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Keeping Your Team Upbeat in a Downturn

"When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro" -- Hunter S Thompson

These days a lot of us are dealing with both the craziness of the tasks or projects we are responsible for, and trying to do it in the context of insanity swirling around us at work. It's hard to stay positive when you hear bad news, or no news at all from the organization you work for. It's even worse when you work remotely, and you don't have access to all the news, gossip and vibes that echo through an office.

I recently interviewed the relentlessly positive Rajesh Setty, author of the book, "Upbeat-Cultivating the Right Attitude to Thrive in Tough Times." about how to keep morale high on teams when you can't be with your folks every minute of the day to run interference.

What are the problems remote teams have with morale?
The "remote" part is the big problem with remote teams. While they have their advantages in things as simple as less commute time, working when they want, how they want etc., it is HARD WORK on part of everyone to stay together as a team.

When all the team members work together in an office they know more about each other beyond the work relationships. You feel connected. Remote work is lonely and the technology can only bring so much closeness. No technology can be a substitute for a handshake. There is definitely a difference in the level of "belonging" every team member feels when working remotely and that contributes heavily to the morale issues.

What can managers to to help teams stay "upbeat" and positive?
1. Get to know your remote team members: If you were working in the same office, you would know a person as lot more than a job description. The "small talk" that happens during lunch time or at the corridors reveal a lot about a person sometimes more than what is shown in documents they produce for work. Unfortunately you can't mimic a lunch time or a corridor conversation on the phone. So arrange those times sooner than later so that you know your people and so that your hurried phone calls and conference calls become richer.

2. Get your team members to know your remote team members: The same logic applies to your team members getting to know other team members. It is the manager's responsibility to craft those situations where team members get to know other team members more intimately than a work setting.

3. Align personal goals to organizational goals: Once you get to know your people, you can design work so that their personal goals and organizational goals are aligned in some fashion. People spend inordinate amount of time at work and if that is not contributing to where they are going in life, it's hard to stay upbeat.

4. Ask them: You will be surprised how many people will actually tell you how you can help them stay upbeat. So go ahead and ask them and may be there is something else that will come up.

How can they keep themselves motivated and positive? After all we're no good to others if we're dragging ourselves.
It all starts with your attitude and philosophy towards life.

The first thing to remember is that being a part of the remote team was their choice. And, choices come with consequences. All said and done, remote teams are reasonably a new phenomena. You can blame whatever you want about remote teams but you have a choice to walk out and find something that is more traditional.

The problem is that people want the best of both worlds. They want the advantages (flexibility, closeness to family, work when you want etc.) of remote teams and don't want any of the disadvantages ( closeness to the team, belonging etc. ) - it simply does not work that way.

In other words, it is the question about the proverbial "glass is half full or glass is half empty" viewpoint. It is just a simple shift in the attitude. You can focus on the advantages or you can focus on the disadvantages. Things are not going to change with the remote working environment - only you can change your viewpoint about it IF you want to continue to be operating that way.

Once you settle on that fact, there are many ways to tackle the problems associated with remote teams. A starter step can be joining any kind of community ( user group, voluntary organizations, clubs for a cause or simply organizing a Meetup group of your own ) locally and be engaged.

Rajesh Setty is an entrepreneur, author and speaker based in Silicon Valley. You can read more about Upbeat, his latest book or follow him on his blog or Twitter.