Managing Newly Remote Teams During the Coronavirus Outbreak
Managing isn’t easy. And during a time of crisis, it’s much harder.
In the light of the coronavirus outbreak, across the globe, managers are finding themselves faced with a brand new challenge: managing our teams remotely. We’re navigating the technical aspects, but also the emotional ones. How do we keep morale high and provide reassurance? How do we support people who might be feeling lonely, helpless, or face financial difficulty?
If you’re asking these questions, that already says so much about the kind of leader you are. And adjusting our approach can make a difference.
I’m no expert on remote management. But I wanted to share some of the things that have helped my colleagues and I create a productive, positive and supportive environment for our people.
It’s Management 101, but first we need to set the rules. We should start from the absolute basics – never assume something’s obvious at a time like this.
For example, what flexibility do people have in terms of working hours? Do they need to be available online or on particular platforms like Slack? How are we going to communicate? When must things be done by? How quickly must emails be responded to?
Establish a time for a regular (ideally daily) check-in with every member of the team. Yes, all of them! It’s really common for successful managers of remote teams to have daily check-ins. If your team all perform a different job, it might be sensible to do them separately, or if they all do a similar job or work very closely together (such as a sales team) they could be done together.
Having something in the calendar which is predictable, where people are encouraged to offer their thoughts and feelings, creates a productive and structured environment and keeps people in the loop.
Videoconference if possible! It’s much better for feeling connected and also picking up on visual cues for how someone is feeling at what is a stressful time for most people. It avoids the misunderstandings which can come about through typing to each other. You could use Slack, Zoom or Hangouts for this.
Time for small talk
More than ever, it’s important not always simply to jump straight in to business. Sure, sometimes it’s necessary! But if that’s all you do, for one thing, you’re not fulfilling your role as a manager and you could be missing an opportunity for someone to tell you something important about their personal circumstances or feelings. And right now, that’s crucial. We all need to be looking out for each other on a human level.
In addition, you want to trust that if they have something they want to say, they can feel safe coming to you, or even give you some feedback. We should always be open to feedback, after all. And this can only be done by building rapport.
There is brilliant software out there for remote teams.
Trello is an absolutely fantastic tool for organisational tasks – we use it every day.
For communication, Slack is just as good as everyone says – much more efficient than emails!
Sharing news and updates
With such a rapid transition from coming into the office every day to almost never leaving home, it’s easy for company and team updates to become lost in the ether. Think about how this can be centralised and distributed in such a way that it will be consistent, digestible and that everyone knows where to find it.
At Northcoders, we use a weekly bulletin curated from team managers, which has really worked.
Tackle loneliness and isolation
Human interaction is often taken for granted, until we’re prevented from coming in to see our colleagues every day. It’s a core way humans are programmed to cope. Unsurprisingly, lack thereof can lead to declining mental health.
I’m very introverted and (pre-coronavirus) almost always quite happy to stay in during the evenings, but even I am missing seeing different faces every day. I dread what to think what it’s like for people who energised by others and drained by their own company!
So do what you can to engage your team. Ask them what they’re doing to keep busy, share what you’re up to and share ideas. Ask them about their art project or their jog in the park yesterday evening. Tell them about the spring cleaning you’re doing this weekend, or where you’re up to in your latest box set. Be human. Ask how people are feeling and listen to the answer. You would want someone to do the same for you.
We’ll get through this
All we can do is control the controllables. Everybody is in this together – so more than ever, we must support each other and let this crisis bring out the best of us and bring us closer.
Here is some advice for looking after your mental health during the coronavirus outbreak from Mental Health England.
Here is the official NHS advice for coronavirus.
If you are in the UK, remember to stay up to date with the UK Government’s instructions around coronavirus.
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