Leadership in the time of COVID-19: 10 Tips for Managing a Remote Team
The effect of COVID-19 has greatly changed the way we work. Teams that once thrived in collaborative office environments now find themselves facing the challenges of working remotely indefinitely. While research shows there are numerous benefits of working remotely including increased productivity, profitability, and employee engagement, it takes strong leadership skills to successfully manage your team, especially when faced with uncertainty as we navigate the COVID-19 crisis.
Top Challenges Teams Face when Transitioning to Remote Work
It’s likely your team has been working remotely for the past several months now, and while you may have adjusted to your new schedule there are probably still a few challenges your team continues to face as you now accept the reality of longer-term remote work policies.
We are lucky to have so many communication tools at our disposal, from email and Slack to phone calls and text messages. But losing face-to-face contact can erode our ability to truly connect with one another. Communication barriers while working remotely often leave employees feeling disconnected.
Productivity can be a contentious topic when it comes to remote work. Studies have indicated that remote employees are 35-45% more productive than their in-office co-workers. However, employees working from home can also face more distractions, as homelife responsibilities and duties begin to blur with work tasks.
As the boundaries between work and home life become a grey area, there are plenty of ways you can personally maintain a healthy work-life balance while working from home. As a leader, it’s also your responsibility to encourage your team to establish their own healthy habits to reduce burnout and increase engagement.
How to Manage Remote Employees
1. Schedule regular team meetings
Scheduling a recurring meeting for your team to touch base is a great way to establish a routine and stay updated on any success, challenges, or blockers your team might be facing. Whether you opt for shorter daily stand-ups or longer less frequent meetings will depend on your team and the nature of your projects. The key to success is establishing consistency and making sure meetings remain a good use of time.
2. Create smaller agile teams
Without the ability to meet in-person, we lose a lot of the human element that naturally allows for conversation to flow. While platforms like Zoom and Google Hangouts make these meetings possible, they can start to feel like soliloquies, as team members listen on mute. Prioritizing smaller group meetings encourages greater participation from the entire team, and increases engagement.
3. Track achievements, not time
Time tracking can be a great way to monitor team productivity and keep projects moving forward. But within a remote team and under stressful circumstances of our current reality, a hard number of hours spent “working” is not truly reflective of productivity. Rather than feeling the need to schedule tasks down to the hour, instead, focus on measuring productivity based on completed deliverables and holistic project progress.
4. Communicate openly
The uncertainty of COVID-19 has left everyone feeling uneasy. Changing policies and guidelines are hard to keep stay on top of. As a leader, you don’t need to have all of the answers, and your team will understand when you don’t. The key to building trust is being open and communicating honestly about what you do know and what your team can expect from you as a manager.
5. Manage expectations
Effectively managing your team’s expectations is closely tied to open communication. Clearly defining project scope, requirements, deliverables, and deadlines will set you and your team up for success. Be clear about what you expect from your team.
6. Make time to check-in individually
Social isolation can start to creep in for teams used to a busy or social office environment. Be sure to schedule time with each of your team members to touch-base. Fostering a personal connection with individuals will help strengthen your team by creating a supportive atmosphere.
7. Listen and ask questions
Understanding that the COVID-19 pandemic affects each individual differently, empathy is a key leadership skill as you and your team navigate this new work environment. It’s pertinent that you take time to grow personal connections with employees so that you can support them effectively during this uncertain time.
8. Embrace flexible work schedules
Everyone’s circumstances are different. Many are caretakers, or parents, now juggling the demands of childcare with work duties. The standard 9-5 work hours may not be realistic under the changing circumstances. Trust that your team will continue to manage their work responsibilities on a schedule that works for their unique situation.
9. Leverage technology
Technology will continue to play a vital role in how you work and communicate as a team. Many top tech companies are providing free access to enterprise video conferencing software during this time. Organizations both big and small can take advantage of offers from Microsoft, Cisco Webex, and Zoom.
10. Keep the culture alive
Positive work environments are proven to increase engagement among employees and contribute to organizational profitability. Maintaining that team camaraderie can become a challenge when physical separation is the norm. Many companies are exploring options to keep employees connected from virtual happy hours to socially distanced team sports to foster connection and establish a sense of normalcy.