When COVID-19 swooped onto the scene, America’s workforce abruptly scattered into living and dining rooms across the country. While approximately one-quarter of our workforce was already remote, the number exploded practically overnight.

A few months later, companies are beginning to look at things with a long-term lens and many are making the decision to keep their workforce permanently distributed.

As COVID risks remain high, maintaining a remote team makes sense. Managers and companies are realizing additional benefits of a distributed workforce – cost savings and increased productivity. Offices are expensive. Utilities are expensive. Reducing the overhead burden of facilities contributes directly to the bottom line.

The increase of remote work over the past decade has demonstrated the result of happier employees who tend to be more productive. In fact, a robust two-year Stanford University study showed a productivity boost equivalent to a full days work in addition to a 50% decrease in employee attrition among telecommuters.

Remote work can lead to a productivity boost equivalent to a full day’s work.

You can successfully manage your remote team by incorporating four key leadership elements.

Four key elements

1. Be flexible and patient

In the case of a sudden change to remote work due to COVID, your employees will need time, and your help, to transition. They may not have a dedicated workspace or high-speed internet and may have additional family and parenting challenges due to school closures.

In spite of distractions and interruptions by family members, household chores, etc. long-term remote workers report that they are able to focus on their work better at home and spend more time in the ‘zone’ of productivity. A dedicated workspace and regular schedule are two keys to this productivity boost. Be patient and encouraging as your employees find their feet.

2. Set clear expectations

Your team needs to be very clear about goals, tasks, and expectations. It is important for you to provide direction, guidance, resources, information, and technology that your employees need to be successful.

Project management collaboration tools like Basecamp, Asana, or Trello can keep your team on the same page, provide a roadmap for project progress, and a central repository for shared information.

The focus for a remote team leader is not on time or activity but rather on the outcome. Remote work is based on trust. Hire people you trust and trust the people you hire. High-performing employees value autonomy within their role. Provide accountability for productivity and meeting deadlines balanced with flexibility on how and when your employee meets his or her goals.

Another note, remote work can create boundary issues. Be certain to set clear and reasonable expectations to allow employees to unplug and relax.

Technology troubles

Zoom is both a friend and a foe. Video calls bring a higher level of connection because your team can see and hear one another. Being at the computer, however, creates the temptation of multi-tasking. We’ve all checked an email, answered a text, or something else while on a video meeting. Set ground rules for your meetings. Ask participants to turn off notifications and other programs.

In turn, plan your Zoom meetings to be informative and effective and not an added burden. Video meetings create an unusual method of interaction where we are looking directly at a colleague’s face in a constant manner that wouldn’t happen in real life. This level of attention can be draining, especially for the introverts in your group. The frequency and structure of your Zoom meetings can help manage that fatigue.

3. Communicate – A LOT

You and your team will need to be MORE aware of communication to be successful working remotely. Coworkers will need access to information and will need to collaborate over distance to complete their work.

Tools like email, Slack, Zoom, and Microsoft Teams can create both active and passive communication channels for the transfer of information. Be aware! These tools also remove many of the cues we use for interpersonal communication like vocal tone, facial expression, and body language. Assume good intentions and over-communicate to avoid miscommunication.

Schedule regular and structured check-ins

  • Use video on a regular basis for face-to-face connection
  • Dedicate some time to social interaction
  • Always have a meeting agenda and purpose
  • Manage your team’s time well. It’s OK to have a 15-minute meeting.

Talk about it

Dedicate some time in your regular check-ins to provide emotional support to your team. An abrupt change to work-from-home may be stressful. Many employees struggle with isolation and loneliness and miss the camaraderie of the office. Others may be trying to wrangle work/life balance.

Ask how your team is doing, what is working, and where are they struggling. Create a friendly environment for open discussion. Acknowledge the stress and challenges your team is facing. Finally, offer encouragement and affirmation.

4. Celebrate often

Celebrate the wins publicly and often!  Encourage your team to acknowledge both personal and team achievements inside and away from work. Did someone welcome a baby? Celebrate! Did a team member meet a tough goal? Celebrate? Graduated? Celebrate! When possible, and when we can do so safely, arrange in-person team gatherings i.e. ’on-sites’ to deepen the team bond and acknowledge the individual contributions to the group’s overall success.

© Blue Skies Strategy Coaching 2018

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