Ready or not, the COVID-19 outbreak has compelled companies and businesses to support remote work. As a business owner, you might find yourself having to manage a fully remote team. It is likely you have never worked 100%-remote, let alone managed a team in this setting. Add to that the overall unrest in the world this task can seem overwhelming and daunting.
Rest assured, at this moment, you're more essential than ever. Effective remote working teams don't just require the right technology-they require the right leadership.
Therefore, what are the strategies and key things required to enable your new remote team work effectively?
1. Stay Calm and Positive
Given the massive amount of uncertainty with the corona virus and ensuing panic, all of your employees will be more on-edge than usual. Some will feel anxious about what's happening or may happen in the future. Others will feel angry, while still others will feel completely apathetic thinking, "What's the use in trying?"
Outside of your role as a leader, you can, and should, feel whatever you need to feel. But in your role as a leader, you will best serve your team by being a voice of reason and calm. The more you can show up from a place of empathy, respect, understanding, and peace, the more those under your leadership will have the ability to calm themselves and to do their work.
Work extra hard to communicate in a level manner, emphasize verbal support and encouragement, and if at all possible, avoid criticism. Your workers won't be at 100% during this time, but by being a source of stability, you maximize the productivity that your employees are able to have in this situation.
2. Make Sure Everyone Has Devices that Fit their Needs.
Most smartphones and laptops are good enough for general tasks, like answering emails or preparing a sales presentation. However, some roles, like software development, require more powerful devices that can run heavy applications. Furthermore, you should ensure that everyone has the proper accessories for virtual collaboration. Newer laptops have built-in webcams and microphones, but a headset might be useful if you work in a noisy space and need to attend conference calls.
3. Give Employees Access to Necessary Apps and Ensure Sufficient Bandwidth.
When working from home, employees need to know that certain applications and company files are easily accessible so that they can get their work done without interruption. Make sure your employees have the right technology installed and up-and-running on devices by distributing applications remotely. When employees are not connected to your company's internal network, they should use either a password-protected home network or a mobile hotspot. To maximize data security, public and open Wi-Fi should not be used. If you have a bandwidth limit, make sure that your plan includes enough data. If you are spending most of your day in video calls, you might need to upgrade.
4. Encourage Virtual Collaboration.
Communication is key. Make sure that all employees have the right tools to exchange information and be productive. Agree on mutual ways of communicating and stay in touch with colleagues by scheduling some regular catch-ups. If you are used to being able to chat about work at the lunch room, keep those opportunities alive using your collaboration tools.
In addition to basic productivity tools like Microsoft Office 365, companies should make collaboration tools, such as Slack, Teams, Skype, Zoom, and Trello available for their employees. Currently, Microsoft and Google are giving away their enterprise-level conferencing tools, Teams and G Suite Hangouts Meet, respectively, for free for a limited time.
Having the appropriate applications in place to conduct virtual meetings encourages employees to feel connected and helps build a unified company culture.
5. Focus on Achievable Tasks
One of the biggest risks given the current climate is having your staff fall into a state of learned helplessness, meaning they've experienced repeated stressful, uncontrollable situations so they begin to believe that they can't do anything to control or change their situation, even when the power for positive change is available to them.
People tend to work differently at home than they do in the office. Some might be more productive at home while others struggle to maintain a balanced schedule. If you are used to working with your team face-to-face, make sure to schedule regular virtual meetings and agree on the tasks that you can all focus on individually. Writing down personal to-do lists for each day may help your team stay focused when working from home.
For some, being able to accomplish everything they might do in the office, from home, may not be possible. Be honest with yourself and your coworkers about what is and isn't possible from home and concentrate on what you can do
Approaching tasks with certainty not only leads to better outcomes, but serves three critical purposes. First, it puts your team in a better position than falling victim to paralysis, where nobody is able to finish or accomplish much of anything. Second, it serves as positive redirection away from distressing thoughts. Third, it builds a sense of self-efficacy, or the belief that you have the ability to accomplish your goals. Self-efficacy is an antidote to learned helplessness.
Help your team to focus on what they can do with certainty instead of drawing them back to what they don't know and can't control. For example, what projects can still happen even in a remote setting? What email still needs to be answered? What meetings will move the workflow forward?
6. Check in Daily with Your Team
When you're in the office, you spontaneously interact with your staff, and they spontaneously interact with you. When you're all remote, you need to be much more intentional about communication. Your staff needs will dictate what makes the most sense in terms of daily check-ins, but you want to keep some line of communication open.
At the more formal end, you could schedule daily, stand-in virtual meetings with your staff, where you check in and check out each day to make sure everyone is staying on track. Popular times to institute these check-ins include 8 a.m. and 3 p.m.
On the less formal end, you can send a quick message to each team member asking how they're doing and if there is any area where they need your support. The need for daily check-in's may subside over time once your team has settled into the rhythm of working remotely. Nevertheless, in the beginning, these touch points can make sure you keep everyone connected and no one slides too off-track during the transition.
7. Encourage Self-Care
With so much outside of our control, one thing within our control is how we take care of ourselves. Tell your employees to have times when they're on and off the clock, even as they're working from home. Encourage those working with you to take time to sleep, to exercise, and to generally engage in whatever other activities calm and rejuvenate their heart, mind, body, and spirit. These activities are essential for everyone to stay calibrated.
Finally, consider having some virtual team meet-ups. Enjoying lunch or a coffee together can maintain the sense that you are not alone and everyone is working together.