How to proactively manage a team remotely

In a very short space of time, the Coronavirus crisis has changed the way we work. With many offices now closed, managers and business owners are navigating the new normal of managing a remote team who are all working from home. Here, Cara de Lange shares tips on managing your team during these times.

The anxiety and uncertainty around the pandemic can increase stress, overwhelm and even lead to burnout and managers should be aware of the new pressures facing their workforce. The practicalities of working from home (while members of the team are also juggling home schooling) is a huge concern for many businesses but a flexible approach and an understanding ear will enable teams to continue to be proactive and get the job done. 

Having run virtual sessions in a variety of companies over the last few weeks, the main concern voiced by employees is how do I balance it all? The answer is - it is not always possible. Managers and employees will need to be more flexible and both will have to agree clear deadlines and communicate effectively to ensure important tasks are carried out.

It’s also important that managers create a safe space for the team to talk about how they are feeling and their mental health. 

By acknowledging employees worries and concerns, even if there is no helpful advice to give, will enable them to work through any concerns and hopefully help give the headspace to concentrate fully on their work. It will also build a community spirit which we are all missing at the moment. Remember to get the best out of employees, they will need to know that they are cared for and supported.

Communication with members of the team should be mindful of the heightened stress and anxiety levels. Managers need to communicate carefully and more frequently. Remember, that in times of stress, most people don’t process information as effectively, so any communication should be simple, clear and thoughtful. Written communication such as emails and text have the added barrier of being impersonal, so managers should ensure wording and tone used match their intended message.

Additionally, remember to set a positive tone for any interactions as panic breeds more panic. The key to keeping staff calm is being optimistic, agile, adaptable, and prioritising workflow; practise social distancing without losing the warmth of human interaction. Managers should be a role-model not a hero, and promote a positive attitude and example to wellbeing, the team needs to see that all is well at the top end of the business and that management are looking after themselves. Before a meeting, set some new rules including sending around pre-reads or pre-work so participants join with a more considered opinion. 

By offering this, teams will feel less put on the spot and be better prepared; this will also help the ideas flow. During this crisis, management can also leave more time for each activity to be carried out; especially as discussions and decisions can take longer.

When booking a meeting, think about whether a voice call is enough or if a video call may give the meeting that personal touch that we are all craving. Using Zoom, or similar technology, offers both video and audio calls and the meeting can even be recorded for reviewing at a later stage. Make sure when the meeting invite is sent the team understands what technology or software they will need to access it, and explain the outline of the meeting. During the meeting, make sure everyone is heard, and be inclusive – the more supported staff members feel, the tighter the team will be, even remotely.

Many team members will not only be missing the inclusivity of working within an office but also the social side of office life. Encourage teams to set up WhatsApp or similar groups and talk, not just about work, but their own personal lives too. Set up a social hour or a Friday afternoon games session where teams can put work to one side and enjoy some human interaction. But be careful not to overdo it. You don’t want your team to be inundated with virtual socials.

Teams can also support each other by proactively articulating their wellbeing needs with one

another, and this could perhaps be a topic for the virtual social hour. Encourage them to find ways to support and look out for one another’s health, social and work needs. Identify if anyone is struggling and set up a buddy structure in your teams – by creating a network of support, managers can reduce the feelings of isolation that some may feel when working from home.

With a few positive tweaks, it is possible for us all to learn to work from home productively and effectively while looking after our mental and physical health at the same time.

Top tips for productively managing a team remotely:

  • Show your team you care - create a safe place for people to talk about their concerns.
  • Stay in touch and spend the first few minutes of the team meeting doing a round robin of how people are feeling.
  • Create new traditions - does everyone in your team wear Green on Wednesdays or can you kick off each call with an energy check or deep breathing?
  • Resist the email trap - voice messages and videos are much more personal.
  • Set expectations and agree response times - in the office it is easier to SEE what people are working on, so while working remotely agree a time and date and communicate if things change.
  • Create a team fun hour such as a virtual cooking class or social hour.
  • Get creative, what may have worked before is different now.

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