Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many companies around the world have had to implement voluntary or mandatory remote working policies. Business owners and managers are contending with this new reality that requires them to lead their teams from afar.
You might be worried about how you will keep morale and productivity high, communicate effectively with your team, allay their fears, and support them through these uncertain times.
It’s tough being a leader, especially during a crisis. Now more than ever, your team needs you to step up and be the manager they need. They’re counting on you to provide direction, structure, and support.
If you’re new to remote work, you’ll probably be wondering if you’re up to the task. It might take some time to get used to the new state of affairs, but with some adjustments, sensitivity, and motivation, you can take full advantage of working from home.
With these tips, you can help your remote team function better without compromising the quality of work or sacrificing their wellbeing in the process.
1. Structure and prioritize tasks
Working from home is a lot easier when you assign everyone individual tasks, but it becomes cumbersome and overwhelming when large, remote teams are involved that need to contribute to and collaborate on a project.
You can simplify this process by letting your team know what the priorities are for the day and what they can afford to postpone so that they can take that into account when planning their workday.
A predefined workflow doesn’t only ensure organization and ease of work, it also helps to save time. This way, everyone can complete a few key tasks each day instead of being spread across a dozen different tasks that are nowhere near being done.
Additionally, you’ll want to set a timeline for each team to work on their respective projects and offer updates on their work progress. People perform better when they have defined deliverables and time-frames in mind that they can work towards.
You can share a Google Sheet, Google Docs, or set up a public Trello board where team members can add contributions and share information about the status of the activities they’re working on.
2. Focus on written communication rather than verbal conversations
By establishing written communication as the preferred method for engaging with one another, you eliminate the need for redundant meetings, calls, and video conferences, which can also be easily interrupted.
Written communication allows team members to calibrate their thoughts and respond incisively instead of just reacting to what was said. Reserve verbal communication for discussions and meetings about short term deliverables.
With emails and other text-based interactions, everyone can keep track of what’s going on, and they can always refer back to the messages if they forget anything or need clarification on the details discussed.
This process also allows team members to be respectful of each other’s time. Remember that working from home for many people means having to schedule their work around family life. As a result, there might be a lot of distractions during calls and video chats that will prevent them from engaging fully.
Have your team focus on meaningful written communication to avoid information overflow and time wastage.
3. Set clearly defined working hours
Everyone should be clear on when they’re working and when they’re not. It might be easier for your team to stick to regular working hours. That way, all employees are on the same schedule so that collaboration can go on smoothly.
The major difference between working in the office and working from home is that your employees are in control of their environment, and it’s up to them to hold themselves accountable by doing what they’re supposed to do at the right time.
Some team members are very self-organized and disciplined, while others will need to be pushed and monitored more closely to ensure they’re not falling behind.
However, bear in mind that having to actively balance work and family life in real-time might mean that some employees start or finish work earlier or later than usual. Be flexible and understanding of that.
Don’t expect your remote team to be “always on” or to take on more responsibilities than usual just because they’re working from home. This can lead to burnout, which would cause your employee’s wellbeing and the company’s priorities to suffer.
4. Schedule a daily huddle or reflection time
In the office, it’s easy to keep track of what everyone is working on, when it’s due, and when it gets completed. When you’re working remotely, it becomes a lot more complicated.
To get around this obstacle, you can schedule a brief 20-minute meeting (a group huddle of sorts) at the same time every day—at the start or end of the workday— and have each team member answer the following questions:
- What tasks did I accomplish yesterday?
- What will I achieve today?
- What challenges, if any, are affecting my progress?
- What is working well?
- How can the rest of the team support you?
- What do you need to be more successful?
This helps everyone to stay connected to the common goal you’re all working toward. Each person can reflect on what they’ve accomplished so far and what they’re supposed to do. Clear objectives might help your team stay on track and carry on working efficiently.
It doesn’t even have to be a meeting—you can have everyone fill a spreadsheet or document with their answers and share it with the entire organization.
That way, everyone has a clear overview of what needs to be accomplished in a day, so they have better control of their time. This is another strategy to better organize your team’s activities, and increase productivity.
5. Manage their mindsets
Working from home because of the coronavirus is a whole new world to navigate. No one knows how long this new dynamic will last, so naturally, tensions will be high, and self-doubt and boredom will creep in.
All of these are normal. You just need to watch out for those signs in yourself and your team members and do what you can to reassure them and let them know they’re doing a good job. Tackle negativity as soon as it arises.
Educate your staff to stay online during working hours, respond to messages promptly, and avoid unnecessary delays.
If anyone needs to step away from their desk, take a break, grab lunch, or attend to some other issues, they should be courteous enough to let their teammates know and flexibility should be given to allow them to accommodate these schedule demands into their workday.
Although the COVID-19 pandemic is an unfortunate event, it doesn’t have to mark the end of life as we know it. Everyone has to try to adjust and do their best while waiting for the crisis to be over.
Managing remote teams is challenging, but with the right measures in place, company employees can keep collaborating, communicating, and maintaining a close and productive company culture regardless of how far apart they are in geographical terms.
Heather Redding is a part-time assistant manager, solopreneur and writer based in Aurora, Illinois. She is also an avid reader and a tech enthusiast. When Heather is not working or writing, she enjoys her Kindle library and a hot coffee. Reach out to her on Twitter.