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How to be an Effective Manager When the Team is Working Remotely

By Triparna de Vreede

TAMPA (March 18, 2020) -- With COVID-19 upending our lives, we all have to adjust to a new normal. One of the aspects of the new normal is remote work. It is the time when true priorities of the organizations are revealed.

Much more can be gleaned about the organizational values from how the employees are treated by their companies and supervisors than can be stated in any mission or value statements that the organization may have.

How can supervisors ensure continuity in productivity while ensuring that they approach their employees and work with compassion and understanding? Some of the tips are below:

  1. Have a clear and articulate set of expectations
    The expectations have to be very detailed down from themes to categories to individual deliverables. Sit with your employee to assess all the work that they do and all the deliverables that they are responsible for. Determine (together if possible) how their work will be assessed, how frequently, and how the deliverables will be obtained. Have an “onboarding meeting” to discuss these topics and also have these expectations in a document for your employees to access.

  2. Have clear communication guidelines
    Especially in remote working, have a clear channel of communication. Have backups of communication mode if the primary mode fails. Have different communication options for different set ups (one on ones, small groups, larger groups, groups that have to co-create etc.). Have as many rich media as possible (teams, zoom, skype etc.). Have these guidelines in a document for your employees to access.

  3. Provide resources
    Not all employees have all resources to complete the work needed on time and with the quality that is demanded of them. Make sure your employees are equipped with computers, internet bandwidth, and webcams to ensure a continuity of service. Check in often whether the tools that they have been provided are reliable and if they have all the resources they need.

  4. Have frequent check ins
    Have a structured check in with your group once a day. It may be for a few minutes, but it allows you to make sure they have all the resources necessary to be productive. It also helps you to know the obstacles they might be facing. Finally, it allows for predictability in the workday. Ask questions like “what do you have on your plate today?” “what difficulties are you facing so far or are anticipating today?” “How can we help each other best today?”

    In addition to the group meetings, make sure you also have one on ones frequently. Your employees may need some contact with you to feel a sense of belonging. One on ones are a great time for you to provide encouragement and social support. Ask questions like “how are you doing?”, “how is remote working going for you?”, “How is the situation at home?” or “Is there anything I can do to help?”. Make these one on ones last as long as the employee wants.

  5. Make virtual meetings feel real
    Use videos whenever possible to ensure that both the verbal and the non-verbal components are being relayed by all team members

    Just like we tend to do before we start meetings, ensure that your team engages in some small talk before the meeting starts. In addition, add humor to your meetings so that your employees end the meetings with a smile. It also helps build rapport and strengthens the team bonds.

  6. Be available
    In addition to checking in with your employees, let them know that you are always there for them. Provide them with your cell number. Respond to their queries swiftly and empathetically. Have a chat open that your team members can shoot quick questions to. Encourage your team to do so as well. It replaces the quick peek at the door to ask a question!

  7. Be calm, resourceful, and practical
    Your employees, like children are looking to you for verbal and nonverbal cues of how things are going. If you are stressed out and communicate the chaos that you are feeling, is it likely that they will feel it too. It is important for leaders to acknowledge the stress and upheaval that the group or individual employees are experiencing. But, in addition to offering resources, it is also important for leaders to exude confidence in the group’s abilities to successfully overcome them.

  8. Be flexible: Focus on deliverables, and not on the time spent working
    Your employees are working under stressful environments under uncertain conditions. They may be facing a lot of personal challenges that may make an 8- hour workday every day impossible. So, trust your team to keep their work done on schedule. Leaders should change their mind set from keeping their employees busy to having their employees deliver specific variables. Since it is not possible to manage the time of every employee, it is better to focus on assigning concrete deliverables and evaluating your employees on their accomplishment.

  9. Preserve social bonds and sense of inclusion
    It is easy for remote staff to feel isolated not just from work and peers but also from decisions. Make sure that you make the decisions that you usually made as a group are still made in groups. Being online does not mean losing a sense of community.

    Have social interactions with your team. For instance, you can celebrate the birthdays and other milestones online. Ask your employee to blow out the candles while your team cheers on virtually. Or you can have virtual lunches with your teammates as a group or one on one and discuss non-work related things.

  10. Create a virtual water-cooler (you can name it such)
    Make sure you have virtual meetings for your employees where they can come and chat. There may or may not be anyone when they come to the virtual cooler, but it mimics the cooler. In addition, try to stay away from it to allow a safe place for the employees to talk.

    Encourage your team to have some on-nomi (Japanese practice of drinking together online) with some coffee during work hours and with some beer after hours. Make it a point to join them sometimes!

  11. Create an online support community for remote workers
    Ask your employees to answer some remote working specific questions that may help others. Encourage others to ask more questions and respond to questions if they can. Reward this interactive behavior.

    Create threads where employees can help each other technologically, emotionally, or any other way they need help. Answer questions when you can or create a new thread “ask your team lead” that everyone can follow.