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At time of writing, we’re a few weeks deep into a nationwide lockdown. Other than a subset of key workers, a great many of us are suddenly working remotely. Working from home, telecommuting, whatever you want to call it—the fact is, a lot of us have never done it before. And most of us have certainly never managed a team of remote workers.
Usually, when such a massive shift in the way a company operates comes along, you have plenty of warning. Plenty of time to understand what’s happening, and plenty of options to help manage the change. But the COVID-19 outbreak, and the havoc it has wrought, are different. No-one could have seen it coming, and the changes it has forced are drastic.
So, as a manager, you’re probably now having to adjust to a new way of thinking—looking after a team of people who aren’t there. It can be strange, but working with remote employees, when done right, is productive and rewarding. Here are a few easy tips to help get you accustomed.
Work out, and agree on, plans
Ensure that the road ahead is clear. People need direction in every circumstance—that’s why management exists, after all. And in this new and alien way of working, it’s more important than ever to have clarity, focus and solid plans in place.
Set up short-and-long-term goals for the team, and yourself. Communicate them clearly, and let people feed back their ideas and criticism. If you’ve never set up and managed a remote team before, this is an opportunity for you to learn, too—so let everyone have their say, and move forward with your plans when you’re all on the same page.
If something doesn’t work, can it and move on. Agility and flexibility are the watchwords.
For some people, the discipline and routine of the office keep them motivated, happy and ready to crack on. And for these people, the sudden shift to home working can be negative.
Replace this with clear expectations. Don’t set crazy deadlines in the hope of lighting a fire under people, but let people know that they’re expected to carry out their tasks just as efficiently as they do at their desk.
It can be tempting to stick your nose in to every single little action, in order to reassure yourself that the wheels are turning smoothly and no-one is slacking. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing—it shows that you want your organisation to get through this crisis unscathed.
But for some people, this can feel intrusive. Constantly asking where projects are, what time you can expect work to be submitted and what people are doing at any given time gets wearing very, very quickly. Once your plans and expectations are set out, trust people to stick with them.
Set up daily chats with the whole team. Even just a quick morning get-together via text chat is enough—the point is to get everyone on the same page and ready to go. You worked with these people in the office, you know what they need. If they’re a particularly social bunch, a 30-minute video call every morning might be just the thing they need to get set up.
And of course, on an individual basis, reach out and let people know you’re there. Because it’s equally important that you...
Not everyone is going to find this lockdown—and the changes that come with it with it—easy. These people are likely to have extra stresses, anxieties and concerns. And it’s time for you, and a manager, to step up and work through this with them.
Extend a friendly listening ear. Offer personal advice, and let people know that we’re all in this together.
The coronavirus isn’t going to last forever, and one day we’ll all be back in the office. Be remembered as a boss that handled this crisis compassionately and confidently, and once you are back in the office, people will be ready to work harder than ever before.
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