During the past few years, we’ve seen a continual and gradual shift towards remote work. Companies of all sizes have recognized the many benefits, to both themselves and their teams, by being flexible with work from home opportunities.
The onset of COVID-19 has forced many companies to have a large percentage or, in some cases, their entire staff working remotely. While most teams have been able to rise to the challenge, there is unquestionably a myriad of hurdles that are becoming more apparent the longer offices and workplaces remain closed.
Most organizations are starting to speculate that returning to the office is unlikely before 2021. Some companies are rethinking the need for a physical office space entirely. As a result, managers are being asked to find unconventional methods to support their teams and guide them through these difficult times.
While it may seem cliche, communication is the most critical element to effectively managing your team remotely. For employees who are used to the constant stimulus of an office, suddenly being forced to work from home can quickly make them feel disconnected. How effective your formal (and informal) communication plan is implemented will have a direct correlation to your team’s success.
Schedule More Regular Team Check-ins
If your team was accustomed to having a weekly meeting in order to stay connected within an office, you may quickly find that this is no longer enough in a remote working environment. Increasing the frequency of shorter check-ins with your team not only promotes connectivity, but ensures each team member remains accountable and on-track. Consider having a morning kick-off meeting every other day. These don’t need to be lengthy but rather provide an opportunity for you as the manager to reiterate priorities and get an immediate sense of how things are progressing.
Maintain your regular team meetings
While you may want to increase the short team check-ins, don’t allow these to take the place of your regular full-team meetings. If you had a scheduled weekly or bi-weekly group meeting, make sure these are maintained. However, you may want to allow for a little extra time for a social catch up at the beginning. When working in the office, teams have ample opportunity to share stories about their personal lives and catch up. These interactions help to build social capital that, in turn, makes for better collaborative relationships overall. With a remote team, you need to find ways to encourage and maintain this camaraderie.
Have a virtual “Open Door” policy
As a manager, it’s your job to ensure the team has what it needs to be productive. One of the best ways to guarantee this is to remind them that you are always there if they need support. A five-minute phone call, zoom meeting, or FaceTime can do wonders for keeping a staff member moving and motivated. Of course, you will want to be sure that you use your digital calendar effectively. If you need time to work through a project, be sure to block that off the same as you would close your door at the office when you need to focus.
Be Aware of Zoom Fatigue
If you’re finding that you’re more exhausted at the end of your workday than you used to be, you’re not alone. Over the past few months, mentions of “Zoom fatigue” have popped up more and more on social media, and researchers are now looking into the complicated ways it may wear on our psyche.
The BBC interviewed two workplace well-being researchers, who suggested that our mind is continually aware of being watched while on-screen, making it very difficult to relax for the meeting’s entirety. This ‘always-on’ feeling explains why after several back-to-back video meetings, you probably feel like you’ve been performing for hours, even if you haven’t said a word. Managers can help with this by encouraging their staff to go off video during larger meetings when they are not presenting. While small team meetings should be video-on, if you sense your team is feeling the effects of video burnout, give them the option to do one-on-one sessions with you over the phone. If you’ve had a week full of meetings, you might also consider taking a day off your smaller team meetings and sending a short email update instead.
Make your written communications exceptionally precise
When a team works together in an office long enough, they develop their own shorthand including acronyms and efficient phrasing. This familiarity helps build even more social capital within the team. However, when working remotely, we lose many of the physical cues that go along with these interactions, and very often, important details get lost in translation. For this reason, you never want to assume your team knows what you’re implying in an email or Slack message. If you are giving instructions for one specific project, indicate it by name. If you’re referencing a document that you sent last week in an email, attach the file again, so it’s easily accessbile. While this can sometimes make your communications seem wordy or redundant, it will help ensure the team understands exactly what you’re expecting.
When a team that’s used to working together in an office is forced to go remote, they lose out on the subtle interactions that reinforce their bond. Staff members can very quickly start to doubt their abilities the longer they feel isolated from the group. As the manager of a remote team, it is your responsibility to communicate your trust in each team member, acknowledge their efforts, and celebrate successes. Simple statements such as “I trust your judgement on this,” or “you’re doing great work,” can go a long way to keeping your team engaged and empowered.
When the pandemic forced many offices to shift to remote work, people made the best of what they had to keep businesses operating. Nevertheless, as we settle in for a more extended period of remote work, companies need to ensure that technology is prioritized to ensure quality and security.
Providing work from home systems
When it comes to ensuring that their teams have the technology they need to get the job done, many companies are investing in laptops that can be made available to their staff. By maintaining ownership of the employee’s workstation, you make sure they have the tools they need for their job, and you protect the company’s intellectual property. You can take steps to prevent cybersecurity breaches and prevent virus or malware issues. Supplying your remote team with a company computer also tells them that they are a trusted member of the team and that the organization is committed to helping them succeed.
Supporting the Home Office Environment
Working in an office provides employees with much more than a company computer. Aside from the technology itself, effort is made to ensure that the office environment is set up to promote productivity. In some cases, there is even free coffee and snacks available. When it comes to remote staff, a great way to help them settle in is to provide them with the ability to order what they require. If they need a new monitor, a new desk chair, a new desk, work with them to get what they need, and benefit from an employee who is set up to do the job.
Supporting quality infrastructure
In today’s typical office environment, most of us require a stable internet connection to be effective employees. With the new reality of remote work, the truth is that some team members may simply not have the level of bandwidth necessary at home to support their day-to-day work and meeting requirements. Of course, it would be impossible to supply internet to all remote workers, but some companies are taking steps to ensure minimal compliance.
By working with your IT team or supplier, you can determine your staff’s level of bandwidth needs to do their jobs productively and efficiently. You can then decide what level of home service the company is prepared to subsidize, and then include it through payroll additions. It’s very similar to how many organizations started contributing to employees’ personal cellular plans to ensure they could continue to use them for company business. Your finance team can help determine what sort of documentation the employee needs to submit for expense records.
Expectations of Working Hours
When it comes to managing a remote team, it’s vital to establish your working hours and expectations.. Once you leave the confines of the office, it becomes harder to separate your work/life activities. Staff can very quickly find themselves replying to emails into the evening and feeling an added layer of stress to be always-on. If you have a 9 to 5 working day, make sure that this is communicated, and try not to send emails to your team into the evening. A great strategy to help with this is to use the timed send feature in your email. If you find yourself working on an email in the evening, set it to deliver the next morning at 9 am. This way, you won’t forget, but you give your staff propper downtime.
Dealing with Overtime
There are always times when companies need their employees to work more than usual to meet a deadline. If you find yourself managing a team through overtime, be sure to communicate what you’re expecting and when the employee can expect to take back the time. It’s very easy to get caught up in a stressful project and forget that you also need to manage your team’s emotional and physical well-being.
Be flexible with the reality of remote working
Many parents attempting to navigate the new normal brought onby COVID 19 are faced with inconsistent childcare and sporadic school attendance. Some adults are managing the care of an elder parent. These challenges can leave staff members struggling to cope with a strict 9 to 5 schedule. Of course, there will be hard deadlines and non-negotiable meetings times, but being flexible, where possible, can result in committed, hardworking employees. Just be sure that both you and your team talk about their schedule and that you understand how they plan to work around their challenges.
Make time for Mental Health
Working from home can feel overwhelming at times for a variety of reasons and subsequently take a toll on your mental health. When managing your team, look for opportunities to celebrate their success and check in with them about how they are coping.
It’s also important as a manager that you are looking after your well-being too. Set working hours for yourself and communicate those with your supervisor. Often, managers who are great at protecting and developing their team forget to take time for themself. After a while, they suffer from stress and are prone to burnout. To help with this, make sure you are delegating where appropriate, and be sure to use your vacation days when needed, even if it means taking a day trip with the family. Those days are intended for you to recharge, and it’s essential that you disconnect and rejuvenate.
Over the last six months, companies across the globe have had to alter the way they conduct business entirely. The new normal thrust upon us by a global pandemic was not something any organization or their leaders could have anticipated. While managing your team through this new reality, remember to be patient,prioritize employee well being, and remain cognizant of the fact that everyone is adapting to a unique set of circumstances. Making small, thoughtful changes can help your team feel supported, stay engaged, and promote productivity.