With the novel coronavirus COVID-19 having a significant global impact on organizations—and people—everywhere, managing remote employees has become the new normal.
As people continue to practice social distancing, or in some cases self-isolation, managers now need to focus on the “health” of their remote team by providing open lines of communication and offering collaboration tools that make it easy for employees to remain connected with the work and with each other.
1. See it as a shift in perspective, not in management
A few short weeks ago, most organizations had remote work policies in place. Some disallowed remote work altogether while some allowed working from home a few times per week or month. Some companies, including social media management company Buffer, had no physical office and employees worked exclusively from home.
Now, with health measures in place to help flatten the curve and slow down the spread of COVID-19, most employees in non-essential services are working remotely—and of course, they have to be managed remotely.
However, managing remote workers requires the exact same skill set that managing a team on-site does: open communication, timely feedback and specific individual goals.
It may seem daunting to have to manage a remote team, quite suddenly and with little or no preparation. However, managing remote employees shouldn’t require additional oversight (read: micromanagement). Trust your team, be clear about your expectations and address any performance management issues in a timely manner.
2. Be overly communicative about company updates
In uncertain times, employee engagement (and by association productivity) can negatively drop as your team worries about income and financial health. With companies having to make difficult decisions and temporarily lay-off workers, it’s vital that you keep your team informed about job security, impact on staffing and other cost-cutting measures your organization may be forced to take.
Emphasize the why behind each decision and encourage open, two-way dialogue with your team to help them express concerns or ask clarifying questions.
After relaying any impactful decisions, schedule individual follow-ups with everyone on your team to do a pulse check. Be sure to use video software such as Google Hangouts or Zoom to help you gauge facial expressions and keep the interaction as natural and similar to in-person as possible.
3. Encourage vacation to maintain work-life balance
As you continue managing a remote team during a global pandemic, you might see fewer or no requests for vacation—or more accurately, a staycation in current circumstances.
However, as we recently shared in an internal company memo, “just because you work at home doesn't mean that you don't need a break.” By encouraging your employees to take time off work, you’ll be reducing the risk of mental fatigue and poor job satisfaction.
Remind your team that time off work can mean a chance to focus on personal issues (including caretaking and marathon grocery runs) or a relaxing opportunity to binge-watch a few shows on Netflix or learn something new on Skillshare.
4. Set communication guidelines to reduce the risk of burnout
Social distancing can create an overwhelming sense of loneliness and isolation. Set up weekly (or daily, if that works for your team) video team meetings for everyone to connect and share which projects they’re working on, any blockers and future tasks. Give your team a bit of time for social interaction at the end of the meeting—without you present.
Do your best to make yourself as available as possible to your team by creating a virtual open door policy. Encourage your team to contact you through email for questions or tasks that aren’t timely or use instant messaging (such as Slack) or text for urgent issues.
Set up additional work-from-home communication guidelines. For example, do all emails need to be answered within 24 hours or 48 hours? How many emails in a thread before the conversation needs to be a video call instead? Are all calls video calls or are voice-only calls acceptable in certain situations? Give your team guidance on when and how to communicate while working remotely and they’ll be able to remain productive by focusing their attention on their actual tasks.
5. Continue to celebrate personal and professional milestones
Your company culture isn’t dependent on face-to-face office interactions. It’s dependent on interactions, period. As someone who’s managing remote employees, it’s important for you to continue fostering your company culture within your team and throughout the company.
One easy and effective way to promote your company culture is to continue celebrating everyone’s accomplishments. During your weekly (or daily) video team meetings, be sure to praise team members for completed tasks or their continued support on a project.
Use email or Slack to celebrate milestones such as birthdays or work anniversaries and encourage everyone to participate in well-wishes. This will keep your company culture alive and continue to make your employees feel recognized and valued as individuals, even as you’re all having to work remotely from home.