Never had to send your team to work from home suddenly all at the same time and supervise them remotely before? You are not alone. The Coronavirus Crisis has pulled the rug out from under many bosses and employees and forced sudden technology bumps and workforce changes for businesses around the world. That includes schools and their students and workforces, from elementary through college and university level. The Society for Human Resource Management quotes a survey from the law firm Seyfarth that shows 67 percent of employers surveyed have employees working from home who don’t normally do so.
Calm Through the Storm
As you work from home with your newly remote team during an unprecedented worldwide pandemic, there will be learning curves for everyone. As the one responsible for directing their work, your employees will look to you for guidance and support, and this is a good time to remember to keep coaching. It’s important to stay calm and positive even though your employees may have varying degrees of anxiety, uncertainty, and fear. You may experience this too, but in your leadership role, the calmer and more reasonable you appear to your team, the better outcomes you’ll all have professionally and personally. Barbara Larson, Susan Vroman, and Erin Makarius, writing for Harvard Business Review, advise avoiding criticism and focusing on positive language and phrases like “we’ve got this” and “I know we can handle this.”
Brown University associate professor Judson Brewer, MD, reports that mindfulness meditation is a great anxiety reliever and recommends it during stressful times. The simple practice closing your eyes and bringing to mind a family member or loved one and silently offering a phrase of well-wishing such as “may you be safe and happy” provides a calm grounding. You can suggest this or practice it with your remote group daily as a calming influence at the start of the work day or beginning of meetings.
Be Sure to Check in Regularly
Normal office working interactions are varied, with face-to-face, telephone, email, videoconferencing, and instant messaging. When everyone is working remotely, interactions may tend to drop off unless you plan them intentionally. Even if everyone is very knowledgeable and competent in their roles, a sudden switch to working remotely is disruptive and jarring. Keeping the lines of communication and interaction open with daily check-ins will help working relationships and productivity.
If your group has formal deadlines or milestones to meet, you may want to schedule daily check-ins and check-outs at the beginning and end of each work day to keep everyone on track. A less formal check-in routine may just be a quick phone call, email or instant message to each team member to see how they are and offer support. Maybe weekly videoconferencing check-ins are what your group needs. Consider the type of work and working relationships in your group to decide what kind of regular check-in is needed most and then maintain it consistently. Perhaps work check-ins and personal check-ins are what your group needs to keep up productivity and help workers feel supported and connected.
Maintain Good Communication
A study cited by Harvard Business Review explains that remote workers value good communication and feel the best managers are the best communicators. They value managers who are good listeners, ask about their workloads and progress, and communicate respect and trust to their work teams. When you and your team are suddenly separated and working remotely, it’s important to keep good communication without micromanaging. Executive coach Julia Wuench says one way to do that is to keep a list of your team members with their photos to make sure you have regular touch points with everyone. LearnLoft CEO John Eades recommends asking 3 questions each week of team members: What are you working on? What have you completed? Where do you need help?
Global CEO Coach Sabina Nawaz says it’s a struggle to maintain “meaningful access to managers” in the sudden new normal of working from home. Manager distancing is a problem for employees and managers alike in the workforce that’s been relocated from office to home amid a pandemic. She found successful communication strategies help reduce stress in remote teams, ease work progress concerns, maintain and improve productivity, and keep healthy communications overall.
These strategies include frequent connections, regular question time to address daily questions, setting up and maintaining consistent rituals, setting clear boundaries for communications, inviting team members to name problems promptly, and ensure regular feedback.
- In addition to regular check-ins, consistently reaching out to each team member for either work or personal connections keeps a vital link to combat feelings of isolation and distance.
- Setting up an hour at the same time each day when your team can contact you with questions or concerns both keeps good connections and availability while avoiding any overwhelming contact.
- Setting up predictable rituals for team communication and interaction helps provide a calming and normalizing mood during unpredictable circumstances. This can be as simple as starting each meeting with the same question about how everyone is feeling, using a theme, or using coaching quotes.
- Setting boundaries for communications includes clearly communicating and sticking to start and end times and lunch times so everyone understands availability.
- Asking or directing team members to bring problems up as soon as they occur instead of trying to troubleshoot alone or let things go by the wayside helps keep everyone focused on sharing the workload and moving things forward.
- Providing consistent feedback, with a focus on positive but also corrective when needed, helps prevent feelings of isolation and anxiety that can come up when remote workers get only “crickets” as they navigate their new work environment.
Although the sudden shift to remote work because of the coronavirus crisis is stressful and disruptive to daily life and business, managers can do much to keep people connected and move productivity forward. Creating good communications and connections is the key during these uncertain times.