By Chandler Vannoy
For pastors and ministry leaders, we are stepping into the unknown. COVID-19 has scattered our church, delocalized our people, and caused many of us to enter the world of remote work. Seminary didn’t prepare us for this.
Remote work isn’t a new phenomenon, but when much of our country is thrown into the work-from-home culture, many of us feel like a fish out of water.
Not only are we navigating working from our home, our ministry teams are now separated, and we’re still called to lead them faithfully through this difficult time.
On top of the chaos filling our world, we are now faced with the task of leading our ministry teams in a completely new and foreign way.
Because of this, I want to share with you eight tips I’ve learned over the past several years of working remotely.
Most of these tips were learned the hard way, so give yourself and your team grace as your walk through this season.
1. Choose trust over suspicion.
This is the foundation to leading a remote team. Since you’re no longer in the office seeing what your team is working on and being involved in impromptu conversations, suspicion can start to creep in.
We have to fight against that tendency and choose to trust they’re getting the job done.
If the leader sets this tone, the team will follow. Show your team you trust them in front of each other.
2. Ask your team to show their work.
Just because we are choosing trust, doesn’t mean we don’t want to see the progress our team is making. Because of this, ask for routine updates and what they are working on.
3. Create meeting structure.
If you weren’t meeting-heavy before, create new meeting times to check in. Our team uses a weekly 30-minute stand-up meeting on Monday and an hour-long strategy meeting on Wednesdays.
When the pace of our work speeds up, we add daily 15-minute stand-up meetings.
These meetings are important to keep everyone on the same page, allows teammates to share what they’re working on, and discuss any obstacles they’re trying to overcome.
When meetings are happening virtually, it’s no longer possible to knock on someone’s door to ask for clarity or read their body language during the meeting. This means over-communication is key.
Put all the details in an email. Send a follow-up email with even more details. And before you hit “send,” think about the questions others may ask and answer those for them.
But this isn’t just for your staff or ministry team. This goes for your whole church, including volunteers and lay people.
If you had to constantly tell people, “It’s in the bulletin,” then what makes you think they’ll check their emails or the Facebook page?
5. Utilize technology.
By now, you probably wish you had bought stock in Zoom since it is hosting every meeting in America right now. But the good news is, you can use it for video conferencing.
No matter which video conferencing software you use, make sure to use one for your meetings.
Phone calls can quickly become impersonal. Video allows your team to see each other and feel connected while scattered.
Also, ask your team to utilize shared document and spreadsheets on Google. This facilitates seamless collaboration.
One last technology tool I’d recommend is an alternative to email. Email can slow your team down when you need to move fast.
Three great alternatives to look at are Slack, Basecamp, or Asana. They each have their unique use case, so different ministries will find different software helpful.
6. Determine communication channels.
With so many different options for communication, it is easy for messages to get lost if they are not shared in the right channel.
Take the time to discuss with your team how and when to use each channel of communication.
7. Establish video call guidelines.
In a recent Unseen Leadership podcast with Shannon Miles, who leads a company that works fully remote, she advised to set rules that the camera is always on and mute is always off during video calls. This allows for a “real meeting” feel.
When you can’t see someone, it’s easy to assume they’re distracted. And when mute is turned on, the conversation can be one-sided.
Now, this is advice for smaller team meetings. When meetings are larger than five or six people, it’s helpful to set rules for how to use mute so distractions are at a minimum.
8. Set boundaries.
Working remotely—especially from home—can create unclear work/life balance. When you never leave the “office,” it’s easy to continue working into the evening.
As the leader, you can create clear expectations and a healthy example for those you lead.
Show your team how to turn off work and disconnect so they can spend time with family and create healthy boundaries. Be proactive in this and constantly share these expectations.
I hope these tips are helpful as you remotely lead your team through these uncertain times.
But the greatest tip I can share with you is to give grace to both yourself and your team during this season. Many on your team now find themselves working at home while caring for their kids and learning how to homeschool.
It can be overwhelming. Let’s make sure to lead with grace and show our teams we truly care for them.
CHANDLER VANNOY (@chandlervannoy) serves as the brand manager for Lifeway Leadership. He is a graduate of the University of Tennessee and holds his Masters of Divinity from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. You can read more at chandlervannoy.com.