The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the idea of work, that cannot be disputed. It is estimated that by the end of March 2020, over 100 countries had instituted some manner of lockdown, which confined millions of people to their homes and forced many companies to institute remote work policies. It should be noted that even though COVID-19 has added to the number of people working remotely, the World Economic Forum reported that an estimated 7% of employees in the US had already had an option to work from home prior to the pandemic. This implies that the virus has boosted this trend that was slowly moving in the direction of teleworking. Those who may dismiss this move toward remote working as a passing fad should note that as a result of the lockdowns, a majority of the workforce prefers to work from home at least some of the time.
For those managers and supervisors who now find themselves responsible for supervising remote employees, this may feel overwhelming. Indeed, managing virtual teams is a specific skill that needs to be honed and performed in a specific way. This now requires that managers cannot simply continue with business as usual. So, we have decided to put together some of our top tips to successfully manage remote teams to help companies overcome some of the challenges of teleworking. Some of these challenges might include failing to differentiate between remote work and traditional work, failure to set clear expectations and lines of communication, and a decrease in productivity and efficiency. As companies continue to operate remotely, to adapt to this new post-pandemic era, the job of the manager has also evolved. Managers are now required to learn these new skill sets to effectively manage their remote employees.
First, as a manager, before you can determine what is expected of your remote employees, you will need to start by looking at what is expected of you. Look back on what your responsibilities have been throughout the pandemic and determine how you can more efficiently carry out your duties. Remember that in the remote setting your interactions with your team members has changed, and, therefore one of your most important jobs is to provide your team members with a solid understanding of what is required of them in their new work environments. This will ensure that each employee is clear about what you expect of them and what they can expect of you.
Second, create a structure to promote productivity. Since it is easy to disconnect when employees work in different locations, managers can mitigate and overcome this challenge by creating a team rhythm. Supervisors should review their procedures regarding how they monitor projects and how efficiently their team members communicate with each other to complete assigned tasks. There should be a clear timetable for meetings and all team members should have a clear line of communication to their team and supervisor to report on the status of projects. This will enable all employees to know what different people are doing on a day-to-day or week-to-week basis so that they have an idea of where they fit in the whole process.
Third, focus on communication. When team members are all working together in the workplace, it is easy for an employee to simply walk into their manager’s office to ask a question. When working remotely, your team members may not always know when you are available to talk. Thus, managers should assess how well their lines of communication are working now to determine if a change in procedure is necessary to enable to the flow of communication. One of the best methods that can be used is to ask employees how they want to be managed and communicated with while working remotely. Does the team prefer phone calls or video chats over emails? That way, managers can utilize different tools of communication to best fit the team’s culture.
Fourth, determine outputs and forget about activity. In the traditional work setting, as long as someone has clocked in and is sitting at their desk and leaves at the agreed time, they usually consider themselves to have completed a full day’s work. However, when teleworking, work life and home life are no longer easy to separate. Thus, managers should no longer be concerned with the amount of time an individual is sitting at their desk but focus on the product that is delivered. To determine outputs, there is a need for clarity regarding what you expect your team members to accomplish over a given period. To ensure that tasks don’t lag, create milestones that include set deadlines to include intermediate check-ins to follow up on progress.
Fifth, create well-documented procedures that employees can rely on to enable them to efficiently complete a task. Remember that remote team members cannot simply walk over to their colleague’s desk to ask how they should do something. Managers should first determine if they have clearly written procedures to help employees work through tasks without having a breakdown in productivity that requires them to reach out to another employee or manager and wait for an answer. Documenting these procedures and ensuring that employees know where to access those documents is an important step to increase productivity. This will cut down on the time a manager or other team member will have to spend answering questions.
Sixth, look for opportunities for collaboration. Supervisors may be managing their teams by focusing solely on assigning individual tasks to individual team members as a way to more easily manage their team. However, this could lead to employees feeling even more socially isolated than they are already by working remotely. Instead of having one employee work on one project on their own, determine ways for your remote workers to accomplish projects in small teams. An easy way to do this is to provide a shared document that tracks work activities, which will allow managers to stay apprised of what their teams are doing without having to set up a meeting or call to check in on their progress.
Seventh, acknowledge your employee’s unique circumstances. When everyone is working in the office, more or less everyone is experiencing the same work environment. However, remote workers face different challenges when working from home. And since managers cannot control what goes on in their employee’s home, they can, at the very least, be aware and validate each unique situation. Exercising empathy and understanding is crucial to keeping your team members motivated.
And lastly, recognize and celebrate success and take the opportunity to appreciate employee feedback. While it is vital to treat everyone on your team equally, you should still be able to recognize and celebrate excellence. Since it may not be possible to walk down the hall and tell your team member they did a great job on a project, be deliberate about mentioning this during team meetings and in your one-on-one meetings. This also provides other employees with details about what the expected standard is. Recognition is even more critical than ever in the remote work context. Appreciation will inspire trust and teams will function better when they are founded on strong bonds characterized by trust and respect. Inform them what it is that they have done well and ask them to provide feedback on how they thought they performed. Ask other team members to provide and use that opportunity to hone in on ways to increase productivity. However, it is critical that if you are asking team members to provide feedback that you can actually implement their feedback into your procedures. This will allow your team to feel that their opinions and ideas are valued.
We encourage employers and their managers and supervisors to take the time to evaluate their teleworking procedures to determine some areas where they feel communication or productivity is lacking. While it is easy to simply explain these practices of managing remote teams, every company and team is different and requires its own unique solutions. Don’t hesitate to reach out to one of PMP’s HR Directors if you have any questions regarding your teleworking procedures.