Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is forcing a worldwide shift in how companies and employees work. In order to fight the spread of the coronavirus, many employees are being asked to work under a remote work policy. Whereas before, 70% of the world’s workforce worked remotely at least once a week prior to the pandemic erupting, the reality of 100% of the workforce now working at home full-time means employers are faced with new challenges. The suddenness of this change in how we work is also forcing managers to speedily rethink motivating and managing a now fully remote team.
Harvard University instructor Julie Wilson explains, “Managing a virtual team requires managers to double down on the fundamentals of good management, including establishing clear goals, running great meetings, communicating clearly and leveraging team members’ individual and collective strengths.” To manage a remote team successfully is a challenge even for the most experienced managers. Patience and practice are called for, yet armed with the right tools and practices, a manager can have a productive and engaged fully remote team. Here are six tips for successfully managing a remote team.
6 Key Strategies for Managing a Distributed Team
1. Make clear your expectations
A majority of teams will be diverse groups of people, so when moving to a fully remote team, managers’ priority number one should be to set out clear guidelines and expectations. This is all the more important given that some employees may have never worked from home before, some will have had some experience. Ensure then that everyone is on the same wavelength.
Failure to make expectations clear can cause issues and misunderstandings within the team, subsequently affecting workflow and team performance. Explain how your team will communicate, what tools are at hand, project deadlines, and working hours. Always communicate any change to the team. Get your expectations down on paper and email it to the team. This will avoid disagreements and ambiguity in what each team member is to do.
2. Use the right tools
Once expectations are clarified, your employees will need the right tools to meet these, making their days run smoothly and efficiently. If, as according to research, the average office worker has 5 or more apps open, you should choose tools carefully. This will prevent more app fatigue or even confusion as to where employees will find information.
Numerous communication, collaboration, and productivity-based tools exist today. These include video conferencing tools like GoRemote and apps like 24Stack which facilitate constant communication with your remote team members. As far as project management is concerned, there are tools like 24Stack which help teams with time management and not waste time and avoid unproductivity. Read up about the tools most suited for you and your team.
3. Create a video-first culture
Unlike office workers used to face-to-face interactions, employees who are working remotely for the first time can end up feeling lonely and isolated from the rest of their team. To counter this, you should encourage a video-first culture where video-conferencing takes priority over just audio conference calls or text-based apps. This way, your direct reports can have engaged and meaningful face-to-face interactions. Not only does video conferencing provide a more personal interaction but it also brings a human element to the conversation absent from other means of communication. You will better understand your teammates if you can see and hear them thanks to non-verbal communication, making for a deeper level of interaction.
4. Host regular one-on-one and team meetings
Central to maintaining engagement and productive is constantly communicating with them. Set time therefore for early week regular meetings with video conferencing to update on the progress of projects, any blockers team members are encountering, and outline their goals for the week in question. This is particularly relevant if your team members are spread across different time zones. You can then think about finishing the week with a wrap-up meeting – an opportunity to discuss achievements. Stand-up meetings can also be organized to check in with individual employees, keeping the team focused, both on outstanding work done and planning the following week.
It is equally advisable to keep the 1:1 meetings with all your so that employees stay engaged and connected. As studies show, employees who don’t have that regular 1:1 meeting are four times more likely to feel disengaged at work. Whilst managers may find 1:1 meetings cumbersome in large teams, they are key to ensuring team members feel like valued individuals and they can also ask questions, raise issues and suggestions they may be unwilling to share in the group.
5. Repeat and remind goals to help employees succeed
As Bill Gates once famously said, “As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others.” No more so than at a time when many employees will find where and how they work more challenging.
Over communicating goals and tasks to employees will be especially effective for keeping focused those employees having difficulty with the arrangements of working from home. Managers need to use easy-to-understand clear and precise language for their employees for each project. Make the most of project management tools to enable employees to stay on task, help them at each stage of the project, and know the project deadline. You won’t manage a team effectively if you’re just interested in keeping tabs on their work hours. Focus on results and team member contributions instead as a culture based on results shows you trust your team and not just think about the arbitrary 40-hour week. Instead, focus on individual team member contributions- in other words just ensure the work on time and done well.
6. Offer bonding opportunities
Social distancing doesn’t have to rhyme with social isolation. When socializing face-to-face is not possible, look at alternatives for your team to socialize away from the office team meeting environment. Social media allows your employees to set up work-appropriate social media pages, book clubs, and private chat groups where they can play games, have non-work related conversations about their work and personal lives, post pictures of their families or pets, and share personal success stories. virtual happy hours are happening in some companies where employees can interact via video whilst working from home.
Sheel Gupta, Chief Growth Officer at Humble Dot, shared on Quora how she keeps her remote workforce engaged, “One of the most common challenges to remote work is that team members feel lonely and disconnected. Being remote means your team is less likely to have spontaneous conversations and non-work related activities. I encourage remote teams to bring in-office traditions into their remote work style. For example, my team has biweekly game nights and during our remote experiment, we held a virtual game night.”
So whilst remotely managing your team can be tricky, particularly with the uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus, you can make it work. Using the right tools and processes can make for an engaging and productive team in spite of the current physical limits. Thanks to those regular team and 1:1 video meetings, your team will stay connected and focused on projects. Having that face-to-face interaction will enable coworkers to connect on a meaningful level. So even during this time of uncertainty and social isolation, if employees still feel part of a team, they will continue to invest more in the team workload, mission, and goals and take pride in all of this.