As more and more workers opt through necessity or preference to work from home, their managers are hustling to give them the direction and support they need. But in an age of social distancing due to COVID-19, how do you maintain a cohesive team when people are increasingly not co-located?
As the situation is nothing like before, we have to innovate ways to build a cohesive team despite the circumstances. This is the time when we are actually feeling the blessings of technology and the internet. Internet connectivity, mobile devices, and collaborative applications have become more and more sophisticated. The emergence of robust new technology, including tools powered by artificial intelligence, makes it even easier for employees to work from home or anywhere, seamlessly and productively.
But your technology can’t supply the leadership and real unifying force remote employees need. That depends on you. Here are some ideas for managing a remote team.
Building a great channel for communication is what helps in a remote setup. An extra effort to keep everyone who’s working from home in the loop is needed and that means we need to have a process and routine which ties everyone.
Suggest creative ways staff can maintain strong customer service with colleagues through internal communication,— how to rework delivery schedules, mutually alter priorities or use technology, for example. And since there will be limited interpersonal contact, explain the importance of prompt response times for emails and phone calls.
Check-in frequently to demonstrate your concern about people’s well-being and the potential sense of isolation. Consider daily 15-minute video calls with your team just to check in on non-work matters and give participants a chance to tell the group how they are coping. In other words, make them comfortable discussing how they are faring with their new situation — as people.
How have their daily habits changed? Are they able to walk the dog more often? How are they handling everyday disruptions which are normal at home, like the presence of pets, or sudden interruptions of kids? What tips can they pass on to others to make working from home easier or more productive?
Consider conducting video conference calls rather than just audio ones. Platforms like Zoom or Skype for Business can be easy to set up. Seeing colleagues in their home office environment gives a sense of “we’re all in this together” and builds camaraderie. Be creative. Maybe you all can meet for a cup of coffee over skype or have an online quiz competition. Other services such as Slack and Google Hangouts can help your workforce keep in touch with each other throughout the day.
Let your team know it’s OK to vary work hours to the extent possible. Tell them it’s entirely reasonable to leave a quick email that they’ve gone outside for a brief walk. Or They are taking a short break for tea and may not be available for a call.
Make sure essentials like production schedules, project timelines, background documents and the like are stored in a central online location, like SharePoint, Dropbox, Google Docs, that all remote employees can access.
A simple online calendar app can help ensure that everyone on your team can easily share and view the latest schedule details in one place.
Experienced remote workers may not need as much support as those new to the idea. People may feel particularly left out or uneasy when they first start to work remotely if they have not really done so before. Consider the value of teamwork in the remote scenario. Ask others in the team to check on the new members and help them when needed. You can also try creating small online activities to break the ice and ensure that you are reachable anytime.
Although frequent communication is paramount, avoid going too far and micromanaging remote employees. Employees need to feel confident that you believe they’re working as hard as they would in a regular office, including keeping similar hours and maintaining productivity even if they aren’t visible. If you’re unnecessarily checking in several times a day with remote workers just to see “how things are going,” those employees may feel like you don’t trust them. But it does not mean keeping a blind eye to the team. It’s not rare that a team loses the flow and gets disengaged.
Remember that remote employees can be as effective as on-site employees, but only if they have a manager who is constantly tying the team together — work-wise and emotionally. Don’t make the situation sound daunting. After all, employees don’t need special skills to work from home, just support, and direction. Emphasize that it’s still a great team and everyone will be up to speed with the new processes and procedures very soon. In short, be available for their needs when they seek help.
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