The coronavirus outbreak has changed the way many companies operate, with large segments of employees now working from home (WFH) and teams still figuring out how to adjust to the new normal. While it may seem a difficult and disruptive transition, remote work has long been a staple in a number of industries, from healthcare transcription to marketing and supply chain optimization to education. The lessons learned in those disciplines show that it can be done, and with great success.
Because so much of the business world is facing these challenges for the first time, we’ve put together a guide for managers and company leaders to help them navigate and streamline their organizations’ transition toward a WFH structure.
The heart of successfully managing remote teams is maintaining connections and human interactions. This core tenet requires a careful blend of good leadership practices and supportive technology tools, which together keep teams engaged, productive, and motivated.
Begin by making a commitment to be present. Leaders need to be responsive to their team’s requests and available to talk through issues and concerns as they arise. You may feel overwhelmed by everything that’s going on – particularly if you’re also now working remotely yourself – but maintaining a focus on your team is crucial. Show employees that progress on their tasks remains a priority and that you’re there to support them in reaching their goals.
Leaders should also enthusiastically build and maintain robust communication streams. Frequent one-on-one meetings with direct reports and regular group meetings all help keep the dialogue going. Because many of your company’s initiatives are likely interconnected, bringing people together to discuss workloads, issues, and progress reinforces the value of everyone’s contributions toward the team’s goals. What are the top two or three things each person will focus on this week? Which upcoming deadlines should the group be monitoring? Consider distributing an agenda ahead of time, so participants can come prepared and you’re able to maximize your time together.
Engage employees on things outside of work, too. When managing remote staff, consider what motivates them on a personal level. Fun group activities help keep things light, such as asking each team member to submit a personal photo they’ve taken that captures the vibe of the current season or illustrates something that makes them happy. Let the group vote for their favorite and reward the winner with a gift card or other small prize. Traditional engagement opportunities are lacking when employees work remotely – you don’t see family photos on their desks or hear hallway banter about who recently added a new dog to the family or how someone’s weekend charity marathon went. To bridge that human-to-human gap and maintain better connections on an individual level, managers need to propose and support situations that allow everyone to acknowledge and celebrate the work-life balance we’re all trying to achieve.
Video conferencing technology offers leaders a great way to extend the value of those group and one-on-one meetings. Nothing can replace in-person gatherings but video comes close by allowing participants to read facial expressions and body gestures. Excitement, confusion, agreement, resistance – they all come through much better when visual cues are part of the package, and the video element can be a powerful part of maintaining that feeling of team. Managers can also encourage and facilitate the use of additional technology tools to augment the video experience. Chat, whiteboard sessions, and screen sharing capabilities all strengthen the group’s ability to connect and work together.
Managers may worry about maintaining their team’s high productivity after shifting away from a traditional office, but signs that an employee is having difficulty transitioning to remote work often crop up early in the process and can be resolved with careful guidance.
- Are you seeing missed deadlines?
- Is a team member less responsive to messages and requests than they were before?
- Has the quality of their work dropped?
Express your concerns to them as soon as you suspect there’s a problem, keeping in mind they may still be struggling to adjust to the new arrangement. There might also be underlying challenges making their work more difficult.
- Do they need additional training on the use of collaboration and communication tools?
- Is their home Internet connection reliable?
- Do their remote login credentials allow the right level of network access?
- Have they established a separate and private work from home space, minimizing the possibility of distractions?
By helping to clear any roadblocks quickly, you’ll enable the employee to improve their performance and also relieve their anxiety about making their WFH experience a success.