At the Game Thinking Academy, we work with innovative teams to build breakthrough products, games and services. And 100% of our work is remote.
As a leader, a big part of my job is to help my teams stay positive, productive and motivated. Through trial and error, I’ve learned what works — and what doesn’t — when you’re managing and motivating a distributed product team.
Here are three simple, actionable leadership tips for maintaining the mental health and productivity of your remote team during challenging times.
Leadership Tip #1: Take time to get personal
Remote meetings can feel flat & impersonal. But they don’t have to.
To keep productivity high, I always make an agenda. And to bolster our collective mental health & camaraderie, I always build time into that agenda to foster a human connection with everyone there.
The leader sets the tone — so it’s important to be proactive. For example, while people are gathering, I’ll engage the folks who join first by asking how things are going outside of work. If a parent is working from home, I’ll ask what the kids are up to — which games they’re playing, or TikTok dances they’re learning.
When it comes to remote meetings — a little humanity goes a long way.
When your team feels seen and accepted, it creates a high-trust environment that makes it easier for them to relax into working and collaborating.
Leadership Tip #2: Welcome “guest appearances”
When everyone is working remotely, you end up seeing everyone’s home life up close and personal. And let’s face it — that can be downright heartwarming.
So when your co-worker is interrupted by a 10yr-old showing off a new Fortnite skin…or is embarrassed because her toddler has wandered into the room…or is momentarily distracted by a fluffy cat walking across the keyboard…
Embrace it. Laugh, coo, fawn all over the cuteness… … and then gently steer the meeting back on course.
Celebrate interruptions then steer things back on track — that magic combo makes #WFM a winner.
These unexpected moments of joy add much-needed spice in your work-from-home stew. You can maximize happiness and mental health by celebrating those moments — i.e. making them guilt-free — while ALSO helping your team get their work done.
Leadership Tip #3: Provide 1:1 emotional support
Let’s face it. Working from home is stressful. Managing interruptions is challenging. And it’s easy feel like you’re drifting & disconnected — especially when the world is so uncertain and unsettling.
As a leader, this is when your people need you the most. Now, I’m going to assume that you schedule regular 1:1s with team members. If you don’t — get on that — it’s a high-payoff investment in your team’s health & agility.
What’s important is what HAPPENS during these 1:1s. Especially these past few months, my teams have needed a safe place to vent and share their frustrations about what’s happening in the world — without fear of retribution.
If you can make that OK — you’re supporting your team’s motivation and mental health.
Helping people manage & reframe their emotions is an impactful form of support — especially during challenging times.
In a recent 1:1 meeting, for example, one team member shared some intense feelings she was having about #BlackLivesMatter and the political unrest she was seeing, She was hesitant to speak up — but hugely relieved afterwards. And she sent me a follow-up message, telling that the conversation had cleared her mind and helped her focus on putting her energies where they could have an impact — both in her life, and in her work.
Simple tips with a profound impact
So there you have it: 3 leadership tips that’ll support your team’s mental health, and make your remote meetings feel more human & connected.
Although these tips are simple — their cumulative impact on your team’s motivation and productivity can be profound. So give ’em a try — and let me know how it goes.
What about you?
Do you already use any of these techniques? Are you excited about trying any particular one? Tell me in the comments.