Managing Remote Teams in a Crisis

People are not just working from home at the moment, they are working from home in a crisis. They may be juggling wider responsibilities of child care, social isolation and trying to get their shopping done. These are then less than optimal working conditions so how can leaders support and get the best out of their teams?

Challenges to Working Remotely

An obvious issue is the lack of face-to-face supervision. Usually, both managers and their employees express concerns about the lack of face-to-face interaction – with managers worrying about keeping their team working effectively and employees struggling with reduced access to support and communication.

Remote workers can feel that getting answers to what seem like simple questions are obstacles to working online. And this frustration can feed into interpersonal challenges among teams working remotely. Research has found that a lack of “mutual knowledge” among remote workers translates to a lower willingness to give coworkers the benefit of the doubt in difficult situations.

As social distancing is in full effect, we are all suffering the side-effects of social isolation – one of the most common complaints of remote staff. Over a longer period of time, isolation can lead to employees feeling less connected to their organisation.

The TV, the radio and, of course, the fridge – tempting distractions when working from home. And during this period of lock-down, many remote workers will also be juggling work with the challenge of having their kids at home.

So, how can leaders help and support their teams to continue work effectively, enjoy their work, and keep them happy?

Set Immediate & Clear Expectations

In times of uncertainty, keeping things transparent and clear is vital. A key part of this is setting clear expectations, so all members of your team know what’s expected of them. Let them know how often you want them to give feedback on progress. Whether you expect daily or weekly updates by letting your team know what you want from them, you can make sure you’re synchronised. 

During these difficult times, goals and objectives have probably been adjusted to maintain they are achievable and realistic. Clarification of your adjusted expectation, therefore, needs to be cascaded to teams, and equally important, is clarity on how you intend to measure actual results in relation to new goals.

Engage as Often as Possible

It’s important to engage directly with remote employees. Long spells without contact can leave people feeling disengaged from their work. Consistent engagement with all in your team, albeit on a remote basis, helps to ensure they feel included and valued which will boost motivation.

Managers should schedule regular team meetings and daily check-ins. Successful remote managers establish a daily call with their remote employees.  This could be a series of individual calls for employees who work more independently and team calls if the work is highly collaborative.

The key is that calls are regular, predictable and done through a platform that all your team are familiar with and are comfortable using in an interactive way. Wherever possible these should be face-to-face via, as phone conversations and email only go so far. Your team needs to see you, and you need to see them – in fact, we all need to see a human face or two in these lock-down times.

The good news is that services like Zoom, MS Teams, Google Hangouts, etc that make this relatively easy.

Take Advantage of Technology

The key to effective remote working is staying connected. There are a number of collaborative communication tools available to the remote worker that offer the features to keep teams engaged and updated.

Email is still an essential communication tool, with text messaging and WhatsApp good short-term solutions, but it’s online tools like Slack, Microsoft Teams and Google Hangouts that are the better option for collaboration and communication tools. As a manager, provide several different communication options, to establish what works best with your team and the work they are doing.

Many of remote working platforms are free or have base-level features available for free. As the Covid-19 situation develops, it could be a while until we see our offices again and have in-person meetings. So test a variety of communication tools available to see which you and your team like best – as you may be using it for a while.

Focus on Outcomes, Not Activity

It may be more difficult to monitor the activity of teams remotely – not having the actual physical and visual contact – so move focus to the outcomes and measure your team accordingly.

Managers can structure this by putting in place action plans for their teams. These need to have agreed metrics by which completion of each task is measured and deadlines for completion that all in the team are aware of. Then it’s a case of referring to the report in catch-up sessions to review the outcomes.

Working Through Isolation

As the government continues to tell us all to stay at home and social distance as much as possible, loneliness can become a real issue to remote working under lock-down. In fact, it is a common complaint about remote working at the best of times, with staff stating they miss the informal social interaction of an office setting.

As a manager, offer encouragement and emotional support where you can, but one of the most effective things to do is signpost employees to expert help.

Organisations like Mind, have produced guidance around many of the mental challenges we could face over this period. Along with this, there are specific Covid-19 working from home support packs that outline the practical things managers and teams can do to keep their mental health looked after during the pandemic.