By Ruth Agbaji
CEO, Code Wiz Learning Centers
How a “one-bite-at-a-time” approach helps remote teams create a healthy work-life balance.
Endless voice notes, emails, texts, and bings erupt from your cell phone and laptop, managing children’s drop-off routines, a feeling of guilt whenever you don’t reply to work messages within a few minutes…
This is exactly the situation so many team members find themselves in during this age of remote work, and exactly the opposite situation I wanted to create for my team!
The following story is how I, as a leader, have helped set up expectations and systems in my company that help my remote team create a healthy, balanced lifestyle.
Why flexibility is so important to me
I am a wife, mom of two kiddos, and the CEO and “Nerd in Chief” of Code Wiz Learning Centers. My husband is a physician who works long hours, and my son is on the Autism Spectrum which means we have many appointments and therapy sessions to attend. All of this is to say that we’re a very busy family.
I was working at Microsoft for a while, but the appeal of the flexibility of owning my own business was too tempting to resist. A big reason I started Code Wiz was to have more freedom in my schedule to take my son to appointments, spend time with my family, and work when it was most convenient for me.
Not only did I crave flexibility in my own schedule, but I also dreamed of running a business where other parents could embrace flexibility in their schedules. Creating a healthy, balanced lifestyle for my entire team was a big priority from the beginning.
Tough lessons learned
When it came to starting my business, the vision was a bit harder to execute than I imagined! As I built a team and we collectively developed what Code Wiz is today, we worked remotely but we didn’t have a healthy work-life balance.
We had no set times for meetings or check-ins which meant a steady stream of communication was sent throughout the day. If I didn’t hear from a team member for even a few hours, I would feel stressed or concerned.
Yes, we were a remote team, which created some scheduling options for our team members. We were in constant communication, and overall it was working okay – but not great.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, everything drastically changed. Everyone suddenly had very different schedules and there was an overload of communication meaning our whole team was overstimulated.
I would work for a couple of hours and then try to focus on my kids for a bit to help with homework or therapy, but then a team member would be on a different schedule so she would start sending me questions. My husband would send a text saying, “Things are so bad in the hospital,” and my parents were worried sick in Nigeria and were constantly checking in.
That caused massively elevated stress levels.
So, I had to ask myself the question, “How can we as a team deal with our lives being thrown in a blender, pivot the model, and keep this business afloat?”
Setting better expectations
The solution to this predicament?
- Setting better expectations for me and my team
- Getting vulnerable with my team
- Taking each day one step at a time
- Giving each team member ownership over their role.
First off, I had to be honest with myself about how unrealistic my expectations tend to be. I’m a visionary with a high sense of urgency. I had to recognize and accept that we cannot accomplish everything. We cannot try every new marketing idea – and that’s okay! I fully embraced the saying by Desmond Tutu: “There is only one way to eat an elephant: a bite at a time.”
I then needed to get vulnerable and honest with my team and explain that I really had no idea what I was doing! I had never led a team through a global pandemic, and I didn’t have all the answers. Explaining this to my team was really scary but ultimately it bonded the team together and helped alleviate my personal stress levels. Transparency is a great way to get everyone on your team aligned and I’m so grateful that I faced my fear.
The next step was to take on a project-based approach and take each day one step at a time. By doing this, we eliminated a lot of the daily communication which was essential to creating a more balanced schedule. We can’t focus on flexibility when we’re constantly expected to communicate.
We gave each team member ownership over their specific project, and everyone stepped up to the challenge! Each team member knew it was their responsibility to move their project forward, but they also knew they could do it on their own time and didn’t need to get approval for every little step.
When my team took more ownership of their projects, they became more productive and were able to put their own creativity into problem-solving. We started to shape a company culture that accepted mistakes as long as we learned lessons from those mistakes. Owning up to my own blunders opened up the whole team to be brave enough to learn from the mess-ups and create improved systems and processes with the lessons we learned.
Today we’re a stronger, more productive, and happier team because of the adjustments we made to create a healthier, more balanced lifestyle. I hope you can take one of these tips and apply it to your own remote team!
If you have any questions, feel free to connect with me at firstname.lastname@example.org or learn more about our team at www.codewizfranchise.com