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Three ways to cultivate resilience in your remote team

Alex Young, founder - Virti

Over the last two years we’ve all had to cope with immense amounts of change. Not only have we been through a global pandemic, but we’ve also experienced its fallout: the transition to remote work, record resignations, a searing hot jobs market and political and financial uncertainty. At times like these, one of the best things leaders can do to shore up their workforce is to cultivate resilience: not only does resilience have a positive impact on team performance and engagement, but it can also reduce stress.

But nurturing resilience in remote and hybrid teams – who spend less time with colleagues face-to-face – presents an additional challenge. How can HR and business leaders develop what is essentially an interpersonal skill without seeing people in-person? And what can be done, beyond regular training, to ensure people feel settled and empowered at work? Here’s my advice.

1. Cultivate a culture of trust
When P&O Cruises sacked over 800 of their staff with no warning earlier this year, they shattered any semblance of trust they might have built up in their 200-year-long history in one foul swoop. If they’d communicated more effectively with staff, honoured peoples’ commitment to the business and handled the situation honestly and sensitively, it might have been a different story – even if the eventual outcome stayed the same.

It’s a lesson in how not to build trust. Research shows that as humans we need to be able to trust our leaders and the information they give us in order to build community resilience. And in order for us to be able to trust our leaders, they need to consistently demonstrate that they’re reliable, transparent and true to their word.

If you work within a big organization, where decision-makers sit further away from their colleagues, put processes in place to ensure any important information is filtered down and communicated effectively. In smaller teams, encourage leaders to engage with people and build personal relationships in order to cultivate trust. And be honest about the good things as well as the bad: it’s just as important to communicate what isn’t going so well as it is to shout about your successes.

Building trust is an ongoing commitment: but once it’s there you have a strong and unshakeable foundation on which to build a resilient team.

2. Be an empathetic leader
Around a quarter of remote workers admit to feeling lonely for much of their working day. And almost half are worried about blurred work-life boundaries, as well as having limited connection with colleagues. Remote work can feel isolating, so in order to build a resilient remote team it’s important to create regular opportunities to connect with your people to ensure they feel seen and supported.

Whether you’re a leader, HR representative or culture officer, carve out time to check in with people so that they’re hearing from caring colleagues consistently, whether over a Zoom coffee, a Slack message or a quick phone call. For managers, one-to-ones are also important as they give people space to tell you how they’re really doing – and raise any concerns. When you catch up, ask questions, listen carefully and tune in. Does this person seem happy and energized, or does it sound like they’re struggling or holding something back? If it’s the latter, find out what they need and work up a support plan together. Showing empathy and being proactive about offering support will naturally help people build a sense of stability, trust and resilience in their role.

3. Create opportunities for experiential learning
Experiential learning is one of the most effective and engaging ways to teach soft skills like resilience. It makes learning a soft skill (which can seem abstract and intangible) practical, engaging and clearly applicable to the real world. Crucially, the process of immersive practice and reflection will often drive an emotional response to what we’ve learnt – and research shows that emotion has a significant positive impact on human attention, learning and memory.

To design an effective learning experience for resilience, I’d recommend following Kolb’s four-step experiential learning theory. In this particular context it would first involve showing your learners some real and relatable situations where somebody shows resilience in the face of a challenge. Next, give them time to reflect on what they’ve seen, ask them to conceptualize what they have learnt from the experience and finally, create a safe space where they can test out and practice what they’ve learned for themselves. Here, it’s useful to give your learners performance feedback and then ask them to repeat the cycle until they’re confident in their ability to perform the skill.

Often, experiential learning will take place in some form through day-to-day office interactions and repeated exposure to different situations. But when your people are remote, you may need to look for new ways to deliver experiential training in a more structured and intentional way. One way to do this is to use digital training tools (like VR/AR or interactive video) that enable employees to access realistic, immersive training experiences from anywhere. Digital experiential training can be particularly useful for hard-to-measure soft skills like resilience, as it can also make it easier to collect objective performance data, which can help you assess where further training might be needed.

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