As many cities around the country impose curfews, shut down restaurants and bars, and set other limitations, companies are moving their workforce to the safety of their homes. Because of the unknown nature of this strand of the Coronavirus, COVID-19, it’s difficult to predict how long our teams will be working remotely to avoid further spread.
As a leader, part of your new responsibility is ensuring your employees are engaged from afar, as well as have the resources they need to be successful. That’s why it’s more important than ever to provide extra care to your direct-reports to keep the team digitally connected, according to Chief Operating Officer and co-founder of Thinkific, Miranda Lievers. “One of the biggest challenges with remote work can be isolation, and team members who find themselves unexpectedly working from home can struggle with this,” she continues. “It can also be a challenge to develop new rhythms of communication that maintain effective collaboration and business momentum when going fully remote for the first time.”
To ensure optimal productivity—and perhaps, more importantly, optimism amidst the chaos—executives share effective strategies for managing a team remotely:
Encourage team members to set up shop
Think of your desk at work. How is it organized? Do you have a spot for your notebook, a laptop stand and a pen holder? What about where you’re seated? Is it near a window? Maybe you even have a desk plant?
Even though we may not be able to recreate the scene in our dining room or the corner of our bedroom, founder and president of Elevate Experiences and author of Culture Reconstructed, Billy Boughey says it’s up to managers to teach employees how to create a productive environment at home. And, if the budget allows, to provide anything/everything they need to do so.
“Encourage your team members to raise their personal awareness of stressors so they can free up their mental hard drive for productive work,” he continues. “Motivate your team to declutter their inboxes, desks, desktops, and other common places where things have piled up.” He also notes the value of natural light and taking short breaks to boost your creativity and provide mental relief, too.
Default to over-communication
Though it’s undoubtedly more difficult to communicate when you aren’t face-to-face with your employees, it’s better to overdo it, rather than underperform. As Lievers puts it, succeeding as a team remotely comes down to how well you stay in contact with one another. “Without in-person cues and watercooler conversations, you need to be intentional about developing rhythms for pulse-checks and communicating important updates,” she explains.
At her company, which is always remote, they provide daily updates via Slack about COVID-19. And they hold weekly company-wide check-ins on Google Hangouts to deliver business developments and announcements. Whichever medium you choose, it’s important to provide a reliable outlet where your team can discuss, connect and bond.
Keep it light-hearted
Sure, ensuring your employees understand the gravity of COVID-19 is essential. And encouraging them all to remain indoors and healthy is smart too. But as we spend the next few weeks on self-imposed lockdown, team members will need a little relief from the difficult discussions.
That’s why the owner and CEO of All Aces Promotional Staffing Lauren Raimondi suggests creating a destination for light-heartedness, happiness, and distraction. Here, team members can share personal stories, funny memes, anecdotes, and other goodwill to manage everyone’s mood. As a bonus, it will also supercharge the company spirit. “It will also create a team environment where people want to collaborate instead of working on their own islands, which in turn leads to a happier, more productive team,” she adds.
Train your managers in how to support their team’s “waves”
If you are the CEO of another c-level executive and you lead people who manage teams, schedule time ASAP to talk through remote working strategies. As community and collaboration consultant and author of People Powered: How Communities Can Supercharge Your Business, Brand and Teams, Jono Bacon explains, all managers should prepare to coach their employees. “People go through different psychological states when they work from home,” he shares. “Some days you are focused, engaged, and energized. Some days you feel lonelier and more disconnected. These are called ‘waves’, and your management needs to know how to spot them and support their staff in how to manage them.”
As an example, if someone reports having cabin fever, suggest they go for a walk outside to clear their mind and fill their lungs with fresh air. Or, if they are feeling lonely, spending some more time on video calls with teammates or social calls with their peers can help, Bacon notes. “Train your managers in how to have these conversations and provide recommendations to their team members when they share these waves,” he adds.
Process, process, process.
Though it may feel tedious, processes actually provide a sense of conformity that’s comforting when everything else feels unreliable or scary. As vice president of marketing at Budsies and Petsies explains, this ‘control’ can be reassuring when the world around your teams is out of their control.
Come up with various ways to submit deadlines, carve schedules and keep everyone on the same playing field with a shared goal. “This helps set an appropriate cadence of standards and expectations, including collaboration, task management, consistency, and ensuring everyone on the team feels comfortable and confident executing changes and exploring new realms of their position,” she continues. “It allows for a whole new level of self-assurance, which is even more important for remote team members.”
Cater to each team member’s needs, when you can.
As you already know from having a diverse team of creatives, those who use their left-brain more and data-crunchers, everyone has various communication styles. As a leader, learning what is most effective for each individual is essential to management. This is still true when you’re leading them remotely.
Tiara Zolnierz, the co-founder of EnrichHER suggests carving out time for staff one-on-ones to overcome this long-distance hurdle. “A lot of times when the entire team is contributing online, we forget that each person still needs individual attention to address their concerns,” she continues. “As such, it’s still really important to hold individual 1:! video conference calls with each team member so that the team member can address their concerns and share their success.”
Set parameters for technology.
Or in other words: make rules on how you check-in and which medium you choose. It’s better to create a team-wide mandate so that everyone is living up to the same expectations. Boughey says if one person is on video during conference calls, everyone should be.
“A great way to keep the non-verbal elements of communication intact is to maintain the visual element of communication. Although it isn’t the exact same as being in person, turning the camera on and having ample light in the room will help stay connected at a higher level,” he explains. While supplies are still in stock on Amazon and beyond, double-check that all team members have headphones, and other tech goods needed to perform their function.