5 key points for managing remotely in a time of Coronavirus
As plans change and announcements are made daily, COVID-19 is presenting most businesses with a challenge they never thought they’d face. Although the UK has yet to go down the mass closures and restrictions route of many other European countries, nevertheless phrases like ‘social distancing’ and ‘self-isolation’ have already entered our daily vocabulary.
Given the good sense in keeping our distance in these contagious times, more and more organisations worldwide (including Google, JP Morgan, and Twitter) are telling their people to work from home as a precautionary measure. Good news for pandemic management but a fresh challenge for business leaders and executives. After all, although a 2017 Stanford study has associated increased productivity with homeworking (13% up on equivalent office working) it also comes with a range of productivity-sapping pitfalls. So, with an ongoing sharp rise in remote working, it feels like the right moment to refresh our remote management skills.
The challenge of managing remote workers
Until you’ve managed a remote or virtual team, or been a member of one, it’s easy to take for granted the casual and constant communication that goes on between members of an all-in-one-place team. Yet remote workers are already an increasing part of the modern workplace – ‘field’ workers, home workers, freelancers… not everyone is in an office and even those who are may well be in a different office to their manager. In other words, the skills and practices needed to manage a dispersed workforce through the current crisis already exist and can be capitalised on. In terms of management, this situation is not unknown territory.
For your remotely working team members, the key challenges are:
- Motivation – Definitely not suggesting people need the boss breathing down their neck to perform but… if they’re used to being in the same office/building then they may not be used to kick-starting themselves to work at the kitchen table.
- Breaks – Taking a break is important, as is lunch, and those who try to work straight through the day often find energy and productivity flagging at times. On the flip side of the coin, suddenly faced with minimal or zero supervision some people may find it difficult to end a break!
- Home-work separation – Productivity rises when activities are focused and separate. However, the big temptation (and indeed, benefit) of homeworking is the flexibility, which can turn into the temptation to juggle household and work tasks – often to the detriment of both. Put another way, there are all those potential distractions from the work (one such ‘distraction’ might well be family and children).
The challenge for managers is to create the same environment of trust, confidence and regularity of dialogue for remote workers that they previously had ‘in the office’.
The ingredients of successful remote management
The fact is, working remotely, your employees are geographically cut off from their closest colleagues and teammates (and managers). The key to overcoming that isolation is down to managers using the necessary techniques and technology to maintain a sense of inclusion. The following is your shopping list of factors to consider:
- A team environment doesn’t have to depend on co-location and line of sight – The 3 Cs of virtual management are Collaboration, Communication & Coordination and all three can be achieved at a distance and without face-to-face contact.
- Technology – There’s no shortage of technological tools these days to enable the 3 Cs mentioned above. Aside from the obvious email, there’s.
- Communication protocols – It’s key that all employees understand how they are expected to communicate in a remote working situation. Not only to the extent of being able to use the above (or other) technologies but also knowing when they are expected to check in, when they are expected to be available, and so on. As important is knowing the manager’s availability and being able to get hold of them when necessary.
- Motivating at a distance – When you’re all in the same room, acknowledgement and encouragement are easier and often embedded in brief, casual conversations. Managers need to find new, casual ways of keeping in touch.
- Team culture – Your culture determines the kind of team you are and a challenge of remote working is maintaining and building that culture in a virtual environment. Try thinking about all the non-work-related things the team does, conversations they have. How can you replicate or replace them online? To take an example, how will you celebrate a team member’s birthday when you’re all scattered to the four winds?
Above all, the ‘remote manager’ needs to accept that different people will have different remote working preferences and needs re: interaction and communication (also bear in mind that they may not volunteer those preferences and needs; it’s likely you’ll need to raise and discuss the issue).
5 points to remember when managing remotely
- Agree some common structure. For example, a regular conference call team meeting, scheduled check-ins, etc.
- For individuals, agree or reiterate which tasks and duties are priority. Often, with a change of environment, everything can seem just that bit less certain so it won’t hurt to have a conversation around what’s important and what’s urgent.
- Working hours. Maybe you’re not in the same office anymore but you all still have your contracted hours. Think about when people should be available to contact, and whether you need some kind of online time-clock application or technology.
- Likewise, consider any security issues that might arise around team communications and data-sharing. Similarly, are your login procedures safe?
- Everybody may be working remotely but undoubtedly in different ways, with different circumstances (some live alone, some are in the family home, some have a dedicated home office, some are squatting on the sofa) . In other words, be wary of treating different team members differently in ways that might exclude people.
The focus right now may be on keeping everything afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic, however, this is also an opportunity for many businesses to evolve – it’s quite possible that when the crisis is over, many businesses with a previously 100% on-premises workforce may continue to exercise the remote working option, having experienced its benefits.
It’s been said that remote workers are more productive, happier, and less likely to leave the company. That might sound like a Radiohead song but it’s also a compelling (non-disease-related) motivation to manage through and around any remote working challenges. If you want to explore remote management further, check out our standard Remote Management workshop or our Remote Management webinar in June. Or just give us a call on 01582 463460. We’re here to help.