As many companies are making the shift to working remotely, managers are now tasked with helping their team make that transition and ensuring they have the tools they need both personally and professionally. This sudden shift introduces a new set of unique challenges as we are looking to support our team members, address their concerns, and enable them to continue working in an engaging environment. We’ve had considerable experience in managing our own remote workforce, and here is what we’ve found best to manage remote teams.
Define Your Collaboration Style and Set the Expectations
Let your team know when and where to communicate and what tools the team will be using. If you are moving to an online collaboration tool like Slack or Teams and away from an office culture of in-person meetings and email, you may need to reset expectations on message response time and the appropriate place to engage.
For some, real-time chat can be disruptive and frustrating, while others on your team may find comfort in being able to connect with members of the team quickly. Working with your team to find the right balance can help ease frustrations and allow open communications while still providing space to be productive. For example, making sure everyone honors the individual status setting for your collaboration tool (Open, Busy, In a Meeting, etc.) can be a great way to let others know when you are more likely to respond quickly.
Speak Up and Reach Out Often
Since you lose the ability to communicate with your co-workers casually, you must be purposeful in how you connect with your team. If you have regularly scheduled team meetings or one-on-one meetings, increasing the frequency of your check-ins as you transition to a fully remote work environment can be beneficial.
Each member of your team will have a unique situation, and some people may need more assistance in making the transition. Individual members of your team may be impacted by non-work related changes to their daily life, like a young child now at home or an elderly parent that needs additional care. Making sure you have a good understanding of each team member’s new work environment is key to ensuring they feel comfortable communicating any needs or changes that may come up.
If you do have one-on-one meetings with your team, checking in on how they are feeling overall and what their stress level is can be an excellent way to engage each member of your team.
Expect Disruptions and Schedule Changes
As this could be a very unsettling time for everyone, you should expect some disruptions to individual team member’s schedules. Whether it’s taking conference calls and virtual meetings from home for the first time or adjusting to children now doing schoolwork online, it will be essential to be flexible and work with your team to set the new schedule. Daily schedules may not be the same for everyone. Asking your team to block off time on their Outlook or Gmail calendars when they are unavailable is a good best practice to adopt.
Let your team know that you, too, maybe experiencing a similar situation at home. There is no need to be embarrassed by everyday family chatter in the background. We are all trying to make the best of this situation, so being open about your new schedule may help ease concerns about maintaining a work-life balance. Your clients may also be experiencing the same transition challenges as they move to working remote, so being supportive can be a bit helpful to them as well!
Use Video to Connect and Engage
Video can be a considerable asset to connecting with your team in a new, remote world. Even if it is uncomfortable, visually connecting during your meeting or one-on-one can really make a significant impact on keeping your team focused. Body language is believed to be between 50-80% of communications, so being able to be seen on video will keep people engaged and more likely to join via video themselves.
If you are having an important team meeting, requiring the current speaker to be on video can be an excellent way to start using this technology. It will also be essential to understand the technology needs for each of your team members if you are going to use video. Someone may not have a camera integrated into their laptop, or internet connections may be slow due to everyone in the family now being at home.
Make it Fun and Be Flexible
Once you have the ground rules established, there’s nothing wrong with having a little fun. Utilizing your online collaboration tools, create a virtual water cooler space to share recipes, pet photos, and work-appropriate memes. Schedule time for an informal lunch, and learn to discuss a relevant work topic, book club, or Q&A.
At the end of the day, everyone will be going through a transition to get comfortable working in a new and possibly distracting environment. Being deliberate about creating a productive, engaging, and fun remote environment for your team will require some effort. Still, it can ensure your team can be successful during these challenging times.