Prepared or not, you find yourself the manager of a fully remote team. It’s likely you have never worked 100%-remote, let alone managed a team in this setting. Add to that the overall unrest in the world, and this task can seem overwhelming and daunting.
Rest assured, at this moment, you’re more essential than ever. Effective remote working teams don’t just require the right technology—they require the right leadership.
Based on my own decade of experience working from home and coaching on the subject, here are five strategies you can employ to manage your newly remote workers
Stay calm and positive
Given the massive amount of uncertainty with the coronavirus and ensuing panic, all of your employees will be more on-edge than usual. Some will feel anxious about what’s happening or may happen in the future. Others will feel angry, while still others will feel completely apathetic thinking, “What’s the use in trying?”
Outside of your role as a leader, you can, and should, feel whatever you need to feel. But in your role as a leader, you will best serve your team by being a voice of reason and calm. The more you can show up from a place of empathy, respect, understanding, and peace, the more those under your leadership will have the ability to calm themselves and to do their work.
Work extra hard to communicate in a level manner, emphasize verbal support and encouragement, and if at all possible, avoid criticism. Your workers won’t be at 100% during this time, but by being a source of stability, you maximize the productivity that your employees are able to have in this situation.
Focus on achievable tasks
One of the biggest risks given the current climate is having your staff fall into a state of learned helplessness, meaning they’ve experienced repeated stressful, uncontrollable situations so they begin to believe that they can’t do anything to control or change their situation, even when the power for positive change is available to them.
Approaching tasks with certainty not only leads to better outcomes, but serves three critical purposes. First, it puts your team in a better position than falling victim to paralysis, where nobody is able to finish or accomplish much of anything. Second, it serves as positive redirection away from distressing thoughts. Third, it builds a sense of self-efficacy, or the belief that you have the ability to accomplish your goals. Self-efficacy is an antidote to learned helplessness.
Help your team to focus on what they can do with certainty instead of drawing them back to what they don’t know and can’t control. For example, what projects can still happen even in a remote setting? What email still needs to be answered? What meetings will move the workflow forward?
Help with prioritization
Given the dramatic changes going on both in the outside world and within your organization, you need to provide vision and direction on the current priorities. Ideally, you’ll want to meet with each team member one-on-one to discuss how you want each person to direct their focus. If that’s not possible, at least have a team meeting to discuss what you see as the top priorities and what you believe can wait for now.
Also, your team members may only have the mental capacity to juggle a certain number of projects, given all the changes. If you can narrow down the focus to two or three main initiatives, it will help your teams move forward and reduce the chance of becoming overwhelmed.
Check in daily with your team
When you’re in the office, you spontaneously interact with your staff, and they spontaneously interact with you. When you’re all remote, you need to be much more intentional about communication. Your staff needs will dictate what makes the most sense in terms of daily check-ins, but you want to keep some line of communication open.
At the more formal end, you could schedule daily, stand-in virtual meetings with your staff, where you check in and check out each day to make sure everyone is staying on track. Popular times to institute these check-ins include 8 a.m. and 3 p.m.
On the less formal end, you can send a quick message to each team member asking how they’re doing and if there is any area where they need your support. The need for daily check-in’s may subside over time once your team has settled into the rhythm of working remotely. Nevertheless, in the beginning, these touch points can make sure you keep everyone connected and no one slides too off-track during the transition.
With so much outside of our control, one thing within our control is how we take care of ourselves.
Tell your employees to have times when they’re on and off the clock, even as they’re working from home. Encourage those working with you to take time to sleep, to exercise, and to generally engage in whatever other activities calm and rejuvenate their heart, mind, body, and spirit. These activities are essential for everyone to stay calibrated.
Finally, consider having some virtual team meet-ups. Enjoying lunch or a coffee together can maintain the sense that you are not alone and everyone is working together.