Working as a Distributed Team During COVID-19: Key Takeaways From Claudia Chang

Claudia Chang has been helping organizations build effective distributed teams, teams that don’t work in the same space, since long before the pandemic. Creating successful distributed teams, (which Claudia prefers to “remote” because it’s more inclusive) has become even more important in the face COVID-19. She recently shared her insight as part of the UW Communication Leadership COVID Consultancy’s event series, Communication and Connection in the time of COVID.

“Using a few key approaches and principles can…help develop stronger teams and leadership,” says Claudia, owner of Emerald Global LLC and professor of UW CommLead’s course on diverse and distributed teams. “It’s not just for the people who are the boss or in charge, leadership is for everyone.” 

Claudia shared the following key insights for practicing leadership and creating effective distributed teams. 


Pay Attention to Detail, Focus on Results


Claudia first emphasized the importance of paying close attention to detail among your team and being clear about the results you’re looking for. 

In terms of managing the details, she talked about creating clarity among your team on assigned tasks. When you ask for a report, does everyone know exactly what it should include and when it’s needed? Be sure these details are clear before moving forward. 

Next, having a clear idea of the desired results is key, especially in a distributed space. In an office, you may know when someone is working on a specific task, but you often lose that when you’re working in different places. If you have a clear goal in mind, everyone can work toward that — even if some team members are working at the crack of dawn, while others work late at night.

“We just don’t have as much visibility on what everyone else is doing in the distributed workspace,” Claudia says. “But as long we’re clear on the outcome and…prioritize the results we’re looking for, we can bring the team to a higher level of productivity and effectiveness.” 


Share Open Dialogue


Working in distributed teams often means you don’t get as much face time with the people you work with. And when that’s compounded by the stress of the pandemic, it can be easy for teams to feel overwhelmed or under-appreciated. 

Claudia recommends addressing that by using what she calls the “I see you” approach. 

“It’s all about making something that somebody does about who they are,” she says. 

This might mean instead of telling your coworker “thanks for making time to meet with me at the last minute” you might say “it was really thoughtful of you to make time for me, you’re such a considerate person.” Claudia also noted that this isn’t unique to the distributed space, and can and should be done in-person. 

“This helps create a sense of connection and makes people feel seen,” she says. 


Take Time To Decompress


When working in a distributed team, you may miss the seamless opportunities an office creates to decompress with your coworkers, like lunchtime walks or post-work happy hours. In the time of COVID, additional stress and countless hours at a screen can create an even bigger need to take breaks and make time to decompress. 

Claudia discussed a few ways to do this: If you miss your coworkers, consider scheduling a virtual happy hour. And if you’re feeling overwhelmed with screen time, consider making time for walks or turning off the notifications on your phone. 

“We’re not held hostage by technology, even though sometimes it might feel like it,” Claudia says. “Bringing attention to decompression can help support and build strong teams.”

Claudia was the final speaker in our spring event series but we will have more events coming in the summer! Visit our events page for recaps of previous events and updates about future events. 

Megan HerndonWorking as a Distributed Team During COVID-19: Key Takeaways From Claudia Chang
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