Leading Remote Teams is Challenging – Survival Tips for Leaders
Managing direct reports has always been a challenge for most managers, but add to this the increase in direct reports working remotely from home and this aspect of day-to-day leadership just became exponentially more difficult.
Covid-19 has changed our workplaces for ever, employees working from home is going to be the new normal and all managers need to change the way they manage their direct reports if they want to maintain/increase productivity and engagement levels.
The question is:
“How can managers effectively lead teams when they are not all within the same building?”
I hope that this thought piece will assist all people managers to maximise the opportunities and minimise the negatives of remote/home employees.
COMMUNICATION, COMMUNICATION, COMMUNICATION….
Open communication is without doubt the most important area to focus on for many reasons:
There is a high probability that all of your employees that live by themselves will be feeling isolated and lonely. Those that have a partner and/or family will be in a better position and those in a shared house will most likely get distracted to the point where it could negatively affect performance.
Fear of the future
Many employees will fear about their future employment status, they will worry about losing their job and they will worry about paying the rent/mortgage and buying food to survive because they will feel uncertain about how their work performance is being perceived. By being away from the office and feeling like they are not “plugged in” to what is happening they will constantly worry about what is going to happen and how it will negatively affect them.
A lack of communication can severely inhibit productivity and performance, no longer do they overhear conversations or are part of ad-hoc conversations that may assist them to deliver better outcomes. An even greater potential impact revolves around parents that now have to juggle work responsibilities and children responsibilities, such as home schooling.
Here are some of my tips:
1. Ensure your team all have access to video streaming [Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Skype etc]
- Team meeting every day/two days allowing everyone to provide an update on their work
- As manager, video talk to each team member at least once a day (frequency depends on each employee’s natural independence and manageability levels and whether they live alone or with others)
- Encourage your employees to stay connected by having:
- Virtual video coffees with team members, clients & suppliers
- Virtual lunches with other team member
- During breaks, take a virtual walk with another team member
2. Conduct weekly two minute pulse surveys to measure areas such as:
- Level of isolation being experienced
- Level of productivity, and what strategies are working and how can you be assisted
- Satisfaction of communication levels
- Rating of physical health this week
- Rating of mental health this week
- Ask whether they need additional resources to assist them to be happier and more effective?
- MultiRater Surveys [www.MultiRaterSurveys.com] offers a survey template which covers all of these areas
MAINTAINING MOTIVATION & PRODUCTIVITY
Initially everyone thinks that working from home is great, but after a week or two the novelty can wear off and motivation and productivity gets impacted. What I have come to understand is the importance of establishing structure, routines and measurable activity based KPIs.
Here are some of my tips:
1. Encourage your employees to establish a routine, for example:
- Waist up dress in business attire, waist down be comfortable [shorts, jeans, tracksuit pants, comfortable shoes (not bare feet)]
- Before starting work create a “gap” by taking a walk around the block. This allows their mind to transition from home to work; from personal to business
- Differentiate their workspace by having a separate area to the home living area. I appreciate that this will not be possible for everyone, but if they can create a “work area” then do it
- Ensure they have an office chair, do not just use a standard home chair. If possible arrange for their chair from the office
- Take structured, regular breaks every 2 hours and if possible go for a walk outside. Wherever possible stress the importance of following traditional working hours
2. Set boundaries by clearly articulating your expectations, for example:
- Agree on expected activities during the day/week and confirm these using measurable KPIs. One of the greatest challenges experienced with remote employees is establishing “trust” that they are going to work productively and not abuse the lack of physical supervision. By establishing KPIs based on activities this hurdle can be overcome
- Assist your employees to prioritise their workload. Ask them to provide you with their “To Do List” and then discuss which items are more important and therefore should be prioritised
- Make sure they are not creating back-to-back meetings as this will most likely lead to a drop in effectiveness and, in some cases, burn out
3. Promote motivation
- Use every opportunity to congratulate and pat your direct reports on the back when they have provided discretionary effort, no matter how small it is. Determine at what level of contribution you go further and praise an employee’s efforts to the team/organisation, and then be consistent with everyone
EMPLOYEES HAVE FAMILIES TOO
When employees with children are working from home, as a leader you must be proactive in assisting them to manage the demands of both their job and their children. In essence you should be eliminating any feeling of guilt that they could experience.
Here are some of my tips:
- Let your direct reports know that family, especially children are more important than work
- Empower them to create a schedule that allows for caring/home schooling responsibilities and getting all their work done, provide them with the flexibility across the whole day/night
- Inform them that if they are involved with an online meeting and one of their children urgently needs them it is okay to tell everyone that they just need a few minutes to resolve a home issue (make sure you also tell everyone that this is the protocol you are encouraging)
Maintaining physical health is an issue, especially as it appears that individuals are tending to eat and drink more when they are working from home, which is exacerbated by gyms being closed and the stresses of a crisis like Covid-19. As a leader you should consider adding this to your fortnightly/monthly one-on-one discussions and ask what exercise are they able to perform and do they feel that it is enough to burn off excess energy.
The reality is that mental health issues are going to increase from the already unacceptably high level prior to Covid-19. These issues can be based on a number of causes, such as:
- Not feeling valuable
- Not feeling that they are making an adequate contribution
- Stresses created by managing work and children responsibilities
- Fear of the future
- Domestic violence
Our responsibility as business leaders is to monitor our employees and keep an active watch for any signs that someone is not coping. If you feel that one of your employees is not coping, do not ignore it because you do not know how to deal with it.
Higher level leadership means having the courage to confront very personal and emotional issues. If any of your employees display signs of anxiety or appear to be overwhelmed then please ask how they are feeling, ask whether you can assist them or whether you can contact someone else who can assist them, ask whether they are in a place that they cannot see a way out of. If their responses reinforce that they are in personal danger, call an ambulance, do not hesitate, treat them as if they have just experienced a heart attack, treat it as an emergency.
Do not attempt to provide unqualified health advice (physical or psychological), but do act to ensure they are safe and receive the advice and care they need.
INCREASING LEADERSHIP CAPABILITY & STRATEGIC PLANNING
One of the upsides of a crisis like Covid is that you should be able to find the time to work on increasing your leadership capability. No matter how proficient you are, you can always improve when it comes to leadership. Consider conducting a 360 Degree Leadership Development Survey (MultiRater Surveys offers templates that are ready to go) and from the results develop a Leadership Action Plan. The outcome required is quite simple, you want to come out of Covid-19 a better leader than what you went in.
I understand that most managers will have a solid focus on survival, but please do not ignore the future. The question you have to ask yourself is, in two years’ time will you look back in hindsight and pat yourself on the back for all the decisions and initiatives you made during this crisis, or will you look back and realise that you missed out on some amazing opportunities because you didn’t back yourself? Do not fall into the second category, apply at least 10% of your time looking for the opportunities and start working on your strategic plan. Question what things you should stop doing as well as what things you should start doing.
ESTABLISHING HOME OFFICE POLICIES
Employees that are working from home are still covered under the relevant Work Health and Safety Act, this means that you have a legal obligation to make sure that employees are in a safe environment at home.
Some questions you should ask your employees are:
- Is your work area at home free of obstacles that could cause a slip, trip or fall?
- Is your desk/table and chair providing sufficient ergonomic support?
- Are there any electrical cords/powerboards that could pose a risk of electrocution?
- Do you feel physically safe at home?
- Are there any adverse environmental hazards such as noise?
Finally, have some fun!!
Perhaps think about having a Friday afternoon online game break. There are lots of options, try these:
- Fibbage https://www.jackboxgames.com/fibbage/
- Kahoot https://kahoot.com/
- Charades http://www.playcharades.net/
- Pictionary https://gartic.io/
If you would like to explore any of the above areas in more detail, please contact us by email using firstname.lastname@example.org