A new Gartner poll shows 88 percent of organizations have encouraged or required employees to work remotely because of current events. With millions suddenly working from home, managers find themselves in brand-new territory. How do you oversee remote teams effectively? How do you promote collaboration, keep people engaged, and make sure they're doing what they're supposed to be doing? At CompuCom, a quarter of our team members already worked remotely, so we understand the challenges and the advantages.
The Future of Work is Now
Thinking that the current situation is temporary may be a mistake. Gallup polling shows that nearly half of the U.S. workforce was already working at least part of the time remotely, and more than half would quit their current job for one that offers more flextime. As the cost of living in major metropolitan areas soars, valuable employees are looking for opportunities to move to cheaper cities while still working for their original employers. Studies also show remote work can be more productive and employees value the improved work-life balance. Now that we're in the midst of what Time called the "world's largest work-from-home experiment," don't be surprised if many employees newly working at home don't want to come back. It means that the future of work is now, and you're going to need remote team management skills today and in the future.
Managing Remote Team Tips
For managers used to directing onsite teams, the sudden change to remote can be disorienting. Still, many of the same management best practices apply; you just have to think about them in the new context.
1) Practice Empathy
While managing a remote team is new for you, remember that working from home is new for your employees too. They may be juggling all kinds of things at home like children who can't go to school, sharing workspace with a spouse, and technology challenges.
Have patience while they adjust and try to see things from their perspective.
Onsite teams can speak face-to-face and socialize, whereas a Harvard Business Review study shows remote workers often feel cut off or out of sight and out of mind. In the research, 46 percent of those polled said the best managers were those who "checked in frequently and regularly." It's essential to do that without appearing to micromanage. Getting together with them every few days to ask what they're working on and what they need help with is enough.
Daily standup calls are a useful way to drive collaboration, comradery, and ensure any issues can be identified and resolved early on. They help hold associates responsible and appropriately focused.
Because interactions with you as a manager are fewer, you need to articulate your thinking about the decisions you're making for your team and the broader organization in ways you may not have before, like emails, or virtual team meetings.
Remember that technology is your friend. Many organizations are giving remote workers tech bundles that go far beyond a simple laptop. Instant messaging tools in Microsoft Teams, Google G Suite, and Slack are great for collaboration and maintaining that casual ability to check in with coworkers. You can still get a face-to-face experience with videoconferencing tools like WebEx and Skype.
Because your team can't see your emotions in instant messages or emails, don't be afraid to use emojis to help convey the tone you're intending.
3) Be Clear About Expectations
Because remote workers don't have the normal structure of an office environment, make sure there's no confusion about what you want from them. You need a foundation of trust. Set formal policies and guidelines. Try to look at it from where they're sitting. Working from home means the lines between "work time" and "personal time" get blurred. Lay out for them what work is to be done and what the deadlines are. Set expected hours of availability too. Your overachievers are going to work outside regular office hours, but that can quickly lead to burnout if it's not kept under control. Communicate that employees should be making time for themselves and are not expected to respond to emails or do other tasks at odd hours unless it's an emergency.
Because work isn't being measured by hours in the office, emphasize other metrics for success like the goals that have been met or projects that have been finished.
4) Consider Team Projects
Another way to drive collaboration and the sense of everyone in it together is team projects using videoconferencing. Spend a few hours as a group trying to solve a problem or complete a project.
5) Recognize Individualism
Some people are naturals when it comes to remote work and thrive doing it. Others are starved for human interaction and need more support. Reach out to each member of your team and have an honest conversation about what works best for them and then make sure you're giving them what they need to be successful.
You can do a lot to make sure that team members don't feel as isolated by recognizing birthdays and sharing the family news and personal moments worth calling out. Make time in meetings for non-formal "water cooler" conversations and personal connections.
We will get through these challenging times, but the success of the world's largest work-from-home experiment shows organizations that can leverage distributed workforces will have advantages like better productivity, broader access to the best employees, and lower real estate costs. As Gartner recently pointed out, "the mandatory use of remote work for business continuity should signal to all organizations that it's time to revisit their remote working policies and redesign them for wider application as business as usual."
As a manager, what you learn now about leading remote teams will serve you well down the line in your career.