With the recent uncertainties presented by Covid-19, many companies have asked their employees to work remotely. While 70% of people globally already work remotely at least once a week; new policies have forced many employees (and their managers) to work from home, and separated from each other - for the first time. Although it is always preferable to establish clear remote-work policies in advance, in times of crisis or rapidly changing circumstances, this level of preparation may not always be possible.
Working from home is a significant adjustment for most people who are not used to this setup. How do you keep engaged and motivated when you don’t have the benefit of a quick coffee catch-up? It’s fair to say that even the most experienced managers can find it challenging to adapt and maintain productivity. The good news is, it’s absolutely possible to nurture productive, engaged and thriving teams over the screen - but they need some stewardship to get up and running.
Here are five tips for improving your relationship with your (newly) remote team and keeping them motivated to do their best work, whilst ensuring their health and wellbeing is looked after.
#1: Spell out goals and roles
Teams that suddenly change work patterns - particularly moving from co-located to distributed - need to rethink how to accomplish their tasks and ensure that everyone understands his or her role. Relationships between managers and teams can quickly go south when both teams doesn’t clearly understand each other’s expectations. Get started on the right foot with a new remote team by clarifying goals and roles. Watch out for an ever-expanding list of competing tasks. And when you do re-prioritize goals, think carefully about who gets the assignment and make sure the changing goals are communicated to the entire team. Respecting everyone’s input and providing clear communication from the get-go will go a long way toward establishing a positive working relationship.
#2: Reset your expectations
You’ll need to reset expectations for how work gets done, letting go of when and how tasks are accomplished, allowing team members to adjust at their own pace whilst accomplishing their responsibilities . This means focusing on results and offering more flexibility. Once your team members understand their goals and roles, take some time to lay out your expectations for them, then set up a meeting to discuss them in detail. Put everything in writing so there is no misunderstandings. Outline what is expected in terms of output, timelines and quality, and don’t forget to provide context. If you are looking for something very specific (e.g. a particular style or approach), be clear about it from the beginning. Team members are often very good at what they do, but they aren’t mind-readers, and nothing is more frustrating than preventable re-work.
#3: Get the tools in place
Remote working is easy in the 21st century, and there’s an array of affordable tools out here to establish your virtual workplace. Whether it’s Teams, Slack, Zoom, Facebook Workplace, Asana, Trello, Google Suite or a dozen others, find a set-up that works for your people (or let us do this for you). Do you have an intranet already? If so, they’ll need remote access. If not, some of these tools can effectively double as a digital base. Avoid email as your primary tool. It can build up very fast when you’re far from each other. Get a chat tool for the quick conversations, and make sure employees have access to all the tools they need to do their jobs. Remember to leave time to train and get your people feeling comfortable using these tools, or you’ll be stalled before you start. They’re also useful as a back-up, even if you don’t facilitate remote working very often.
#4: Establish regular check-ins
A once highly engaged team can quickly go off the rails when a manager assumes that everyone is doing ok. While it’s true that most people want and expect some degree of autonomy, taking a completely hands-off approach can backfire. Make yourself as accessible as possible, and ensure that your team knows who to go to for guidance when you’re not available. Setting up a (brief) daily or weekly check-in can be a good way to ensure that questions are answered in a timely manner and that work stays on track. Model what it means to show up as a virtual team player – and be sure to keep check-in calls regular and predictable.
#5: Update even if there’s no update
Uncertainty fuels anxiety. The more you communicate and share, the less chance there is to develop rumours within your team. Communicate regularly even if you don’t have new information to share. Maintaining transparency through a crisis with frequent updates is the ultimate expression of good faith, empathy, and genuine concern for your team. The lack of face to face time shouldn’t prevent you from speaking your mind. Clear and direct communication is essential to a working relationship, and should be delivered at every possible opportunity. Finally, keep an eye on communication among team members (to the extent appropriate), to ensure that they are sharing information as needed. Continually gauge stress and engagement levels. Make it crystal clear to your team members that your chief concern is their well-being. Take time to monitor their engagement by every so often asking each team member how they are feeling.
#6: Circle back with encouragement
Offer encouragement and emotional support - especially during the early days of an abrupt shift to remote work. It is important that managers acknowledge stress, listen to employees’ anxieties and concerns, and empathise with their struggles. If a newly remote employee is clearly struggling but not communicating stress or anxiety, ask them how they’re doing. Your relationship with your newly remote team doesn’t necessarily need to wither. Adjusting to remote working takes time, so it’s important to invest in ongoing relationships with those you trust. Remember that positive feedback is also vital - an employee may interpret your silence as a sign that something is wrong and inadvertently “fix” something that’s not broken. If you have concerns about performance, be as specific as possible about what he or she can do to improve with concise and honest communication. Provide your employees with some sort of written feedback of his or her work, even if it’s as simple as “Great job! Can’t think of anything you could have done better.” Don’t forget to also ask for feedback from your team as well, especially as you’re still getting used to virtually managing your team.
Distributed working actually gives you the chance to uncover any hidden performance, operational or cultural issues — it’s a chance to make your business more resilient. So whether it’s the coronavirus, bushfire smoke, weather events, carbon footprint, or something else that has you worrying about the workability of telecommuting, rest assured, you’re not alone. Disruption has a way of creating opportunity. Use this time to explore new ways of working and revisit old assumptions – it could permanently transform your business for the better.
About Altitude IT
Altitude IT is a next generation Managed IT Provider serving companies nationwide. We specialise in helping companies go through a digital transformation to remove IT headaches so you can focus on achieving your business goals.
If you would like help to setup and get your remote tools in place, Altitude IT is here for you. Simply email firstname.lastname@example.org for a super-fast response.