Some of the biggest challenges for employers managing remote teams, often for the first time, include workers struggling with loneliness, managing their time, and communication among staff members.
What’s more, as the government starts to impose tougher restrictions ahead of the ‘second wave’, companies may be forcing their staff back to the remote environment.
While this all can be tough, finding a practical strategy that works can help you and your team make it through these trying times. Here are a few points that some of our homeworking managers have shared with us that might offer some much-needed wisdom!
Set Clear Expectations
While many of us may have acclimatized to the remote working lifestyle by now, a large proportion of the job market have been trust back into the office environment again after following government orders. Consequently, transitioning back into remote working is a difficult pill to swallow for managers and employees alike.
Make no mistake, inexperienced remote workers have been suddenly thrust into unfamiliar working environments and their daily routines are all over the place. With that in mind, ensure you give your team crystal clear expectations of what you want them to achieve. Clear direction from you takes the pressure off them and helps everyone to know what success looks like to you. It may be worthwhile weighting their job descriptions if the balance has shifted due to home working so your team understands what aspects of their role takes priority.
Treat Homeworkers as though they were in the office
If your team were in the office, would they have regular access to you? If that is the case, things should not change for them when working from home.
At the start of working from home, you may have had to contact your staff on a regular basis to avoid any feelings of loneliness/isolation, until things settled down. While you and your staff may be in the swing of things, it’s still extremely important that a clear line of communication is continued and you manage your staff as if they were in close proximity to you.
People need to feel part of the team, now more than ever.
We’re probably all sick of the thought of Zoom meetings (both in a professional and personal capacity), but truly, what would we do without it?
We are very lucky nowadays to have so many communication options available to us. Using video conferencing is a really inclusive way of holding a meeting with your team Microsoft 365’s Team, Zoom, and Google Meet amongst many others are great ways of very easily holding a face to face team meeting. Telephone Conference calls, Facetime and Skype are other ways to keep in touch when you can’t physically meet with your team. Whatever you choose, try to forge an inclusive contact plan that offers everyone consistency, routine and the chance to be heard.
Notice one of your team is not themselves? Follow up with a call and use Video-Based Coaching to help them, regular contact will help you spot such issues. Working alone from home is not for everyone. For some, being alone all day is their idea of hell while others are more than happy in their own company. Keep in mind that everyone tends to offer a brave face – be careful not to ignore the signs.
A particularly useful method we have employed here at Langley James is employing a ‘buddy-up’ system, whereby two employees maintain regular contact and catch-up with one another.
Maintain focus by setting objectives and use a progress monitoring system to keep people on track. It’s vital your team understands why you need to follow their progress to avoid feelings of distrust. Instead, this is about the business remaining on course for success while helping you to foresee any issues, offer extra support or opportunities to improve the process.
Trust Your Team
You might feel unsure as to whether the work will get done to the same standard as if they were in the office. To cope with this, set up work-from-home guidelines, e.g. emails must be responded to within 24 hours e.g. use text for urgent matters, e.g. no calls between certain hours to make sure teammates are not working around the clock e.g. limiting social media usage etc. Set the rules and trust the team to follow them. If they don’t, it’s easy to refer to the rule and avoid conflict and negativity.
With this being said, the same rules apply for employees who are working overtime. Indeed, many employers are finding that their staff cannot switch ‘work mode’ off after hours. It’s hard when your computer is just sitting there. The temptation to answer emails and calls on a Sunday evening has become a frequent occurrence for many of the working-from-home army in recent months.
With no-scheduled holidays to look forward to and an impending second lockdown on the horizon, it’s important to remind your staff that they need to avoid those feelings of ‘burning out’ and ultimately ‘switching off’ when the day is done.
Make It Feel Inclusive
Ensure that any news in the business is always circulated to home workers at the same time that the rest of the team are being made aware. There is nothing quite as demotivating as finding out a business critical decision from someone else in the business who was made aware before you – frankly it just makes people feel second class.
Remember, this peculiar remote environment employees have been thrusted into will have mental implications for many – with feelings of anxiety, stress and loneliness at its highest. This is only exacerbated by the economic effects as a result of the virus, with many employees fearing that they may be made redundant. The remote work is likely to make staff overthink about their position within the company, so being as open and transparent as possible will be crucial for work productivity and morale.
Remember the Company Vision
Ensure that home workers still feel part of the overall company vision and how they fit in. To work productively people need to know that their efforts are contributing towards the overall goal. Yes, this crisis might have thrown a cat amongst the pigeons and changed the short/medium term vision, however that change needs to be properly communicated to maintain motivation and focus.
Have Reliable Tools First
Ensure your team has the tools to do the job. Broadband is absolutely critical for most of us however, connection reliability may be an issue, especially in more rural areas. Suggest alternative venues for employees struggling with this issue such as working with other colleagues, friends or family. Look for alternatives like Dongles, mobile phone hotspots, etc and try to offer solutions instead of problems for your staff to solve.
Create A Team-to-Manager and Visa Versa Communication Strategy
Managing a productive team remotely begins with a strategy for communication. Be aware of how disruptive ‘over-communication’ can be to your day and set out a process so your team knows when it’s appropriate to call you. First, arrange for the appropriate number of weekly formal “report-ins.” Second, set guidelines about daily needs. Some people work better with a shopping list of questions and thoughts while others like a trickle. An understanding of what is urgent will further mitigate inefficiency, allowing ultimate productivity, maybe asking team members to question “ Is it Urgent?” or can it wait. Encourage email or instant messages for less urgent issues reserving phone call interruptions for the meaningful stuff. That all said, be aware that some of your team may need reassurance or guidance to be productive so assess on a case by case basis.
Establish Close Bonds, Help And Support Frequently
Empathise and appreciate your team member’s life by discussing family, commonalities and shared beliefs you employees would normally discuss this in the office with their colleagues, its worthwhile investing this time in getting to know them. Show you are supportive of their success by using inquiry to help them achieve their goals rather than check on their progress and numbers. Avoid closed questions like, have you done X?, or did you manage to call Y? You have no idea what they have had to deal with and so, if something has interfered with the plan, the only answer they can give is negative resulting in humiliation and defensive confrontation. Instead ask, What progress have you made on X? or, How’s your morning been? Qualify the situation first and then ask more detailed questions.
Share Team Success
Ensure that everyone gets to know about achievements and make a real fuss, it will create a team feel good factor and let us face it we all need some good news at this unusual time!
So, there you have it. Some really useful advice from people who’ve been through the highs and lows of remote working before. Welcome to the new normal!
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