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How to Create and Drive High Performing Teams at Work, Even if Remote

December 8, 2020 Andrew Freedman

High Performance at Work

As featured in the Baltimore Business Journal

How has productivity changed since the COVID-19 pandemic sent most employees home from the office? At SHIFT Consulting, we asked more than 5,300 employees at companies that ranged in size from Fortune 500 to small-to-mid-sized businesses. Over 50% reported a rise in productivity. This is good, right?  

Not necessarily. Along with higher levels of output, employees report they are now working as many as four more hours each day. In fact, many employees told us they were mentally exhausted and burning out, because their days are starting earlier, ending later, and many report attending 14 video conference calls a day. We are not simply telecommuting - we are telecommuting in a pandemic, where many employees are also tasked with childcare. While the current reality is complex, leaders can still create and sustain high-performing teams.

Focus on outcomes, not output.
We weren’t surprised to learn managers who took an outcomes-based approached to productivity before the shutdown continued to drive high-performing teams afterwards-- and leaders who focused mostly on activity-based metrics before the shutdown struggled to wrench old processes into a new reality. An activity-based approach doesn’t work well in the best of times, and it’s even less effective now.

Instead of replicating old business routines through technology, define success by outcomes. A disruption to ordinary routines presents opportunities to re-examine old ways of operating.

Zoom less. Connect more.
First, determine the metrics that matter most, and how to measure them. (When leaders determine metrics that matter, ‘length of time spent in meetings’ never makes the list.) For example, if deep, trust-based relationships with clients is an important outcome, leaders can work with their teams to assess the most effective ways to accomplish this, knowing that personal visits or dinners with clients are not likely to happen soon.

Assess your team. Outcome-focused managers know their employees’ strengths and motivations. Find out what drives each team member, and what working style brings out the best in each person. Some of your employees will thrive on structure. Others need more flexibility to succeed in these circumstances.

Leaders can help employees effectively integrate work and home by creating meaningful team rituals and routines that build engagement and connection. At SHIFT, we start each workweek on a team Zoom call sharing weekly goals, and one part of the weekend each team member enjoyed. This ritual replaces ‘water-cooler’ time and focuses the team’s mindset on what they might be enjoying, not lacking, in quarantine. We also encourage employees to recharge each evening by shutting down their email by 6pm.

This is Long-Term.
Develop new practices for your business’ desired future with the mindset of keeping them for the long-term. The world has long been moving to a more flexible work environment. This crisis just accelerated the trend. More offsite work is the future, not a stopgap measure that will serve until we “go back to normal.”

Why would we want to return to the old ‘normal,’ even if we could? If your employees are traveling less but delivering results, it’s worthwhile to note how well your team succeeded without the personal and business costs of travel. Think about your best client relationship. It’s likely based on factors that can still be produced, regardless of physical location, including creating trust, understanding challenges and consistently exceeding needs.

There are rituals and changes we’ll be happy to abandon on the other side of COVID-19. Most of us won’t miss working at the kitchen table. But some of these changes – family dinners, art projects, hikes and family time – are gifts. We’ll want to keep them as we move forward.


The debut book by SHIFT’s Andrew Freedman will help you drive higher levels of performance and replicate it at scale. Drawing on 60 years of combined experience in change management, organizational development, and performance consulting, Andrew Freedman and Paul Elliott share their systematic approach, known as the Exemplary Performance System (EPS) which enables leaders to take immediate action to shift workforce engagement and performance.

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TOPICS: High Performance, Leaderhip, Employee Engagement, Remote Work