Even under normal circumstances, being a manager can be challenging. However, the sudden transition to working from home – during a pandemic no less – is proving difficult for those up and down the chain of command.
When you’ve got a whole team of workers to worry about – along with their quality of work, their workloads, their output, their morale – suddenly having to do so at a distance can be very worrisome. You can’t simply glance over and see everyone working away like you normally would in the office.
Very real concerns; such as trust issues, lack of control, and your team’s overall wellbeing; can easily bubble to the surface. Though we can’t magically make #WorkingFromHome plain sailing, we have identified 11 ways to make managing a remote team more… well… manageable. Let’s dive right in.
1. Find the Right Online Tools
First up, we need to get everyone on the same page. Though you may already be sharing work through tools like Office 365 and G Suite, you still need a method for quick, hassle free communication. Slack is a firm favourite here at Yell; it’s a great alternative to ping-ponging emails back and forth where short, informal messages will suffice. You can set up numerous Slack channels for different departments, different projects, or for just letting your hair down.
2. Double Down on Being a Good Manager
When the going gets tough, teams need positive, caring, flexible leadership. During any transitional period – including the transition to remote work – good communication is essential. When you’re delegating tasks or providing feedback, always clearly communicate what needs to happen next – manage expectations, set solid deadlines, and plant firm goal posts. Never leave anything up to assumptions or guesswork.
But communication isn’t just about divvying out day-to-day tasks. Good leaders also communicate the big picture behind any projects and goals. When your team know the grand outcome that they’re working towards, they’re more likely to feel included, motivated, and valued.
3. Celebrate Success – Now More Than Ever
When things are trucking along nicely, some managers stay complacently quiet. But when leaders don’t provide positive feedback to their team, it’s easy for staff to become demotivated and disillusioned. In an office setting, when bosses neglect to celebrate and give thanks for a job well done, it can erode morale. But when your team are physically apart, sequestered in their homes without the camaraderie of the workplace, feelings of thanklessness and underappreciation can become downright toxic.
So recognise and celebrate milestones, give thanks for great work, and recognise that everyone’s trying their best through these difficult times. This kind of appreciation can help to keep staff motivated to keep at it when distractions arise.
4. Foster Trust
When you can see everyone beavering away in the office, you can generally rest easy that work is getting done. But when you don’t have those visual cues to lean on, it’s easy to assume that they’re all bunking off. This kind of thinking easily leads to micromanagement and nitpicky surveillance – in turn causing poor morale and heaps of resentment.
The pace of throughput may slow a little due to the distractions of home and parenting, but if you’ve got no tangible reason to suspect your team of slacking, there’s no need to get too draconian.
Also remember too that trust is a two-way street. If you act in a trustworthy manner and keep your own promises, your team is likely to trust you more and feel more secure in their work.
5. Value Transparency
Sometimes at work, pertinent information will filter through non-standard channels – or simply get barked across the office! Unfortunately there’s no such luxury when you’re all working from home. When incomplete information is shared or unsure responses are given to clear questions, the rumour mill can start to work overtime.
So take it upon yourself to clarify all information from higher-ups or other departments so you can fully and accurately pass it on to your staff. When your team ask questions about progress or projects elsewhere in the company, be an open book as much as professionally possible. The more clear information people have to go on, the less likely they are to try to fill in any gaps with hearsay.
6. Encourage Social Interaction
Work is undoubtedly a very social place. Strong friend groups are often formed by working together. People who live alone may look forward to coming into work and interacting with others. Actively being around other people is a necessary human need, so working from home can be a real culture shock.
It’s important to give your team the chance to have a bit of a natter, just like they would in the office. A bit of idle “water cooler talk” does wonders for mentally stretching one’s legs. So try to introduce a way for your team to interact with each other socially. For example, Slack lets you open numerous different chat channels, so keep one open for people to let their hair down; share jokes and memes; and generally get away from work for 5 minutes here and there.
Side note: Informal corners of work-managed resources like these are a great place for a bit of low-key team building. Ask people to share what they’re having for lunch; what they’re looking forward to having for dinner; how they make their favourite tea, coffee, or smoothie; pictures of their working setup; pets; and so on. Even these small, frivolous interactions can help keep a team happy and united.
7. Help People Adjust
Some people will naturally adjust to working from home better than others. Some have taken lockdown in their stride, and some are really struggling with feelings of isolation and confusion. As a manager, showing that you care can be difficult at the best of times, but let your team know you’re available to talk privately about their new, post-lockdown challenges.
Time at home may be exacerbating personal issues, so focus on supporting members of your team who are feeling particularly anxious, isolated, or find themselves needing sincere help.
8. Keep Criticism Professional
You wouldn’t tell someone off in the middle of the office in front of everyone. So don’t provide any negative feedback on group communication channels. If you need to discipline a member of your team, arrange a video call with them to discuss things one-on-one.
Why a video call? Because things can often seem a little more blunt and serious when presented as text, which may result in hackles being automatically raised. However, when you jump on a video call, you can see each other’s body language and tone of voice, allowing you both to appraise the situation a little more rationally.
9. Measure Output, Not Hours Worked
Some managers like to know that their staff are at their desks 7-and-a-half hours a day, 5 days a week. However, when we really get down to it, Orwellian “time at desk” metrics don’t practically account for much. Two people can be at their PCs, looking as if they’re working equally as hard when they’re really not. It’s their output – the practical work they complete – that really matters.
Think – are there any KPIs that meaningfully measure throughput of work rather than mere clock in and clock out times? How can you make sure everyone’s upholding their fair share of the bargain, whilst also recognising that some tasks are more complex than others?
If you do have a way of measuring throughput, ensure that team members can review their own progress. You could even publish a weekly digest of team accomplishments! This could potentially boost morale and feelings of camaraderie.#WorkingFromHome is one thing, but how do you effectively manage and lead a #remoteteam? Let’s find out… #WFH Click To Tweet
10. Help Your Staff Prioritise
Let’s not sugarcoat it – working from home is hard. Our homes are loaded with distractions – many of which can be found on the very machines we’re using to do our jobs. And both work-wise and in our personal lives, we’re more connected than ever – emails and notifications are constantly pinging in, vying for our limited time and attention.
And even with open, team-wide communication methods, it’s easy for smaller tasks to be pushed around over email and direct message, away from prying eyes. This can easily lead to some team members having more on their plate than others. As a manager, you need to be aware of this and regularly maintain one-on-one contact with each team member to make sure that work is being distributed fairly and evenly.
11. Bear Different People’s Circumstances in Mind
Remote working provides a great opportunity for staff to work with their own limitations, not against them.
Early risers may prefer to get up at the crack of dawn and get everything completed by the early afternoon. Night owls may get up later and work late. Those with parenting or caring roles at home may appear and disappear throughout the day as needs arise. Single parents or those who live alone may require a little more time socialising with colleagues so as to not feel isolated. Some may be juggling homeschooling duties, others may have signed up to be NHS Volunteer Responders. Some folks may need large blocks of uninterrupted focus to carry out their work, others less so.
And because we’re dealing with a pandemic right now, it’s now more important than ever to have a plan that evenly distributes each team member’s work in case they fall ill.
So maintain open channels of communication and encourage people to be completely frank about their needs and challenges. Because in times like these, we all need more unity.
So how are you coping with managing a team at a distance? What tools are you using to stay connected? Has this article inspired you to try anything new? Let us know down in the comments!