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To manage a remote team, a leader should:
The movement to allow employees to work from home had been gaining speed in recent years as businesses started to see the benefits this arrangement brought to the company and its workers.
Under quarantine rules, WFH became the only way for many companies to operate. Businesses able to offer this option to their teams quickly had to reexamine some of their basic organizational structures, and it often fell to managers to ensure processes ran as smoothly as possible.
Leadership in this brave new world had changed, forcing those in charge to rise to the challenge. So, how can we, as leaders, get the best out of our team if we’re not under the same roof? Here are seven things to keep in mind when managing a remote staff.
Planning regular meetings is critical when we no longer have the option of quick face-to-face interactions in the office. It varies from business to business how long these meetings should be and how often they need to happen, but they are essential to getting everyone on the same page. Various individuals and teams who work together on projects should be encouraged to communicate regularly, as well. Gathering the staff, even virtually, can head off misunderstandings and head off problems before they take root.
There are several popular instant messaging and video conferencing software packages available to small, medium, and large businesses today — and this can be a problem. If our teams aren’t on the same platform, it becomes exponentially more challenging to maintain consistent communication. Our company’s management should take input from our teams about what they’d prefer, look at which platform best fits our situation, and then make a decision. There might be some grumbling from some when their preferred IM isn’t selected, but we must be able to hang out in the same virtual place.
While some employees will excel at working from home, there might be others who thrive in an office setting. When extroverted personalities are cut off from regular contact with their co- workers, this can cause a problem, both in productivity and in their state of mind. We must treat our team as the individuals they are. While some need minimal care in this new way of doing business, others might require more one-on-one time. As leaders, it falls to us to give each member of our team the tools they need to do their jobs to the best of their ability. If this means some extra attentiveness, so be it.
As managers, one of our duties is to make sure our team is earning the money our company is paying them. When managing WFH teams, we can’t just glance to see if everyone has made it to work on time, or if they stay until the closing bell. Are they productive when they are out of our sight?
Of course, the truth is that the quantity of hours has never been the best measurement of productivity. Busy people often get things done more quickly, and goof-offs can sit at their desks all day and accomplish nothing. By looking at the results, we can gauge if our company is getting its money’s worth out of our team. The total number of hours worked — and when they’re worked — is less important than the outcomes our team is producing. As long as the results are there, the rest will fall into place without having to be micromanaged.
To get those positive outcomes, we have to be crystal clear in what we expect from our team. What is the scope of a project? What are the milestones we need to hit, and when do we need to hit them? What’s the overall deadline? If there are clients involved, how are we going to communicate with them? By asking — and answering — these types of questions, we make sure that everyone knows what’s expected of them as a team and of them as individuals. We all know the old saying about what happens when we assume something, so let’s not take for granted that we are always on the same page. Clearly defined expectations are everyone’s friend.
Working from home has its benefits and its downsides. There’s no commute, parking is super easy and every day is both “Casual Friday” and “Take Your Pet to Work” day. That being said, feelings of isolation can be overwhelming (at least at first), and it can be challenging to separate work life from home life when they’re happening in the same space. Also, depending on the home situation, distractions from co-workers can pale in comparison to family distractions, especially if small children are a factor. It’s a stressful time for everyone.
Everyone is trying to figure out how best to handle this situation, so some of the best effort we can put forth as a leader is in helping our team rise to meet this challenge. Do they have the equipment they need to get their job done? Do they need to rearrange their work hours to accommodate their family’s new schedule? How can we help? We can be flexible and still hold our team accountable for their effort.
Being the one in charge of a team can be a lonely position, and we’re not immune to that feeling of being adrift in the WFH situation that is now our reality. It’s essential to remember, however, that we’re not alone in this. Let’s check with peers at our company, or with colleagues at our level in other companies. How are they doing? What challenges are they facing? Sometimes, all we need to know is that our situation isn’t unique. Also, they might have solutions to problems we’ve been trying to figure out and vice versa.
In the days before the coronavirus, transitioning from a traditional office setting to fielding telecommuting teams was a well-thought-out process. It required examining the company’s structure and slowly rolling out changes over time, allowing everyone to get used to this new way of working. Slamming into an emergency WFH pandemic exodus has been jarring for both leaderships and staff members.
Recognizing the challenges, being open to new solutions, and keeping a check on our team’s state of mind will allow us to navigate this unprecedented change in the workplace and potentially come out better than before. And who knows? Once the “all clear” is given, working from home might be the preferred way to go.