The vast majority of companies are not accustomed to 100% remote work. But this is the indefinite reality many companies now face, due to the ongoing global COVID-19 health emergency. This new reality is posing abundant challenges to leaders who aim to continue supporting their teams as best they can.
Our blog has previously covered topics like how to be a great boss, how to minimize stress levels amongst your team, and how to show appreciation for your employees. The resounding common thread: good communication. So, how does this translate to a fully remote platform? A recent HBR article offers the six strategies that managers, thus far, have found to be most conducive to successful remote management.
Try not to let connecting with your team fall through the cracks simply because you no longer see them on a daily basis. In addition to sending out an open-ended request that your direct reports reach out to you with their questions or needs, make an effort to connect with them, with or without an agenda. Hearing from you, whether or not you have specific questions for them, will demonstrate to your team that, despite the physical absence, you are still approachable and available. This will not only encourage them to reach out, but it will also allow you to monitor your team’s “pulse,” so to speak.
With face-to-face interaction gone, your team probably feels less comfortable “bugging” you with minor or informal questions they would normally mention to you in passing at the office. Rather than scheduling—or expecting them to initiate—official meetings to discuss smaller things, consider holding office hours for a certain window of time each day or several times per week. Let your employees know that you will be making yourself available by video or audio conference during certain hours on certain days, and that the purpose of doing so is to have brief discussions about any lingering questions, comments, or concerns. Some conference software will allow you to “lock” the room to close it off to others—analogous to shutting your office door to meet with an employee in private.
Routines & Rituals
As much as you can, “ritualize” your availability and communication routines in order to maintain some continuity and predictability amongst your team. With so much else in flux, having at least one thing each day or week remain the same—a Monday morning group check-in, a costume theme for each virtual meeting—will help calibrate your employees’ focus.
Any change to business operations, especially one as major as transitioning to 100% virtual work, can raise questions in terms of expectations, availability, and boundaries. Can your team reach out to you any time of day? How quickly should they expect a response? Try to be clear and upfront with your team about your boundaries—maybe you want to go on a 45-minute walk every day around 2pm or have a daily 30-minute brunch with your family at 11am. By letting your employees know what they can expect in terms of your availability, and what your expectations are with respect to their communications with you, you’ll invite them to do the same. Setting boundaries is critical for everyone whose work lives are now, inevitably, spilling over into their personal lives at home.
Your team is likely to run into obstacles to conducting business-as-usual, and they will probably look to you for guidance. In tandem with your efforts to be approachable, be sure to create space for your team to ask these sorts of questions. Make it clear to them that they can alert you to issues—even if they remain unresolved—and that they can count on you for help in devising a solution.
The onslaught of bad news can be overwhelming, depressing, and anxiety-producing. Now more than ever, your team craves good news. Try to acknowledge good work, not just great work. Go out of your way to celebrate the small victories. On the flip side of that, distance warrants even more stringent clarity and calibration in order for everyone to stay on the same page. If you become aware of mistakes made amongst your team, offer constructive feedback in a timely manner. This will prevent minor errors from snowballing and optimize conditions for your employees to work together while they remain apart.