With organizations adopting new work-from-home policies to protect the health of their employees during the COVID-19 outbreak, many managers found themselves supervising a remote workforce for the first time. The pressure to maintain productivity and high standards of service during the pandemic is testing the abilities and determination of these managers. Ensuring the work gets completed to the same standards at the same pace without face-to-face interaction presents a whole new set of management challenges. Consequently, providing responsible oversight while keeping a team focused and motivated from a distance may require a whole new set of management techniques.
Getting employees to unplug after work, helping them deal with distractions and loneliness, unreliable wi-fi, and the lack of face-to-face interaction to discern intent from non-verbal cues, are just a few of the challenges that make it difficult to manage from a distance. However, by adjusting adjust their management style and embracing the challenges of managing remote workers, managers can empower their team to be just as productive working from home as they are from the office.
If the Coronavirus outbreak has thrust you into a trial by fire of managing a team of remote workers for the first time, here are five tips for fostering effective communication between employees, maintaining team culture, and keeping morale high.
1. Develop a Communication Plan
Defining team communication strategies for your distributed workforce is essential for nurturing effective teamwork. To help your team collaborate effectively, develop a simple communication plan. The plan should offer guidelines for the frequency and appropriate channels for communicating with coworkers, managers, and clients. Your communication plan doesn’t have to be extremely detailed, formal, or lengthy. It just needs to outline the simplest and clearest methods and channels for sharing information. Evaluate your communication plan regularly. Get feedback from the team on what is and isn’t working and adjust your plan accordingly.
Technology is playing a bigger role than ever in the workplace, and there is no shortage of unified communication solutions to help your team communicate and collaborate from home. it’s easy to misunderstand or miscommunicate when you’re not physically in the room with your team, but technology can help. Determine what tools and channels you have available and get agreement on the team’s preferred methods for sending and receiving communications.
Consider adopting advanced collaboration tools such as Cisco Webex Teams or Microsoft Teams to help your team keep project-related communication secure, relevant, and organized. These applications make it easy to conduct scheduled or ad-hoc video and audio meetings, chat, share files and applications, post messages, whiteboard, and more all in one secure, easy to access workspace. Team applications enable seamless collaboration not only among internal team members but with partners and customers as well, all while meeting increasingly complex security and compliance requirements.
2. Keep Your Remote Workers Engaged
Individuals who are used to working closely with their coworkers in an office are at risk of feeling disconnected from the team now that they are being forced to work remotely. Losing the ability to engage in spontaneous hallway conversations puts additional importance on recurring team meetings and one-on-ones. Making extra time for listening to team member’s suggestions and complaints can help you keep your finger on the pulse of your team without the benefit of face to face contact. Encourage them to relate stories about the day to day challenges they are facing from social distancing and working from home. Schedule frequent virtual team meetings and encourage everyone on the team to join and express their thoughts and ideas. Individuals who are given the opportunity participate in the decision making process are more likely to stay motivated, enthusiastic, and committed to achieving team goals while working from home.
3. Foster Teamwork and Collaboration
Cross-team collaboration is the key to fostering synergy and developing a cohesive team environment. Working apart makes it challenging for coworkers to brainstorm, share updates, and exchange ideas. However, distance shouldn’t prevent team members from staying connected and collaborating efficiently. Managing a remote team may require extra time and effort to raise awareness of individual challenges, progress, and accomplishments, and ensuring everyone understands how their contributions are interwoven to achieve team goals.
Clear and open communication channels across your team are crucial for enhancing teamwork and maintaining cohesion. Fostering teamwork should be a major consideration when you choose your team collaboration solution. The right tools will provide a hub that brings your team together enabling them to work together productively. Team collaboration tools can boost teamwork and empower your workers to create, innovate, and work together to produce better results faster as a team.
To keep morale high, you should promote activities that encourage team members to interact socially and learn more about each other. Use your team collaboration application or an inexpensive platform like Zoom or Google Hangouts to host a virtual happy hour after work one night. Get everyone together virtually with a beverage and a snack for casual conversation from the safety and comfort of their homes. Team members that know each other on a personal level are more inclined to work better together and help their coworkers succeed. The right amount and type of virtual social interaction will help build stronger working relationships and a happier and more productive team.
4. Establish a Work Routine for Your Remote Team
Encourage your team to follow the same routines and keep the same hours at home that they kept when they were working in the office. Sticking to a regular schedule has both physical and mental benefits and is essential for maintaining a balance between life and work. Without a defined schedule workers who are not used to being stuck in the house all day may work for long stretches without breaks; while others take too may breaks, get distracted and lose focus on their work.
Enforcing virtual office hours that require your team to begin and end their workday at the same time makes it easier for coworkers to connect and collaborate. Create a schedule with a clear start time, lunchtime and end time. Don’t schedule meetings outside of work hours or during lunch. Holding your team to an eight-hour workday schedule makes it easier to gauge progress and determine whether an individual’s workload is appropriate for a 40-hour workweek. Make sure your workers clock out at the end of each day and get away from their work. Adequate time to switch off work-mode and relax, will help your workers to recharge their batteries and avoid burnout. Urge your team to add a couple of short breaks to their daily schedule to step away from their computer for a little fresh air and exercise. Periodic physical as well as mental breaks during the day will help your team renew their energy and sense of purpose. The structure provided by a defined schedule and sticking to a daily routine can help your team deal with the uncertainty brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and provide a sense of normalcy.
5. Maintain High Performance Standards
Both managers and workers, who are new to remote working, may have concerns about the lack of opportunities for face-to-face interaction. Some managers worry that without in-person supervision, team members won’t work as efficiently at home as when they were in the office. Losing the ability to walk through the workplace to check on their team gives them the feeling they are losing insight into how work is getting done. On the other hand, workers may be struggling to deal with a remote manager. The loss of in-person access and direct support may lead them to believe their manager is out of touch with their needs. Additionally, people new to working from home may lose some awareness of whether they are meeting expectations and hitting their benchmarks.
Managing the performance of remote workers places additional importance on evaluating outcomes rather than activity. Set measurable goals for your workers that emphasize results not time spent sitting in front of their computer. Don’t lower performance expectations just because they are working from home and don’t put their careers on hold until you are back in the office. Continue challenging your team to perform at a high level while learning new skills and taking on new responsibilities.
Be explicit about the parameters for working at home and ensure your team knows what’s expected of them at all times. Continuously monitor progress on goals and priorities and hold remote workers accountable the same way you would if your team was working together in the office. A quick one-on-one video chat with each of your remote workers every morning is a great way to share updates and track progress. Spending a few minutes each day on a private video chat can provide the face-to-face interaction managers need to drive accountability and improve performance.
The New Normal?
The uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, along with the large number of workers who may be reluctant to return to the office even when closures are lifted, means you could be managing a remote workforce for an extended length of time. COVID-19 swept in quickly, forcing many organizations to shift to a remote workforce virtually overnight. You can’t predict the next crisis, but you can be prepared for it, no matter the disruption. Your ability to keep your team happy and productive working from home could be crucial for the business continuity of your organization.
Telecommuting technology is evolving to keep pace with remote workforces. Secure, reliable, and robust infrastructure is being expanded and enhanced to provide the bandwidth to accommodate seamless communication and collaboration across teams, around the world. Use the lessons learned during the pandemic to grow your remote working capabilities for the next crisis.