Workers across the world find themselves working from home as the Covid-19 pandemic spreads. The move is a challenge to employees and their managers as they adjust to a new normal.
Like all work, remote working – working from a coffee shop, hotel or currently mostly at home, rather than a traditional office – has three challenges: team bonding, collaboration, and work oversight. In achieving success, leadership matters. Up to 70% of employee engagement can be attributed to managers, while feelings of isolation reduce performance by up to a fifth.
“Getting comfortable leaning into the technology to replicate in-person collaboration is key to fostering productive remote environments,” says Jake Schwartz, CEO of General Assembly. “But it’s not just about technology. Establishing trust, ensuring accountability, and fostering good collaboration are critical to a successful remote work environment.”
Managers, therefore, play a key role in making remote work a success. Here are our tips on how they can maximise the potential of their teams.
1. Set clear norms
In an office setting, the nuances of expected behavior are often clear, just from observation. That breaks down with a remote team, however, in which everyone develops their own norms. Start with a meeting that establishes some of the ground rules. It’s best to be collaborative and flexible about introducing these, rather than dictating norms. For example, setting a meeting for 9am every morning might not work for parents whose children are now also at home with them.
2. Determine flexible hours
While the pandemic plays out, many people have extra responsibilities, such as looking after children, parents or sick relatives. Establish core hours when everyone should be available but create flexible periods outside of that. Take the time to determine the skills and capacity of your team members, so that you know what to expect from each.
3. Not everything is an emergency
While setting your norms, decide what constitutes an emergency. Again, with people juggling other responsibilities during isolation, it’s best to specify when an urgent task needs to be completed and within what timeframe. Perhaps tasks are assigned priorities 1, 2 and 3, in which the first are urgent and must be completed within the hour, the second are needed by 5pm and the third by the end of the week.
4. Have regular meetings
Have meetings at the beginning and end of the day, at regular times. In the morning, determine what needs to be done, and in the evening round-up what has been achieved. Everyone should be clear which tasks they are responsible for and what the deliverables are.
5. Run productive meetings
Keep your meetings productive. Everyone in the meeting must be adding value, or their time is being wasted. If you need to have extra meetings, then make sure only the relevant people are included. Each meeting should have a clear goal. If it doesn’t, then perhaps it shouldn’t take place.
6. Break the ice
Find ways to build team relationships. Acknowledge achievements and give shout-outs to those who are doing good work. Celebrate birthdays or other milestones. And consider creating a virtual water cooler, where people can unwind but also build working relationships. This could be a channel on the company messaging platform, where people can share video clips or jokes and quizzes.
7. Be explicit about expectations
Don’t say a task should be completed by “close of business” when the team is working flexibly. Specify a time – and in which time zone, if you are leading a global team. Don’t assume that people know what you mean and remember that checking on particular details is harder with a remote team because people might be more difficult to contact.
8. Break tasks down
Break tasks into smaller chunks and make sure everyone knows which piece is their responsibility. This isn’t micromanaging, it’s a recognition that remote working has its limits. For example, you can’t communicate with body language and written text can be misinterpreted.
9. Emphasize the personal
As mentioned above, feelings of isolation are unpleasant and unproductive. Keep everyone in mind in your interactions and remember that people will be experiencing more stress and anxiety than usual.
10. Turn your cameras on (if you can)
Finally, when it comes to team meetings encourage everyone to turn on their cameras (obviously, taking into consideration the current limits of internet speed, connectivity, and network capacity). Seeing people, rather than only hearing them, will create a stronger connection and make it easier for people to keep their attention on the call.
Building an effective remote team takes time and the current pandemic has forced this situation on lots of workers and companies who were unprepared. When it comes to implementing the above list, take your time and be patient.
To learn more on how remote teams can maximise productivity, watch this webinar hosted by General Assembly.