How to manage remotely – with 24 hours’ notice
As we write, the UK is under lockdown. This was no planned, phased move with due diligence at every step. Instead, managers have, literally overnight, had to adjust to managing their teams remotely as all but essential key workers are ordered to work from home by the government.
For many organisations, this will be a seismic change. There’s no doubt that technology has driven a transformation in work culture towards more remote working over the past couple of years, but the office-centric model is still very prevalent. So, how do you successfully manage a team of remote workers when they are dispersed all over? Read on for our tips on evolving your style to maximise success.
Communicate like your life depends on it
Put together a communications strategy as soon as you can. Decide how often you need formal check-ins with each team member. Schedule them in and give the team guidance on what you expect on a daily basis. Some managers are introducing measures such as a daily photo check-in – you circulate a photo to all the team as you start of the day to say hello and show you have started work. You will need to be engaging to some degree every day, through multiple communication channels. Your team really needs to hear from you at this uncertain time, and you should always aim to be honest and open in the communications with them, and make it easy for them to feedback to you and submit their contributions.
Use all the benefits that technology offers
Thank goodness it is 2020. At least you have technology on your side to help keep your team connected and engaged. Email, phone and text are great for one to one contact, but when you need to bring the team together, you’ll need to look at collaboration software such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams. You can also use these tools to continue your mentoring and coaching. Whilst it’s easy to let these things slip in extraordinary times, it’s important for your team members to continue getting the support they are used to.
Try to be clear in your instruction. Asking someone to deliver a report ‘as soon as possible’ leaves the delivery date open to interpretation. “I need it by next Wednesday” is crystal clear. This is so much more important with remote workers, where you can’t physically check how they are progressing. You can also use calendar sharing with documented deadlines to ensure everyone is clear. You may give staff the freedom to work when they want during the day, but insist they are available for a team meeting every week. By being precise, you are helping your team to perform to their best ability.
Shift a focus to achievements
A real benefit of this crisis could be the move to focusing on what is achieved rather than how it is achieved. Each individual in your team will respond differently to their changed circumstances. Some will thrive, others will struggle. If your staff know that as long as they meet their goals, they have flexibility on how they get there, it will help to lift concerns and stresses. Make sure you are available to give support to each team member in hitting their objectives.
Tool up your team
There’s nothing more frustrating than motivating yourself, sitting down to start a job, and finding that you can’t access the files you need. Or you dial into a scheduled conference call only to find that you need to download software that’s not compatible with your computer. These are sure-fire ways to drive down productivity with your remote team, so it’s important to invest in reliable tools that support and help people. It’s not just about software either; your remote workers will need laptops, mobile phones, high-speed internet connections. Not everyone will have these as a matter of course, and it’s your responsibility as a manager to audit what is missing and address it quickly.
Trust your team
When people work remotely, many of the normal aspects of work become invisible. And with that invisibility, it can feel like people are working less.
Surely they will skive off? And yes, sometimes they will. People will be on social media at home. Just like they are sometimes in the office. If home working is a totally new concept to your organisation, and one where there’s been resistance in the past, this may be because there’s a lack of trust in the workforce.
The answer is simple. Most people want to do a good job. Just trust your team and give them the freedom and flexibility to get work done in the way that supports them to be productive. Many will also be juggling children who are home from school. Regular hours may go out of the window. And here’s a key thing. If they ARE slacking, it’s unlikely to be because they are working at home, it’s because they are feeling disengaged with their work – and guess who that comes down to?
The workplace as we know it is certainly being shaken up. Something as far-reaching as Covid-19 is bound to bring about lasting change in how people are managed, and we all work. We imagine that holes in organisations’ disaster planning will have been brought abruptly to light, and the situation may encourage better planning for future such situations. And whilst the pandemic will pass, remote working will, we believe, remain very firmly on the agenda. What you can learn now about managing a remote team may stand you in excellent stead for the future.