’s why preparation is increasingly important in this case. It helps to build clarity for ourselves and our audience. In turn, this helps eliminate any barriers that can potentially arise due to miscommunication, working based on assumptions and confusion.

With this in mind, here are five questions to ask yourself to prepare for every interaction that will consistently set the tone in your leadership:

1. Who am I meeting with, and what do I know about them?

It’s important to put this in context. What we are seeking to understand here, especially with the current crisis, is understanding how people will be showing up in the meeting. We want to think about things like what is their current circumstance, who lives in an apartment or a house, do they have family members that may be at risk like their parents or children and what is the situation in their city. Knowing all of that allows you to prepare for the meeting and with the right mindset when you start the conversation. This is also very important in group calls and virtual meetings. This will allow you to identify what you’d like the participant to share or if there is a need to connect with anyone individually before. Sharing too much may end up affecting others and by connecting with an individual prior to the meeting, you ensure that the person has a chance to voice what they are going through and come to the meeting with a different mindset. In turn, this allows you to properly set the tone with the individual and in the group meeting.

2. What are we talking about?

This is an interesting one. Very often, we go into a meeting thinking that we know what we are going to talk about, and in reality the conversation goes in different directions. It is even more critical to have clarity when leading at a distance. If we think about it, the whole purpose of a meeting is to come out with clarity and a sense of what the next steps are. When a conversation is focused, it is purposeful, people walk out of them with direction. This allows the team to keep the momentum in times like this. Knowing exactly what the meeting is about will help you drive the meeting successfully. A quick tip here that will help you achieve this is to specifically define the subject of the meeting in 22 words or less.
3. What are we going to be asked in the meeting?
This is a crucial component especially in times of crisis and when leading at a distance. By anticipating what the potential 5-10 questions that may be asked during the meeting are, you can show up prepared and ready to lead. This is specifically true in challenging situations where people are looking for a confident leader. This allows you to bring your best in the conversation with the team and keep the flow going. This does not mean that you’ll be asked all those questions, but they may arise in the next conversation. It is better to have it and not need it rather than need it and not have it.

4. What do we want to ask?

When you are clear about what the meeting is about and who will be in the meeting, as a leader your role is to facilitate the meeting by asking great open-ended questions. Think about the 5-10 questions that you know you want to ask during the meeting. It will allow you to stay in the conversation rather than react to the conversation. Here’s a little bonus, asking open-ended questions requires us to use our memory and creative processes; this keeps us calm.

5. What is the goal for the meeting?

Every meeting has a purpose and having someone intentionally working towards it helps build confidence. The team can then go along that journey with you as the leader.

You’re going to be okay

By using these five questions, you’ll be able to properly prepare for each interaction and that will go a long way in keeping your team intact during challenging times. As long as you consistently set the tone in this way, you’re going to be okay.