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Coronavirus: 5 tips for managing a remote team


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remote worker on video call

Remote working has been on the rise in recent years. More than 1.54 million people in the UK worked from home for their main job in 2019, up from 884,000 in 2009, according to the ONS Labour Force Survey. Now the coronavirus pandemic has compelled millions more to adopt this way of working. Businesses have had to facilitate the shift of their entire workforce to remote working in a short space of time. This has not been without its problems for many.

But this situation has also proven that working from home on this scale is indeed possible. And, if done right, it even has the potential to increase staff motivation and productivity. Here are some tips to help you manage your team and enable them to work effectively from home during this time and going forward.

1. Stay connected

Ask anyone about the advantages of working in an office and face-to-face interaction would probably be at the top of their list. The ability to quickly turn to a colleague to double check something or have a brief chitchat is something that your team is likely to miss. This is especially the case now as our face-to-face interactions are limited to those we live with.

Fortunately, technology can help you and your team to feel more connected and work together more efficiently. There are various tools available that offer instant messaging, video call and screen sharing functionalities, like Skype for Business or Microsoft Teams. It may be beneficial to have daily video catch-ups with your team. Seeing each other’s faces on the screen regularly will help maintain rapport and allow you to better gauge how everyone is feeling.

You should also consider using software for collaboration and task management. This can make communication on group projects much more streamlined and help the team stay focused on making progress towards collective goals.

While there are many great options to enhance your connectedness at home, be wary of using too many. This could result in confusion, stress, and important messages being missed, which is exactly what you’re trying to avoid. Try to limit the number of platforms to the ones you really need and make sure everyone knows how to use them properly. It may help to draw up a simple guide for your employees outlining which communication methods should be used for which purpose.

2. Set clear goals and expectations

When your team is remote, it’s more important than ever to establish clear goals. Goals should be SMART – specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. Make sure you give employees enough time to complete them.

It can help to break down large goals into smaller tasks to make them more manageable for employees and give both of you better visibility of their progress. You should also schedule regular review meetings to see if they’re on track and discuss any issues they might be having.

3. Trust your team

As you no longer have the ability to see what your employees are doing throughout the day, you might be tempted to micromanage or check up on them too often. But you should try to resist this urge and trust your team, unless they give you reason not to. Remote working will never work successfully otherwise. That being said, you also shouldn’t lose sight of what they’re working on and what their working day looks like.

Setting goals and communicating, as mentioned above, will be key to achieving this balance. With clearly defined objectives and performance metrics, it should be obvious when someone isn’t working productively. Stay focused on output rather than on the time your employees spend sat at their desks. As long as they’re completing their tasks on time and to a good standard, and are communicating well, then you shouldn’t have to worry. If you’re using task management software, you can also quickly view your team members’ workloads and check their progress on there.

One of the best ways of gradually building trust is to develop and maintain a good connection with your team members. Engage in a little social conversation from time to time and get to know your colleagues better.

4. Provide support and keep spirits up

Clearly these are not ordinary circumstances, and we’re not only having to adapt to the challenges presented by working from home full-time, but also the psychological impact of these times. Anxiety can affect the ability to work productively so it’s important to be patient and empathetic.

Make an extra effort to check in with your team members, especially if you know they’re living alone. Just a quick message asking how they are can make a difference. Arranging social activities is also a good way of keeping team spirits up and easing loneliness. Try taking a virtual lunch or coffee break together or doing a quiz over video call.

Many leaders worry that employees may not work enough when at home, but the reverse is often true with remote working. In the absence of the usual workday structure, and the lines between our personal and work lives becoming blurred, people may continue working into the evenings and over the weekends. This can easily result in burnout.

To help prevent this, you should keep an eye out for signs that employees are stressed or overworked. You should also encourage a good work-life balance, including taking breaks, switching off at the end of the day, and going out for daily exercise. Emphasise the importance of a healthy routine and good self-care - there are plenty of articles and videos about this online that you can direct your team to. Make sure you lead by example, too. If people see that you take breaks yourself, they’re more likely to follow suit.  

5. Get feedback

Like many others, you’re probably managing an entirely remote team for the first time. You and your team will be testing out new things, learning what works and what doesn’t, and fine-tuning your routines.

To help you gain a better sense of how the remote working experience could be improved, you should gather some feedback. You may want to create a survey to capture the data and make it anonymous to ensure answers are as honest as possible. If not, you can simply ask your colleagues for their thoughts and suggestions. Getting feedback will give you a good insight into current employee sentiment and will encourage openness in the team. 

Going forward

We’ve already been seeing a shift towards remote working and the coronavirus outbreak has now forcibly accelerated this. Many believe that the pandemic will have a permanent impact on our way of working, with more people wanting to continue working from home and more meetings taking place remotely. There are definitely significant advantages – no daily commute, more flexibility, and no office distractions, for starters. And for employers, it can provide the benefits of increased staff morale and productivity, employee retention, and reduced costs. It might be strange to lead your team remotely at first. You’ll have to learn new techniques, adapt to different ways of communicating, and rely more on trust. But in the end, your team may be all the stronger for it.