*This post was written at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, stay tuned for an updated version coming in 2022!
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve, and businesses across the country are responding to changing government policies by sending their employees home to work remotely – many for the first time. As a manager, your team is going to be looking to you for leadership, direction and reassurance as the crisis unfolds.
Sorry – does that sound like a lot of pressure? Don’t worry! For everyone out there feeling like they’re being thrown into this situation completely unprepared, we’ve put together some advice for managers who are doing their jobs remotely for the first time.
Stick to the usual routine
Amidst all the disruption, it’s up to you to give your team some sense of normality. This sounds daunting, but it’s actually really simple. As much as possible, try and keep regular meetings, stick to regular working hours and encourage your team to take lunch and coffee breaks at their usual time as well.
Over the next few weeks, your routine will likely change. You may find some recurring meetings are no longer necessary and you’ll discover more effective and efficient ways of scheduling your day and working with your team, but during the initial transition period, try and keep to the status quo if you can. This familiar structure will help your team adjust to the change in routine and allow for an easier transition as they settle into their new set-up.
Establish daily check ins
Now more than ever, your team needs your advice, support and guidance. Chances are, you’ve already been doing regular one-on-ones with your team, which is great, and it’s a good idea to not only keep those meetings, but to increase their length and frequency as well.
Working from home can be a major transition for members of your team and it’s likely some of them will have a tough time adjusting. The best thing you can do as a manager is to check in with them constantly to see how they’re feeling, what they’re working on and if they need help with anything. Don’t wait for them to reach out to you and let you know they’re struggling – ask them directly.
Communicate, communicate, communicate
Everything is changing, and this includes the way you communicate with your team. In the office, there are endless opportunities to connect, collaborate and socialize. Casual discussions happen nearly constantly throughout the day – a comment about that big project as you walk past your colleague’s desk, a chat about that difficult client while you’re waiting for your turn to use the microwave. In a remote work setting, communication has to be much more intentional.
Avoid relying on email, try and encourage your team to utilize video chat platforms like Microsoft Teams, Skype and Zoom whenever possible. So much of human communication is non-verbal, and by connecting ‘face-to-face’ you’ll cut down on miscommunications and be better equipped to gauge your team’s mood and reactions.
Set clear expectations
This is not business as usual, not by a long shot, so you can’t assume your team will simply carry on with their tasks as they’ve always done and continue to produce the same results.
From day one, set very clear expectations with each of your team members. Establish a work plan, and communicate priorities, expectations and desired results. Ensure everyone understands the expectations around availability, accountability and communication. There should be no question about what each individual is expected to contribute to the collective goal of the team and the company.
The fact of the matter is, working remotely can be pretty darn lonely, and, in the absence of the office water cooler, there isn’t much chance of random social interactions happening between your team members. So, how can you get your team to socialize from afar? It can be as simple as making time for small talk during the first few minutes of the morning meeting. Even in the midst of a pandemic, people still want to chat about what’s going on in their lives – for example, that awesome new show they started on Netflix or how much money they’ve spent on UberEats since being in isolation. Opening the door for these types of light-hearted conversations promotes a sense of normalcy and can reduce feelings of loneliness among your team members.
Demonstrate optimism and confidence
As the crisis continues to unfold, your team is looking to you to alleviate their concerns and provide structure and support. Gulp – talk about pressure. You’re only human, and chances are you’re feeling just as stressed as they are, but if you set an example, we promise, they’ll follow your lead. It’s okay to acknowledge the uncertainty everyone’s feeling right now, in fact, we encourage it. There’s fear in the unknown, so it’s important to be transparent with your team about the changes happening within your organization and be sure to clearly communicate the ‘why’ behind those changes. As a leader, it’s up to you to set the tone: encourage open communication, empower your team and demonstrate optimism and confidence about the future. You got this.
If you’d like to learn more about managing a team remotely, check out this blog! It summarizes a webinar we hosted alongside HAVAN and Kuhn LLP, providing information about a business’ legal responsibilities to employees as well as strategies to keep employees informed during this time of crisis, and best practices for keeping your team engaged, motivated, and focused on moving forward.