Working from home is a new experience for many people and it’s a steep learning curve for everyone involved.
But those among us who are newly responsible for managing teams remotely may also need to rethink our leadership approach. It’s more important than ever to step up be a strong guiding light, look after our people and protect the interests of our company.
In the absence of face-to-face contact with colleagues, people will be expecting you to do just that little bit more to guide their work, keep them updated with all the information they need and be the ear to listen about the challenges they face.
You’ll also need to create more opportunities for social interaction. You won’t be able to check in with someone on your way past their desk. Instead, you’ll need to get creative about to connect people to keep work social and fun.
With this in mind, schedule regular online meetings to make sure that everything is progressing as it should be. Share information with the team, even if they have received it by other means; repeating messages and giving people the opportunity to seek clarity, is important for reassuring the team. Let the team vent their frustrations; having a release is really important during this time!
If you can insist on video calls rather than voice calls, it makes the team feel more connected and gives you a better chance to read their reactions. But let’s not pretend we are working by the old rules of video conferencing; it’s okay now to have the teams children running around in the background and their dog barking – it’s the life circumstances we face and we should embrace it as an opportunity to get closer to our team and be more human.
Regular online meetings also serve another important purpose at this time of national cabin fever. According to a recent article on online home working hub No HQ, loneliness is the joint number one struggle for remote workers, with only maintaining collaboration and communication causing the same level of anxiety. So, setting time aside for social interaction is vital.
At NTT DATA, the entire HR team currently gets together for a ‘coffee morning’ twice a week; sometimes we do a tour of someone’s garden or get introduced to someone’s houseplant collection – can people really keep that many plants alive?! I also set aside five minutes at the start and end of each day for a social catch-up with my closest colleagues. We have active Whatsapp groups to keep us smiling at the funny side of life. Across the company social competitions have really taken off, ranging from our version of ‘through the key hole’ to keeping up the ‘step challenge’. We’ve even started our own Spotify playlists to keep each other entertained. Even if dedicated social time is not your style, you can build in a little extra time at the beginning of regular meetings to get an update on how everyone is coping with the situation.
Provide more direction
It’s critical that everyone understands clearly what’s expected of them while they are working remotely, because they can’t absorb that subliminally in the same way they would if they were working in the same physical space.
Use your catch ups to make sure everyone is on the same page with regard to what they should be working on, who they should be working with, and when certain tasks should be completed. There’s great digital tools out there to help you with this.
But remember to trust your team. Remote working doesn’t necessarily mean lower productivity. Everyone will try their best during this challenging time to support the company.
Optimism and support
Even with the best planning and the clearest feedback, experienced managers know that things won’t always go to plan. If you have concerns about an individual’s work, set up a one-to-one video call as soon as possible and share your concerns.
Be very specific about what you have observed and the impact it’s having. Aim to frame the conversation positively around wanting to get things back on track.
On the other hand, be quick to recognise good work: The power of “thank you” should not be underestimated. Don’t hesitate to compliment your remote team – directly or to the wider organisation – when they go the extra mile or reach a key target.
Finally, be a source of optimism and support for your team during these worrying times. Fear and negative thinking can be contagious as well as distracting. As a manager, be truthful and realistic, but balance this with hope wherever you can.