With the world going into lockdown, keeping the business wheels turning is one of the greatest challenges most managers are currently facing. This is particularly true for those who have been given the responsibility for managing a remote workforce for perhaps the first time.
Prior surveys have shown that remote workers can face challenges such as feelings of isolation, a lack of clear direction and no clear guidelines outlining what’s expected of them, so the onus really is on front line managers to up the ante and revisit their management style to support their remote teams fully.
Here are a few tips for making this transition successful, and a few things that you’ll need to look out for during this period of massive change.
Make your expectations clear
These are uncertain times, so the last thing your team needs is an ambiguous set of responsibilities or instructions when they sit down to work from home.
Making it clear what you expect your remote teams to do during their time working from home is the first step to enabling them to be productive. Be sure to take a much closer look at the day-to-day responsibilities of each team member to identify which elements of their role can be successfully undertaken remotely and which can’t.
Some parts of a job translate easily from office to home working, whereas others aren’t quite so straightforward and might require new technologies or processes to help them along. Before you start assigning slightly amended duties, take a good look at what can and cannot be achieved and prioritize them accordingly.
At first, you may expect all sorts of minor technical glitches and concerns to crop up while your team settles into their remote working role, so don’t expect productivity to be 100% from the get-go.
A trial period to get everyone used to the new systems and ways of working without any pressure is a good way to minimize stress and anxiety. Be aware that some colleagues will find it harder than others and be mindful that especially during the current disruption, some degree of flexibility will be needed. For example, those with children at home due to school closures, will likely need some grace, as they will likely have a lot of responsibilities to juggle.
You will also need to monitor the productivity of your remote teams on a regular basis to ensure that the job is getting done and everyone is doing their fair share to keep your business moving forward.
For example, if your staff is now being asked to conduct client meetings via Skype or Zoom in a bid to secure sales, you might find that it’s taking them a little longer to get up to speed with any new technology, or that the time spent talking to key clients is increasing as everyone starts to work from home. In these cases, it would be unrealistic to expect that previous sales targets will be met, so you could consider dropping them initially and then slowly increasing them again when you deem fit.
Keep the personal touch
Humans are social beings, and with the vast majority of our time at work spent engaging with others, having the main source of social interaction removed from the daily routine suddenly can be a real shock to the system.
Whatever your reasons for having your team working remotely, it is vital that you promote good mental health amongst your workforce and keep a channel of dialogue open for them to air their concerns and feelings should they need to.
This doesn’t need to be expensive or technical either. WhatsApp Business and Slack are excellent ways to allow groups of workers to communicate with each other for free, without the need for expensive software.
Video conferencing is also a great way of ‘hanging out’ with colleagues without having to be in the same location, so try and schedule in regular digital catch ups. These could easily follow the same pattern as your regular team meetings in the office.
It is a good rule of thumb to check in with individual workers or small groups at least once a week. As the manager, your team looks to you for support and leadership, so it is imperative that even though you can’t be in the same room, they feel that you are there for them virtually.
When things go back to normal, people will remember how you treated them during this time of uncertainty. If you want them to continue to be engaged and feeling good about you and the organization, make sure to treat them with compassion and understanding now.
Beware of burnout!
For some people working from home has been given something of a bad rap over the years with many people incorrectly perceiving home workers as slacking off. However, in many cases, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
As someone who has worked both remotely and in an office, I can vouch for the fact that you can spend far more time focusing on work responsibilities each day than you ever could in an office environment.
Think about it: you don’t get that water cooler chat from Dave in Accounts, nor do you head out of your office for a quick sandwich stop, making you far more likely to just carry on working when you should be taking a break.
Although this is good for the business, prolonged periods of overworking can lead to burnout, so it’s vital that you recognize the signs that some of your staff might be taking on too much and not enjoying time away from their home office as they should.
A few ways to encourage worker wellbeing from home is to suggest that they make time for breaks and adhere to them. Some organizations have also experimented with limiting the times that employees can log on to systems to stop them working too many hours from home.
If you feel that some members of your team are putting in too many hours due to boredom or because they feel they need to justify their salaries while working remotely, reach out to them and encourage them to take regular breaks and stick to their assigned working patterns without judgement.