Remote work seemed to be a luxury for some time before it turned into a necessity. The question that many leaders are facing is: How do you manage a remote team? And let’s be clear: Providing a new video chat function is not enough. The first mistake many make, is to assume, that apart from not being in the same room, it’s business as usual. Spoiler: It’s not.
The first week working in a remote environment can be very exciting. No getting ready an hour early, no traffic, just a coffee and you can start. The second week might still be great, even though the amount of coffee that you consume is getting suspicious. In the third week you start to feel stuck and isolated from your team, even though you have daily calls with them. And when you notice that in the fourth week your motivation is at the absolut rock bottom and you have started talking to your plants, you might actually miss the office. Now of course this is not the case for everyone – some might be absolutely thriving in their home office – there are some that are having a hard time to adapt to the new work life. To help them there are some changes in the normal routine managers can make.
The first thing that should be done, is to teach your employees about work life balance. It’s something everyone has heard, but which can be quickly forgotten in a remote setting. It might sound a bit strange at first, after all employees no longer lose so much time by getting to work or going home after. This should mean that they actually have more free time right? In theory, yes, but in reality it’s often hard to separate the working hours from the free hours, when you spent all of that time in the same room. In the end they might feel like they haven’t done enough, because they took a short break to hang up their washings. One thing that can be done as a manager to improve the work life balance, is to respect the hours when people are working. Sure you could send this mail tonight, but maybe wait until tomorrow. Especially at the moment where people don’t really have social events in the evening, they might read the mail long after they finished work. So if it can be said tomorrow, just wait.
Another thing a manager can implement is flexibility, wherever it’s possible. This is especially true for working hours. When employees can choose their hours themself, they feel like they are more in charge of their life, which benefits their mental health and their motivation. Some might prefer working in the morning, than have a long break and start again in the late afternoon. If that’s how they want it and of course if it’s possible, let them do it. You could implement core hours, when everyone should be reachable so communication stays easy.
Communication is the next important step that needs to be managed. The question here is, what form of communication is the best? There is no actual answer to it. You should take into account which communication tool fits best to your team’s culture, but apart from that an email is not superior to a zoom call and a phone call isn’t better than a text message. It all depends on the employee. The best thing you can do here, is ask the employee what form and frequency of communication they think would benefit them the most. Also encourage your employees to contact you whenever they feel the need, even if it’s just a small detail. Keep the line open so no one gets stuck on a tiny problem, because that can be extremely frustrating.
Keep your employees up to date. Whether it’s a new client your company just acquired, a goal that just has been crushed or just a lame general update. Send it out daily or weekly so people know what’s going on inside your company. Don’t let them forget what they are working for and what your common goal is. Without the usual workplace chat people don’t get these information. To make it more personal, schedule a daily stand up where you get everyone up to date, but keep flexibility in mind.
Get your employees the tools they need. Not everyone has a great computer at home or the best wifi. Don’t let this become an obstacle. Get them the webcam, headset and programs they need. This might hit your budget a little bit, but leaving people with their technology from home basically means setting them up to fail. Remove these very basic obstacles for them.
Last but not least, be empathic. Right now your employees went from working in an office to almost a year long lockdown. Some became part time teachers for their children. Some have no social contacts because they are at risk patients. Some might have a relationship thats been slowly collapsing. None of them can escape their homes for work. This puts everyone under immense pressure so rethink your expectations and have patience with them.