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Managing A Remote Team For The First Time? Follow These Simple Rules

Businesses across the world are in the midst of an unprecedented and rapidly evolving situation due to the global spread of coronavirus (COVID-19). Should offices close? How long will workers need to stay home in order to stop the spread? How can you effectively transition non-remote employees to telework?

We wanted to provide some guidance for leaders who are not used to managing remote teams – but find themselves having to stretch at this time in order to protect their employees and the public. Remember, in times of uncertainty, it’s not important to have perfect systems in place… but as a leader you can set positive expectations and be an example of clear crisis management. The situation is rapidly changing and the systems will evolve – but there are simple steps you can take to make an uncertain situation manageable for your employees.

  1. Focus on your top-line deliverables. Businesses and individuals are experiencing mass disruption, with offices, schools and local activities all shutting down at once – making this a bad time to embark on new projects that require collaboration and a high level of input from employees. This is a good time to give your employees clarity around what exactly they need to produce over the coming weeks – and which projects can be put on hold. If you work closely with external partners, keep in mind that every sector is currently responding to calls to practice social distancing, which likely means that your partners are also scrambling to change schedules and protect their workforce. You may want to cut some slack by cutting down on the workload – but be clear about your expectations.
  2. Set the standard for check-ins. If your team is not used to working remotely, there may be confusion over how often they need to report to you and their colleagues. You can institute practices like a start-of-day and close-of-day check in via email, phone, or tools like Slack in order to help the team feel connected and provide boundaries for the workday. As a leader, we recommend modeling behaviors like letting your team know if you’ll be out of contact for certain portions of the day – an important practice for maintaining open communication, and a good way to acknowledge that remote work does not require being on and available all day long.
  3. Acknowledge the need for flexibility. Many offices are now transitioning to remote employees out of necessity, without a strong telework infrastructure in place. In addition, school closures and other disruptions mean that employees may have children at home (or are generally more distracted than they otherwise would be.) If your work permits, let your employees know that they are free to work on flex schedules and handle essential personal business during the workday. This will go a long way towards setting expectations and ensuring your employees can produce without a high level of stress or overwhelm.
  4. Use your tools. Apps like Zoom, Slack, Google Docs and Dropbox are great for facilitating communication and work sharing. Of course, good old fashioned email gets it done too! Whatever your tools, make sure every employee has access – and resist the urge to inundate your people with pings on Slack every five minutes. That’s no more polite online than it would be in an office environment.
  5. Apply what you learned. When life has calmed down and work goes back to normal, you can choose to go back to your old practices – or you can implement new protocols based on what you learned managing a remote team. What worked? What didn’t? You may be able to institute new policies around flex time and remote work that will benefit your current employees and be a great recruiting tool for new talent. As a leader, you have the opportunity to see this situation as a chance to experiment and thrive – and you and your team will be building new skills and new ways to collaborate in the process.

In business, dynamic situations and unexpected events are the norm. The skills that make you a great leader in the office will serve you well while working from home – so jump in, provide clarity for your employees, and work together to make it a great experience for everyone.

Success Labs is a leadership development and management consulting firm in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. For more than 25 years, our expert team of consultants has worked with hundreds of companies to explore their business potential and improve their company and cultural performance. Contact us to get proactive about your people strategy.

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