Working remotely is a “new normal” in the office, but managing a team without face-to-face interactions can be a challenge for even the most engaging and dedicated team leaders.
In the last year and a half, we have seen an unprecedented amount of work-from-home requests and yes, even requirements. This virtual environment presents its own set of unique objections and opportunities.
As a leader, whether it be as an owner or manager, it is our responsibility to guide our team through this incredible transition. Gone are the days of true work/home separation and with that must come a deeper understanding not only of what our work requirements are, but also what we can expect personally and professionally from our teammates and colleagues.
Communication is paramount in supporting and inspiring a team. But what does working remotely really mean for those in a leadership role? How can we continue to motivate and regulate a team without in-person meetings? How can we foster a connection across a computer screen?
Here are my practical tools for managing remotely:
1. Be the example aka show don’t tell.
This is definitely not a new concept, but leading by example is one of the number one ways to truly show your team what you are looking for, especially when all they will see is you through the computer screen.
That means, turn your camera on and show your team, through facial expressions, vocal tone, body language, environment, and attire that it is business as usual (even if it feels more like business as crazy-time).
Even if you don’t feel up for “playing work,” you must—you’re the boss and you need to show up in that capacity. That doesn’t mean there isn’t some forgiveness for the higher-ups, but that’s what the Zoom “touch up my appearance” feature is for!
Tip: Need to boost some morale? Try changing the virtual background of your meeting or hosting a contest for the best background among the team members. Add some humor by hosting a Movember fake or real mustache competition. Suggest “bring your pet” to work day, etc. Working from home isn’t as fun as it sounds for most people, so feel free to inject your own sense of humor into these interactions.
2. Secure your systems.
I don’t mean from cyber-hacks, though that’s important, too. What I mean by “secure your systems” is that your company systems and processes are even more important now that everyone is working virtually.
- Who reports what and when?
- What are your new expectations?
- Are there any old systems (a paperwork chain for example) that no longer apply?
- Are there new protocols that must be followed?
- Do you need to provide new trainings for a virtual world?
When the pandemic first hit, I had to do extensive training with staff and clients on virtual technology like live streaming, on-demand systems, and zoom conferencing (just like my nephew had to train me on what the heck TikTok is).
It may seem obvious to some and completely overwhelming to another, but either way, it’s important to offer the opportunity for your team to ask questions and get the resources and training they need to feel comfortable and competent in any new, required systems.
Tip: If you can, set up team leaders so not everyone reports to you about everything. The last thing you want as you are trying to keep the company progressing is to suddenly take on the additional tasks of IT manager, distance learning manager, cat-wrangling manager, and so on. Delegate what you can so you can focus on moving forward and addressing new challenges that arise in the market.
3. Keep it simple.
Leave no room for assumptions and interpretation. Since you cannot meet in person, it’s even more important that you are clear with explanations and expectations. If anyone on your team is unclear about their own responsibilities or the company’s priorities, then the entire system will fall apart.
Build confidence and security by keeping communication open, clear, and honest. Provide the opportunity for staff to connect online. Have clarity calls whenever needed, or at consistent days/times to promote confidence in this new work environment.
Tip: Keep the schedule and encourage your team to do the same. Often “work from home” means having the freedom to dictate a new schedule, but that’s easier said than done. Maintaining a normal work schedule (wake up, get dressed, work, lunch, work, dinner) can help keep you focused even with all the at-home distractions.
If you want to include a daily check-in, I recommend doing it during a “normal” break, like a coffee-break catch-up, or lunch-time learning lesson (Snack sessions? Water-cooler what’s up? The more alliterations the better-ha!)—something that won’t disrupt the workflow and focuses around a break your team should already be taking.
4. Stay on track.
You’ll never realize how hard it is to stay on track while working at home until you try to do it with a toddler. Working from home is hard! There are a million other things that come up on a daily basis that can distract you from work, often unwillingly. Your team is having the same issues!
Make yourself available for check-ins and unscheduled meetings to rally the team and keep everyone and everything on-task, but beware of the “this could have been an email” meetings. Your goal is to keep everyone focused, not micromanage them to death!
Tip: You might also consider scheduling software, or something as simple as a company-wide google doc with a list of things to do for the day, week, month, quarter, etc. I like to color-coordinate each person’s responsibilities (all on one document) so that everyone gets a clearer picture of who is doing what. Bonus: we can ask questions right on the document.
This isn’t The 4-Hour Workweek and most of us didn’t choose to work virtually, but we can all make the absolute best of it and (gasp) actually turn a profit in all this craziness. With proper remote-managing, you can create a cohesive, efficient, and happy team, right from your home office. You got this!
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