By Amanda Augustine, careers expert for TopCV
If you were not accustomed to working remotely before the pandemic, you may have found it challenging at first to manage your team from their home offices. Now, after working from home for more than a year, you’ve learnt that there’s more to managing a remote team than merely rolling out a new communication tool and monitoring everyone’s productivity.
While there can be many upsides to working remotely, it’s important to note that not everyone thrives in this environment. In fact, many of your staff may be experiencing high stress levels, having difficulty staying focussed, and feeling disconnected from their team. As a manager, it’s important to recognise these issues and do what you can to help keep your team happy, healthy, and subsequently, productive. The following tips will help you make these improvements to your work-from-home management strategy.
Establish a communication plan
When working remotely — especially for those team members who’ve been hired in the past year — it is much easier for people to feel as though they’re missing out on something important. The odds of accidentally leaving someone off an email thread or meeting invite increase when your team is no longer working out of the same office space.
However, you can mitigate some of these issues by establishing a clear communication plan. This includes everything from defining which communication platforms (e.g. Slack, email, phone, Zoom) to use in certain circumstances, to clarifying whether or not your team is expected to turn their video cameras on for every Zoom meeting.
This is also a great opportunity to reassess your communication tools and processes to determine if anything should be changed. For example, should your team test having voice-only meetings on Fridays to reduce Zoom fatigue? Would the team prefer to do a group huddle at the end of each work day versus at the start of it? Now’s the time to optimise your communication.
Set clear expectations
As companies consider reopening their doors, remaining fully virtual, or adopting a hybrid office model, use this opportunity to reiterate your expectations when people are working remotely. For example, how “flexible” can people be with their working hours? Are there any particular time frames throughout the week you expect everyone to be available and responsive? How should someone signal to their teammates that they’ll be offline when taking a holiday?
In addition, provide regular updates on the team’s priorities and goals so everyone is clear on what they should be focussing on and how their performance will be measured.
Equip your team
As manager, part of your job is to make sure your team has the resources and support they need to do their job well. Find out if any of your staff has been merely getting by with their makeshift home office set-up and could benefit from an extra monitor, a headset, or a better camera for their laptop. If you don’t have the budget for such improvements, there are plenty of free and low-cost tools on the market that can help your team, for example, removing background noise from conference calls. You can also encourage your team to create a shared list of browser extensions, apps, and other hacks that have made it easier for them to work from home.
This is also a great time to reevaluate the tools you’ve been using for the past year and determine what has (and has not) been working for the team. You may not be able to switch project management tools overnight, but you can get a better understanding of your team’s concerns and needs so you can make a plan to address them.
In addition to the tools your employees need to perform their duties from home, also consider how you can better equip your team to handle the stress and Covid-19 burnout that many are experiencing. For example, is your company offering free subscriptions to mental wellness or mediation apps like Calm or Headspace? Can HR offer any resources for those who require additional support during times of crisis? You may not have the budget to host a company webinar about stress management, but you might be able to find a free event online that you could share with your team.
Check in more regularly
Make a point of checking in with your team on a regular basis to see how they are managing. This can be as simple as sending a Slack message or email at the start of the working day or taking a moment at the beginning of a meeting to ask how those in attendance are faring. This small gesture can have a bigger impact than you might imagine on people’s wellbeing.
You might also reconsider increasing the cadence of your one-to-one meetings. If you were meeting with each direct report for, say, an hour every other week, you might adjust these to 30 minutes every week so you’re checking in more regularly. This will allow you to more easily identify any particular stressors that your staff member is experiencing.
Also, consider allotting a few extra minutes at either the beginning or end of these meetings to simply catch up with one another. This can help make up for those little impromptu conversations that used to take place in the company kitchen, at each other’s desks, or when you’d bump into one another in the hallway or by the lift.
If your company is regularly checking-in with employees on topics such as job satisfaction, communication, and work environment via staff pulse surveys, be sure to keep an eye out for any major changes in employee sentiment. While not all pulse surveys will provide results at the departmental level, the overall results can be indicative of how your team may be feeling.
Lead by example
You can’t expect your team to use their paid time off (PTO), set appropriate boundaries for their working hours, truly “sign off” at the end of the work day, or utilise flexible hours if you’re not modelling this behaviour as well. Think twice before sending that email in the wee hours of the morning or over the weekend — that’s what the “Schedule Send” function is for. By demonstrating what a healthy work-life balance looks like through your actions, you’re helping to prevent future employee burnout throughout your team.
Managing your remote team for the long-term
As many top employers share their plans to adopt a hybrid office model, rather than bringing their staff back to the office full-time, it’s clear that no one should still view their remote set-up as a temporary arrangement.
Now, it’s more important than ever for managers to shift their focus from simply keeping their team operational in a virtual setting to ensuring their employees feel supported, remain engaged, and are productive for the long-term.