No matter if your tech and offsite setup is top-notch, managing a remote team is no easy feat. And in our current working climate – adjusting to our new normal of work from home (WFH) due to COVID-19 lockdowns and quarantine – you can bet there will be several added factors that makes this an even greater challenge.
The good news is that there are practical ways to avoid or minimise these issues. Ultimately, being aware of them and implementing solid processes will allow managers to get the best out of their team – no matter where they are working from.
Below are 9 key considerations for managing a remote team.
1. Be clear about expectations from the get-go
Don’t assume that you are all on the same page. No matter how well your team works – both in the physical workplace, offsite or WFH – it’s incredibly important in this time of COVID-19 that you set out expectations clearly so that everyone is working toward the same objective. It’s equally important to revisit these expectations on a regular basis (i.e. every morning during your team catchup) so that you reduce any doubts or uncertainty around what it is that each member needs to be focusing on. If anything, overcommunicating (without overdoing it) is necessary.
Your expectations should also include how often your team should be meeting i.e. a daily morning virtual call, or perhaps twice a day: morning (daily planning) and afternoon (daily summary). Without having this in place, your team will get side-tracked and lose accountability due to having no day-to-day structure. Make it known that you expect all team members to be in this meeting, otherwise some may interpret it to be optional.
Avoid ambiguity at all costs. Not only will it impact the team’s outcomes but being vague or unclear also kills engagement. Team members might be sitting around waiting for your instructions because you weren’t clear about when tasks start, for example. As a result, this also amplifies the isolation factor, which you also need to prevent. More on this in point 5.
2. Provide extra reassurance through your own transparency
Some of your team members will not like working offsite or WFH – consider whether they are in true self-isolation (i.e. live alone or have minimal interaction). Reach out or check in on them a bit more regularly to help them settle in better and offer some tips that have helped you. These small gestures can make the biggest difference and helps your team remember you’re all in this together.
On the flip side, your team members who don’t mind WFH may find that they are struggling due to not knowing when our lockdown period will end. Or maybe they’re not used to such a long WFH scenario. Again, provide reassurance by sharing that even as their manager, you are in the same boat. Be honest and communicate that no one expects the WFH environment to work perfectly, no matter your setup. Tech issues, family priorities and other factors are bound to impact their usual work structure.
3. Don’t hesitate to check on progress
Missing this crucial step has seen many teams fall behind. You’ll soon realise how our day-to-day communication is taken for granted when the entire team is working remotely.
In a physical work setting, it’s easy to get a sense of how your team is tracking and they also have the opportunity to provide you with updates at any given time during the day. But even with virtual calls being a great tool when WFH, some updates will be missed and the frequency of your meetings may not be enough to give you a real idea of how everyone is tracking.
It’s best to be upfront in asking any team members about where a certain task is up to – remember that this is not about micro-managing but ensuring the dialogue is open and that you have a transparent view of your team’s activities and outcomes.
Ensure you tailor your check ins to suit your team’s style and the nature of their tasks and projects.
4. Drive inclusion
Don’t underestimate the power of inclusion in times like these, and its role when maintaining an efficient team. While it may be hard to pinpoint what exactly contributes to inclusion, everyone knows what it’s like when it’s missing.
Whether or not your team has a great dynamic, feeling like you’re part of a team will have its challenges while we’re all separated and communicating virtually. Find opportunities to be more inclusive in your team calls, emails, chats and other points of contact by including all team members in your comms and offer greater support. Perhaps someone is a bit quieter on the call or hasn’t had an opportunity to speak amongst all the catching up. Be a good moderator, as well as a good manager, by considering each personality in your team and paying attention to when someone needs to feel more included.
Additionally, advocate for your team to maintain interaction and provide emotional support to each other, too.
5. Avoid anything that amplifies isolation
Be extra mindful of managerial behaviours or processes that could undo your team’s efficiencies. These include things like:
- Having unrealistic expectations
- Failing to check in
- Not responding or being accessible
- Not sticking to meeting times, cancelling or constantly rescheduling
- Not looping your team members in on other activities
- Doing the opposite of what you’ve set out
- Being a bad example or poor leader
- Putting unnecessary added pressure on your team
- Taking credit or not giving credit
- A lack of understanding of everyone’s workload
- No effort made for the team
- Being negative
- Withholding critical business information or updates
6. Celebrate efforts and wins more publicly
Telling your team members they’ve done a good job virtually may be more difficult versus when we do it in passing at the office. Also, it doesn’t always hold the same weight when you’re sending it via a chat box. Use your regular virtual video calls to celebrate each team member’s efforts and achievements, and collate these acknowledgements in an email so everyone has a record of it.
7. Send out special updates
Linked to celebrating your team’s efforts and wins, sending out a daily update via email to call out any significant calendar dates (such as birthdays, work anniversaries) is a great way to have another point of contact and acknowledge events that you would have otherwise celebrated together, face-to-face as a team. You might want to share success stories, breakthroughs or people going the extra mile given the challenging market environment for most industries and sectors right now.
8. Encourage fun, team building and wellness
The extent of Australia’s social distancing and self-isolation rules means our mental wellness is being put to the test in ways many of us have never experienced. Even colleagues living with family or roommates are feeling the impact of decreased socialisation, loneliness, stress and anxiety – not just those living and WFH alone.
Find a way to continue team building via your team WhatsApp chat, for example. Sharing funny content or a photo of the sunrise you caught on your morning jog are great ways to keep the casual team dialogue going, while also keeping spirits up and maintaining positivity.
While the reality of WFH for many of us is actually the opposite of vegging out on the couch or having nothing to do, many of us are finding it hard to peel ourselves away from the computer. Don’t blur work with life – you should lead by example by taking your usual lunch break and avoid working late hours just because the laptop is right there. Go for a run or walk before you start the day, get fresh air between meetings, grab a takeaway coffee or find a way to pin an outdoor activity between logging off from work and winding down. Let your team know how important it is to keep these breaks going when they’re WFH, as they help with focus, concentration and mental wellbeing.
9. Respect your team's time and work hours
Just because we're all WFH doesn't mean managers get 24/7 access to team members. If there's an urgent request, inform your team in the most effective way (usually a text message that they'll see immediately) rather than assuming that your email will be read at 9pm.
Some of your team may even need to adjust their WFH hours or finish at a certain time due to other commitments, just as they did when working from your office or worksite. Be considerate of this.
The COVID-19 pandemic has no doubt put extra pressure on businesses globally, so it's a reality that extra hours may be required as we nagivate through this uncertainty with its many challenges. Ensure you've communicated this from the start and check which team members are on board should additional hours be required. If they do step up, and go above and beyond, ensure they are adequately recognised, rewarded and praised.