Successfully Managing a Remote Team
By: Dave Moline, Human Resources Generalist
It’s no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly changed our surroundings, our schedules, and the way we live our lives in 2020. As the virus spread in early spring, workplaces all over America and the world switched to virtual offices by sending people home. With COVID-19 still present in communities, working from home remains a reality for many today. Managing a remote team can provide challenges for managers as they keep employees engaged and productive during a crisis. By putting to use some of the simple steps outlined below, a crisis can become an opportunity to create camaraderie, growth, and trust among your team.
1. Communication Starts at the Top.
Frequent and pro-active communication during any crisis is critical. This communication should begin at the top of the organization with executives and senior management. Receiving information from leadership can provide clarity and reassurance of the organization’s status during an uncertain time. Providing transparent updates to employees on how the crisis is affecting clients, projects, products and services, and even the financial outlook of the organization can go a long way. It is important to communicate early and often regarding any changes to policies and the day-to-day operations of the organization. At MDT, we hold regular virtual staff meetings hosted by our Executive team. These meetings are an opportunity for employees to hear updates on our pandemic response, team accomplishments, and the current functioning of the company as a whole. We have also used channels in Slack, our internal messaging system, as an open forum for employees to ask any questions they have to HR and the Executive team. Providing the proper amount of information at the right time can instill a sense of security, trust, and loyalty to the organization that can last far beyond the end of the crisis.
2. Stop, Listen, and Consider.
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused stress to many people with sick loved ones, financial strains, and other pressures at home. This tension does not go away once the employee logs on to work. Be intentional to stop and check in with your team members to see how they are doing. Be a listening ear to employees and suggest any resources you can offer to help them succeed. One example is an Employee Assistance Program (EAP). An EAP is a benefit that can assist with needs such as counseling, wellness, family care, and much more.
We have promoted our EAP at MDT as a resource for employees to receive information and support during the pandemic. For employees with new and unexpected responsibilities such as caring for children or loved ones during the work day, consider whether a flexible or revised schedule may be needed. Lastly, encourage your employees to take advantage of their earned time off and maintain a healthy work/life balance.
3. Manage Workloads and Expectations.
Managers should continue to track their team members’ projects, tasks, and output in a remote environment. This requires a balance of both trust and accountability. A key step to maintaining alignment between you and your team is to hold regular one-on-one meetings to review priorities, answer questions, and discuss issues. Another idea is to utilize an online platform to track projects. Trello, Microsoft Planner, and SmartSheet are all examples of collaborative tools to assign and manage projects. Monitor how the pandemic may be affecting your team’s workload. For some, the amount of work may have increased. Make sure that tasks are properly balanced between team members and that they have the tools they need to maintain productivity. For others, their work may have slowed. This can provide an opportunity to start projects that there was no time for prior to the pandemic. No matter the situation, make sure employees have clear expectations of how to best prioritize their work, communicate with you, and support their team members.
4. Don’t Forget to Have Fun!
Remote employees cannot have the usual in-person interactions at the office; however, there are plenty of opportunities to stay engaged. Consider allowing employees to use video platforms such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, or Google Hangouts to host virtual meet-ups and events. This provides an opportunity to take a break from work and connect with others even when physically apart. Another idea is to hold company-wide challenges or games where people can engage with others outside of their team. Over the last 6 months, we have hosted multiple rounds of trivia and BINGO over Zoom. We have also reminded employees to stay active by hosting water and exercise challenges and a photo contest. Employees enjoyed sharing accomplishments and the games were fun and competitive. Don’t forget there are opportunities to give back even while your office is remote. At MDT, we held a talent show “Zoom-a-thon” in April where employees pledged $10,000 to four local charities with the donations matched 100% by the company. These activities are just some of the ways to maintain an engaging culture and strengthen your team.
Managing a remote team can offer new opportunities and a chance to help others grow personally and professionally. Whether you’re a new manager or a seasoned executive, how you lead during a crisis can make an impact on your employees for years to come. Your team will look to you as a guide to help navigate the challenges a crisis can bring to an organization. Stay positive, keep focused on the mission, and be a listening ear and an encouraging voice for your team. And remember, we will all get through this together!