Managing and supporting home working teams – without being ‘remote’?
Managing and supporting 'remote working' teams presents different challenges at the best of times. However, the current context of uncertainty, anxiety and change can create additional pressures for employers and employees alike.
For anyone managing people, this new climate necessitates navigating much more than people working physically from home, rather than at work. It means looking after your team’s wellbeing more than ever before, as well as keeping them focused, agile and productive.
So what do we need to do to keep people on track and effective, as well as helping them cope mentally and emotionally?
Have a central point of ‘truth’
One of the key issues in times of uncertainty, stress and change is that if information is absent people will fill the void, often reaching incorrect conclusions and sharing scare stories. It’s therefore vital that you provide a ‘central point of truth’ where people get the core messages straight from the horse’s mouth. This could be a regular update from the MD / CEO distributed to all employees, which will also provide a much needed sense of continuity, visibility and leadership. Alternatively, it could be a centrally shared document or rudimentary handbook, available to all, that is updated in real time with any new information and guidance, as well as details about any necessary changes or what overall approaches the company is taking.
If people aren’t used to working from home they may find it hard to keep focused and productive, especially given additional distractions of home life, and for many, home schooling.
Providing a clear and regular work schedule will not only help them structure their days, but will also provide a sense of achievement as they work through it. It’s a human trait to struggle with ambiguity, especially in times of stress. So providing this clarity will give people a sense of continuity and focus, as well as help them deliver what’s needed.
Managers do however, need to be aware that people will be juggling other things, such as children at home. So check in with people to assess if their usual working patterns are still realistic, or whether they may need time for other responsibilities during the day and would prefer to do some work in the evening? This will illustrate flexibility, reduce their sense of anxiety and support wellbeing, at the same time as achieving buy-in from them about what they can deliver for the business.
The level of detail provided about tasks, milestones and objectives to be delivered will depend on the Manager’s knowledge of the individual and what they respond to best. As a general rule, managing remote teams requires more explicit communication about goals and priorities than when you are working in the same physical space. Now, more than ever before, understanding what the members of your team need on an individual basis, and what they respond most positively to, will be key.
It’s also likely some people’s roles, and the way they do them, may need to change or adapt in the current situation. Don’t leave them to navigate this alone. Help them work out what this looks like, but remember that allowing them to come up with suggestions and ideas about how it might work, within certain parameters, usually creates the best environment and motivation for them to want to make it succeed.
Team & communication
When the team is scattered, it can lose its sense of cohesion and camaraderie. It’s more difficult to keep up to speed with what others in the team are doing, and therefore, when and how what you are working on fits with this. And it doesn’t take long for people to start to feel isolated, anxious and demotivated if they feel they are being left out of the loop.
Having a formal, as well as informal, communication plan is essential. So regular, even daily, team video or conference calls can not only keep everyone on the same page, clear about what they should be doing, but also provide a sense of community.
In addition, scheduling informal 'one-to-one' check ins with team members will help you assess how well they are coping, if there is any additional support they need and also provide some potentially much needed social support. Making time in these calls to do the social ‘small talk’ in addition to discussing business issues is also important. Asking about family members, about how they’re feeling, how they’re coping if they live on their own, and providing the opportunity for social interaction, is no longer a small matter. In the new normal, ‘small talk’, is a big issue, and a good opportunity to help maintain morale and wellbeing. So the ‘checks ins’ and social bonding that usually take place when you’re making tea, passing in the corridor, or at the start and end of face-to-face meetings all need to be replaced.
Creating the opportunity for informal real time group chats between team members will also improve their sense of still being connected and part of a team. In order to provide a more social, non-work related outlet for people to interact and support each other, then separate groups can be set up. Google hangout, WhatsApp, Viber and other tools can all be used to create a space where people can interact on a more personal and social level. This will help maintain their sense of togetherness, connection and relationships, without diluting or distracting within the channels needed for work-focused interactions and priorities.