Founder Fuel: Startup team communication for a work-from-home (WFH) reality

This is part 3 of our series to survive the startup team turbulence of the COVID-19 public crisis – we hope it goes just a little way to help us all get through the next few weeks. Part 1 on founder survival is here, part 2 on spotting sign of stress in your team is here.

The most effective startup leaders take an individualised approach to team leadership. By watching, learning and coaching each team member it leaves teams empowered, feeling valued and ultimately more productive. But to maintain that into our new remote-working reality requires a greater degree of intentionality.

Understand what gets the best from your team

When we’re face-to-face with our team we can watch, reflect and gradually learn what gets the best from each of them, and how they work best together. When forced remote – especially for long periods of time – this cannot happen and it’s very easy to lose touch. In addition, with the stresses and strains of the current public health crisis blurring lines between work and life – it’s likely that what you knew before about your team mates might have changed too.

It is our job as a startup leader to understand the strains each person might be under (see more on that here) and instigate a conversation to identify what processes and conditions will allow them to perform at their best. Dig into working hours, home/work set-up and look to understand what natural communication preference they have based on their personality type too. Natural introverts and extroverts have very different approaches to response time, brevity and style – understanding this can really help smooth out communications in your team.

Set boundaries to help everyone be productive and well

 “Always-on” is a dangerous and unproductive mindset – even the best athletes on the best teams require time to rest and recover. So be intentional about when you are working and when you are not, and encourage your whole team to do the same. The practicalities of this will likely be different for different teams based on what communication channels you use, but spending an hour together virtually to discuss what your team ‘norms’ will be and what rules of engagement you’d like to share, can go a long way to keeping petty frustrations to a minimum.

By setting boundaries for the whole team on work vs life you can really improve team wellbeing here too. The always-on mindset leaves people feeling guilty – which means they never properly turn off. Because of remote-working we’ve had to force that into the home even more, so we have a responsibility to make it clear when people are expected to be OFF to stop that guilt. Simple team rules, like no emails after 8pm or on weekends, can make a huge difference to your team actually switching off and coming back afresh in the morning.

Set expectations early and clearly 

With less opportunity to ‘just check in’ that things are ok, or if anyone needs any help as remote startup leaders we must make expectations crystal clear: 

  • X is the deliverable, 
  • Y is the quality standard, 
  • Z is the deadline.

Where possible, align goals to the company mission or purpose too as that helps keep everyone aligned and motivated by a bigger purpose.

Proactive communication that works

Even the most introverted team member is likely to feel cut off in the coming weeks; and the extroverts who thrive off others to have energy are really likely to be effected. To keep business on track we need everyone to feel momentum and feel connected. The sooner you can add some structure for your team communication the better. Consider:

  • Weekly all-team check-ins virtually to share key information and progress updates (per team, or per person depending on the size of your team). This creates that sense of team and common purpose in a virtual world
  • 1:1 Progress reviews with each direct report weekly to check-in on progress, work through any challenges together and agree the priorities for the week ahead
  • 1:1 Developmental coaching once a month to offer support and development to those in your team, away from the practical day-to-day tasks
  • Seek out a social anchor – such as a weekly virtual lunch meet-up, or Friday 5pm virtual beers so that those who really fuel off others still have their social outlet with their colleagues, enabling them to feel connected and work at their best.  

Don’t forget in turbulent times, your team needs to hear from you too, otherwise they might panic behind closed doors. So keep the lines of communication open, honest and broad. Send emails or post videos about your reasoning, intentions and expectations. Make it easy for team members to know your thoughts and contribute their own.

And finally, say well done…

It doesn’t cost anything to be kind, and the benefits for leaders are great with empathy and compassion significantly improving team performance AND profitability. Research that looked at 5,600 people across 77 organizations showed that “the single greatest influence on profitability and productivity …is the ability of leaders to spend more time and effort developing and recognizing their people, welcoming feedback, including criticism, and fostering co-operation.” Additionally, it identified a leader’s ability “to understand people’s motivators, hopes, and difficulties and to create the right support mechanism to allow people to be as good as they can be” – has the greatest correlation with performance. 

Read our practical tips on how to build in those valuable “well dones” for you and your team over here.

 Written by Christina Richardson, co-founder at weare3Sixty and lead for entrepreneur training and coaching.

About the Founder Fuel Series: Actionable tools and bite-sized insights to empower entrepreneurs and founders to get the best from themselves and those around them, without sacrificing wellbeing. Get the fuel direct to your inbox by signing up here.

The unique weare3Sixty Founder Performance Programme combines entrepreneur training and entrepreneur coaching to develop effective, high-performing startup leaders and teams. One founder at a time, we’re redesigning the entrepreneurial ecosystem to be happier, healthier and more effective as a whole.

Calling all accelerators and investors: We work in partnership with investors, accelerators and incubators to complement programmes of support and learning with the human side of startup performance. Find out more here.