Leading and Working in Remote Teams

A positive supportive culture is crucial to staff happiness.  Positive culture motivates, inspires, attracts and retains, it is what enables the feeling of psychological safety to work collaboratively, reduce complexity, make decisions, take risks, be vulnerable, build on honest failure and celebrate successes. 


Perseverance in the face of setbacks is linked strongly to our personal resilience profile, the skill set we draw upon to recover quickly from difficulties and the ability to bounce back.  Whilst our perseverance is somewhat dependent on the demands each situation makes, there are some key personality aspects that can be measured to produce a ‘resilience profile’ which shows what is in the underlying personality that naturally equips us and how this can be developed.

The model we recommend is Robertson Cooper’s iResilience which looks at;   

  • Confidence: Feelings of competence, effectiveness in coping with stressful situations and strong self-esteem are inherent in feeling resilient. The frequency with which individuals experience positive and negative emotions is also key.
  • Adaptability: Flexibility and adapting to changing situations which are beyond our control are essential to maintaining resilience. In many situations, resilience involves coping well with change and recovering from its impact.
  • Purposefulness: Having a clear sense of purpose, clear values, drive and direction help individuals to persist and achieve in the face of setbacks.
  • Social support: Being able to build good relationships with others and get support from them can help people to overcome adversity. 

The Robertson Cooper iResilience tool is free to use and will provide you with your resilience profile and areas that you can strengthen. You can access through this link https://www.robertsoncooper.com/


When we work remotely, opportunities to show compassion to each other usually only happen if we are intentional about making them happen.  Evidence suggests that when staff feel cared for, they experiment with new ideas, they support each other professionally and personally, they are better equipped to strike a balance between personal and working lives and they are advocates for their employer. 

To show compassion, find out what matters to your remote colleagues, then pay attention to it, remember milestones in your colleagues lives and acknowledge them, give recognition and praise often and be prepared to show that you do not have all the answers thus making your colleagues feel valued in their contributions.

Take time to plan as a team how you will let each other know if you are not 100% and notice changes to normal behaviour.  Be aware of your own and each-others support systems and the triggers that tell you to access them.

Practice kindness to each other. Random acts which show someone you care or are thinking of them could be the key to unlock the troubles of a bad day. Yours or theirs! Acts of kindness don’t have to be the grandest of gestures. It is the small, simple, random acts which people gift us with which have longevity.

Practice self-compassion, maybe use mindfulness techniques to notice what is happening in the present moment.  Mindfulness can help with self-awareness, stress, choosing how to respond to thoughts and feelings and coping with unhelpful thinking.

5 myths about compassionate leadership

The linked article talks more about compassionate leadership in the NHS.

Going Above & Beyond

Studies show that remote teams are slightly more productive than teams that work side by side every day. Staff will frequently go above and beyond and recognising this adds to our sense of feeling we are contributing. 

Appreciation expressed through recognition confirms that our work is valued by others.  When people feel valued in this way, their general satisfaction and productivity increases, they are motivated to maintain their good work and the feeling of success and thirst for more of the same spreads across the whole team.  Recognition is one of the best methods of improving motivation and employee engagement and ensuring that staff feel valued and that their contribution matters. 

Appreciation and recognition can be as simple as a verbal thank you, an email, public thanks in a team meeting, escalating a thank you to someone’s line manager, to using employee recognition schemes.  However you choose to do it, showing appreciation can create ripples which reach far wider than ever anticipated. The magic of which lies in never knowing the full extent of the impact your shown appreciation has had.

When you are the recipient of a thank you, it can be easy to dismiss this.  Perhaps instead take a moment to accept, acknowledge, reflect and enjoy.

Flexible Working Practice

Mutual trust between staff members, line managers, team members and other stakeholders is key to developing the confidence to work without explicit or even casual visual supervision.  Trust can be built by everyone being clear about their goals and feeling that they have the autonomy to achieve them, being able to demonstrate successes and share challenges and feeling appreciated for every contribution.

This means that leaders, peers, colleagues, direct reports and other stakeholders need to be understanding that everyone’s challenges around working remotely will be unique. Trust enables flexibility. It might be that true flexibility can be offered and that traditional working hours are no longer necessary, relevant or practical and that staff can meaningfully fulfil their contractual obligations at different times. 

For teams, good practice would be to agree certain core times when all team members are working.  This means that effective communication, peer support and virtual maintenance of relationships can take place.  Supportive personalised flexibility can happen around these times which meets both contracted hours and personal circumstances.

Thinking of building trust within your team?

The attached ABCD model of Trust is at its most powerful when used by all team members to understand everyone’s order of preference for trusting relationships. This can be shared and everyone can make personal pledges for behaving in a way that increases trust with each other.  It can be used between two people for explicit conversations about what each needs to maintain trusting relationships or by individuals to explore what might drive trusting relationships. 

For further information https://www.kenblanchard.com/Products-Services/Building-Trust

Ergonomics Expert Explains How to Set Up Your Desk

Our desks weren’t made for us. They were made for everyone. So ergonomics expert Jon Cinkay from the Hospital for Special Surgery is here to show you how to make your desk and office chair adapt to you and not the other way around.

How to combat zoom fatigue

We have five research-based tips from Harvard Business Reviews that can help make video calls less exhausting.

Avoid multitasking.

It’s easy to think that you can use the opportunity to do more in less time, but research shows that trying to do multiple things at once cuts into performance. Because you have to turn certain parts of your brain off and on for different types of work, switching between tasks can cost you as much as 40 percent of your productive time. Researchers at Stanford found that people who multitask can’t remember things as well as their more singularly focused peers. The next time you’re on a video chat, close any tabs or programs that might distract you (e.g. your inbox or Slack), put your phone away, and stay present. We know it’s tempting, but try to remind yourself that the Slack message you just got can wait 15 minutes, and that you’ll be able to craft a better response when you’re not also on a video chat.

Build in breaks.

Take mini breaks from video during longer calls by minimizing the window, moving it to behind your open applications, or just looking away from your computer completely for a few seconds now and then. We’re all more used to being on video now (and to the stressors that come with nonstop facetime). Your colleagues probably understand more than you think — it is possible to listen without staring at the screen for a full thirty minutes. This is not an invitation to start doing something else, but to let your eyes rest for a moment. For days when you can’t avoid back-to-back calls, consider making meetings 25 or 50 minutes (instead of the standard half-hour and hour) to give yourself enough time in between to get up and move around for a bit. If you are on an hour-long video call, make it okay for people to turn off their cameras for parts of the call. See the Pomodoro technique guidance for more information on 25 minute working chunks.

Reduce onscreen stimuli.

Research shows that when you’re on video, you tend to spend the most time gazing at your own face. This can be easily avoided by hiding yourself from view. Still, onscreen distractions go far beyond yourself. You may be surprised to learn that on video, we not only focus on other’s faces, but on their backgrounds as well. If you’re on a call with five people, you may feel like you’re in five different rooms at once. You can see their furniture, plants, and wallpaper. You might even strain to see what books they have on their shelves. The brain has to process all of these visual environmental cues at the same time. To combat mental fatigue, encourage people to use plain backgrounds (e.g. a poster of a peaceful beach scene), or agree as a group to have everyone who is not talking turn off their video.

Make virtual social events opt-in.

After a long day of back-to-back video calls, it’s normal to feel drained, particularly if you’re an introvert. That’s why virtual social sessions should be kept opt-in, meaning whoever owns the event makes it explicit that people are welcome, but not obligated, to join. You might also consider appointing a facilitator if you’re expecting a large group. This person can open by asking a question, and then make it clear in what order people should speak, so everyone gets to hear from one another and the group doesn’t start talking all at once. It’s easy to get overwhelmed if we don’t know what’s expected of us, or if we’re constantly trying to figure out when we should or should not chime in.

Switch to phone calls or email.

Check your calendar for the next few days to see if there are any conversations you could have over Slack or email instead. If 4PM rolls around and you’re Zoomed-out but have an upcoming one-on-one, ask the person to switch to a phone call or suggest picking up the conversation later so you can both recharge. Try something like, “I’d love a break from video calls. Do you mind if we do this over the phone?” Most likely the other person will be relieved by the switch, too.

For external calls, avoid defaulting to video, especially if you don’t know each other well.

Many people now feel a tendency to treat video as the default for all communication. In situations where you’re communicating with people outside of your organization (clients, vendors, networking, etc.) — conversations for which you used to rely on phone calls — you may feel obligated to send out a Zoom link instead. But a video call is fairly intimate and can even feel invasive in some situations. For example, if you’re asked to do a career advice call and you don’t know the person you’re talking to, sticking to phone is often a safer choice. If your client FaceTimes you with no warning, it’s okay to decline and suggest a call instead.

Some of these tips might be hard to follow at first (especially that one about resisting the urge to tab-surf during your next Zoom call). But taking these steps can help you prevent feeling so exhausted at the thought of another video chat. It’s tiring enough trying to adapt to this new normal. Making video calls a little easier for yourself.

Pomodoro Technique

The Pomodoro technique is perfect for project work, you take 25 minutes of focused, concentrated work, then you have a break for 5 minutes away from your desk. This technique has been tested and found to greatly increase productivity. There are many applications and websites which help with implementing the Pomodoro technique.



Causes of Zoom Fatigue

Since the beginning of the pandemic, home working has skyrocketed. This also includes the number of virutal meetings, whether via Teams, Zoom, Skype or one of the countless other platforms. Its no suprise that Zoom fatigue (also known as virtual fatigue) is affecting more and more people given that there are over 330 million daily meeting participants on Zoom alone. 

What is Zoom Fatigue? 

Zoom fatigue describes the tiredness, worry, or burnout associated with using virtual platforms of communication.

What are the causes? 

Professor Jeremy Bailenson, founding director of the Stanford Virtual Human Interaction Lab (VHIL), examined the psychological consequences of spending hours per day on these platforms: 

1) Excessive amounts of close-up eye contact is highly intense.

Both the amount of eye contact we engage in on video chats, as well as the size of faces on screens is unnatural. 

Solution: Until the platforms change their interface, Bailenson recommends taking Zoom out of the full-screen option and reducing the size of the Zoom window relative to the monitor to minimize face size, and to use an external keyboard to allow an increase in the personal space bubble between oneself and the grid.

2) Seeing yourself during video chats constantly in real-time is fatiguing.

Most video platforms show a square of what you look like on camera during a chat. But that’s unnatural, Bailenson said. “In the real world, if somebody was following you around with a mirror constantly – so that while you were talking to people, making decisions, giving feedback, getting feedback – you were seeing yourself in a mirror, that would just be crazy. No one would ever consider that,” he added.

Bailenson cited studies showing that when you see a reflection of yourself, you are more critical of yourself. Many of us are now seeing ourselves on video chats for many hours every day. “It’s taxing on us. It’s stressful. And there’s lots of research showing that there are negative emotional consequences to seeing yourself in a mirror.”

Solution: Bailenson recommends that platforms change the default practice of beaming the video to both self and others, when it only needs to be sent to others. In the meantime, users should use the “hide self-view” button, which one can access by right-clicking their own photo, once they see their face is framed properly in the video.

3) Video chats dramatically reduce our usual mobility.

In-person and audio phone conversations allow humans to walk around and move. But with videoconferencing, most cameras have a set field of view, meaning a person has to generally stay in the same spot. Movement is limited in ways that are not natural. “There’s a growing research now that says when people are moving, they’re performing better cognitively,” Bailenson said.

Solution: Bailenson recommends people think more about the room they’re videoconferencing in, where the camera is positioned and whether things like an external keyboard can help create distance or flexibility. For example, an external camera farther away from the screen will allow you to pace and doodle in virtual meetings just like we do in real ones. And of course, turning one’s video off periodically during meetings is a good ground rule to set for groups, just to give oneself a brief nonverbal rest.

4) The cognitive load is much higher in video chats.

Bailenson notes that in regular face-to-face interaction, nonverbal communication is quite natural and each of us naturally makes and interprets gestures and nonverbal cues subconsciously. But in video chats, we have to work harder to send and receive signals.

Gestures could also mean different things in a video meeting context. A sidelong glance to someone during an in-person meeting means something very different than a person on a video chat grid looking off-screen to their child who just walked into their home office.

Solution: During long stretches of meetings, give yourself an “audio only” break. “This is not simply you turning off your camera to take a break from having to be nonverbally active, but also turning your body away from the screen,” Bailenson said, “so that for a few minutes you are not smothered with gestures that are perceptually realistic but socially meaningless.”

Further Studies / Articles:

“Nonverbal Overload: A Theoretical Argument for the Causes of Zoom Fatigue” by Jeremy N. Bailenson,  Technology, Mind, and Behavior

The reason Zoom calls drain your energy” by Manyu Jiang, BBC Worklife 

How to Combat Zoom Fatigue” by Liz Fosslien and Mollie West Duffy, Harvard Business Review

Scroll to Top