If you are working from home to keep business going while your company enforces “social distancing,” count it as a blessing. For all the inconveniences of having your team everywhere but in the office, it’s still great to have work.
In fact, having a sense of shared purpose is the foundation of successfully managing your team – in the office or not. Having managed virtual teams and virtual managers for almost 10 years, I can recommend a few specific actions you’ll want to take to keep everyone’s performance—and their spirits—up.
If you’ve been working remotely for a couple of weeks now, hopefully, your technology kinks have all been worked out. But it helps to make sure. Invite your team to share any challenges they’re having with their software, Internet connection, or whatever. You may not be able to solve it. But if they know that you know, they won’t drive themselves crazy trying to be their usual productive selves without their usual tools.
Probably the hardest thing for you to do right now, as a manager, is to feel like a manager. This is especially true if you usually “manage by walking around.” If that’s your style, you know how much the personal touch adds to team members’ focus and productivity. It’s also a great opportunity to get a sense of how people are feeling in their tasks.
You can actually do the same thing online, just not the same way. If you have video conferencing capabilities, hold virtual team gatherings just to share what’s going on. Make a special point of doing email or chat shout-outs to the whole team that acknowledges individual achievements. It can be a business win—big or small—or just a birthday. It lets everybody know you’re paying attention to the details of their work… and you care about their success.
You’ll also want to invite feedback and informal chats to keep communication open.
If the personal touch isn’t your style, here’s your chance to develop that muscle. If you’ve always been that person in the corner office—and now there is no corner office—your team may feel more disconnected than ever. Actions like those mentioned above have a huge positive impact on morale and productivity.
In fact, morale and productivity are two sides of the same coin. (Actually, it’s a thousand-dollar bill!) It’s all about commitment to the company’s mission. You are the face of the company to your staff. The more people know you care about them, the more they care about their work.
Managing Like A Boss
Of course, you still need to know everyone is on task, staying productive, and collaborating appropriately.
There are all kinds of online workflow management tools. You may use some of them already, even in the office. If not, this may be just the opportunity you need to get your team on a shared platform. This will help with coordinating between people in different locations now, and it’ll probably help make things go more smoothly once everybody is back in the office.
You might also appreciate the insight it gives you. These kinds of online platforms are a great way to avoid having to ask “Where do we stand on…?” If you don’t feel you’re getting the information you need to do your own job effectively, this may be some new technology you need, period.
If workflow software is going to be a special initiative to address work-from-home issues, first ask yourself: What information am I not getting? It might be that you simply need to use different features of your current software in a new way. If you do need to implement new software—whether it passively monitors employee computer activity, or especially if it requires employee operations—make sure your team is aware of it and understands why you need it.
Such a move can and should always be seen in a positive light. Explain how it will help you manage their workload, or avoid interrupting them with status requests, or whatever the reason might be. If the reason is really that you have staff you can’t trust, you have a bigger problem. The remote work situation is just bringing it to a head.
Which brings us to the biggest lesson from being forced to manage your team remotely: You have to promote trust to get the most from your team.
You start by giving it. Assume good intentions. Assume your people want to do their jobs well. If work is not getting done as well as it should be, assume it’s because your people don’t have the tools or the information they need. And that’s the first question you ask in addressing the shortfall: “What can I do to help you?”
Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, the trust you give will be returned to you many times over. People may occasionally not give their all on a project. But nobody wants to betray a trust. When you show your people you care about them and the project they’re working on, they will move heaven and earth to avoid letting you down. This goes double when they are working remotely. They feel your trust even more powerfully when they are the ones projecting it.
An unanticipated advantage of managing a remote staff is how you can handle the inevitable (and hopefully rare) “closed-door” conversation. When everyone’s working remotely, every one-on-one conversation is necessarily private. The rest of the staff doesn’t even know that it’s happening. That’s easier on everyone.
The Best You
As you may have figured out by now: Managing a remote team requires exactly the same skills as managing people in-person. It takes emotional intelligence, clear communications, and positive actions.
You may have to get some new technology to make it happen. You may have to find new ways to bridge the physical distance and to make up for the loss of physical cues. But, if you were a good manager before, you will find you can be just as effective now. In fact, you may find your team “leans in” a little more to help make up the difference.
If you have room to grow as a manager, the extra effort to manage effectively in a remote situation could be just the growth serum you need.
Either way, it can definitely inspire professional development that will serve you for years to come as remote personnel become a permanent—and growing—fixture in the workplace.
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