As a human resources consultant to small businesses, many of my clients are now working and managing teams remotely because of Covid-19. While initially they hoped this would be a short-term measure, this may no longer be the case. They have shared a variety of frustrations, including: difficulty in motivating themselves and their teams, challenges in communicating, loss of cohesion within the team and disconnect from the company culture. This is a particularly challenging situation, as there is not a definitive end date in sight. I have found the following tools to be particularly helpful during this time:
Set realistic expectations for yourself and your team. While in theory, it seems like by working remotely, you will have more hours to work and less distractions, this is not necessarily the reality. The items on the bottom of your “to do list” will not miraculously be accomplished. While you are not commuting, you may still need downtime at the beginning or end of the workday—to read, exercise or meditate. Also, while your colleague sitting next to you might not be chewing your ear off, you may have family members, pets or the local news update competing for your attention. It is beneficial to meet with your staff regularly to share your expectations and address any challenges that you or they anticipate. Be realistic in those expectations. Also, remember to celebrate individual and team successes, with a shout out on a call or an email noting something positive.
Determine how best to communicate and over communicate! Email, instant messaging, phone calls, and video meetings are all effective, so employ them all, as appropriate. For individual or team meetings, video meetings can be particularly beneficial because they allow you to read your team’s body language in addition to hearing what they have to say. Remind your team regularly that you are available to them if they are having any challenges or want to connect for any reason. In addition, don’t be afraid to share bad news, albeit tactfully. If some employees are laid off, after the impacted staff are spoken with, you should share this news with the remaining staff. Bad news travels fast and you don’t want them wondering if they are your next phone call.
Keeping the team cohesive and connected to company culture is critical. By having regular team and company-wide video meetings, you can improve morale and decrease feelings of isolation. Send out emails with positive messages or links to online resources, such as exercise classes, healthy recipes or family activities. Show your team you care about them as individuals, not just employees. Also consider hosting virtual team events, for instance a guest speaker (external or internal subject matter expert) over lunch, or a “quarantine happy hour” after work hours.
Don’t stop nurturing relationships. Remote relationships require more effort to develop than when you see someone daily. As the weeks go on, double down on your efforts rather than back down. Not only will this keep employees engaged, but also it will generate enthusiasm to return to your physical office.
Given the current situation, no one can predict exactly how much longer employees will be working remotely. However, by recognizing that managing staff remotely has its challenges, and addressing those challenges while maintaining realistic expectations, managers shine during this stressful time.