Tips for managing remotely when you realise that your team isn’t all heading back to the office

The current Coronavirus crisis has meant that many people have very quickly had to adapt to working from home. The speed of the change was phenomenal and definitely difficult for many organisations and their staff. Working in a global pandemic is challenging, most certainly for those key workers that we all depend on, but also for those working from home, often trying to manage childcare, caring responsibilities, and their workload. Add to this that we are all dealing with the emotional impact of the lockdown and the worries that a global pandemic brings.

As I write this, we are beginning to ease out of lockdown here in Northern Ireland: we can slowly begin to meet more people; shops are beginning to open; cafes, restaurants and hotels are thinking about what their new normal will look like. Many organisations are thinking about how they can safely bring back their staff, and their customers and clients.

So, does that mean we all are keen to rush back to work and the office?

It certainly doesn’t seem so.

Yes, there are aspects of the office that people are missing but many people, even with all the current challenges, are recognising the benefits of working from home. No long commute, more flexibility, more time with their family.

Whilst it remains to see what the long term implications all of this will have on the way we work, it seems fairly safe to say that many people will want to continue with the flexibility of working from home — maybe not all the time, but at least part of the time.

Certainly, it’s something that’s coming up fairly frequently in conversations I am having with clients, friends and family.

So, where does that leave managers? Whilst some managers are adapting and even thriving with the changes, many managers are struggling to adapt, not quite sure how to translate their behaviour into the remote working environment.

And, anecdotally anyway, many managers in my own circle appear to have been clinging onto the hope that this is a short term adaptation to the current situation and that things will go back to normal after all of this. Who knows what that new normal is going to look like, but it’s a fair bet that, here in Ireland anyway, many teams will be working remotely for some time to come, and that a significant number of people will want to continue working at home, at least for part of the week.

Here are my tips for managers and leaders struggling in this situation.

Foster relationships

This is at the heart of good management and leadership, and is even more important when managing remotely.

Your team are people and they are all individuals. Get to know each of them.

You might think it is more difficult to do this online, when you aren’t bumping into people in the office. But, actually, one of the benefits of our new ways of working is that quite often you’ll be seeing the person in their home, with children, pets, family members sometimes popping up unexpectedly. Embrace that, relax and share about your own life, too.

If this isn’t your strength as a manager and you haven’t taken the time to get to know your team outside of work, maybe consider embracing this as an opportunity to learn more about them. Chat to them about none work things, and be genuinely interested in how they are getting on.

Encourage your team to build those relationships too. Don’t just focus on work, build in time for social activity. Maybe consider meeting for coffee and a chat with the team or think about activities that you could all do together online.

Communicate

Communicate regularly, share information, encourage team interaction. It’s always important but even more so when we are working together remotely.

And just as you should if you were all working together in the same place, think about what works best for your team. Remember communication is a two way process.

Ask the team for their suggestions and feedback. And then act on it. I once had a new manager ask me about how I liked to be managed and communicated with, which was a new experience for me and seemed a pretty positive start. But, guess what, he then went on to ignore what I had said and managed and communicated with everyone using the style and approach that he was comfortable with. Don’t be that manager.

Don’t ring someone every day because you feel it’s expected of you. At the same time, don’t ignore people and speak to them once a month. Maybe a daily huddle or stand up meeting would work for your team, maybe a weekly team meeting is better. Maybe your team would appreciate a daily coffee break together, where they can catch up about work informally as well as socialise. Offer options, agree what will work for your team and review it regularly.

Remember that your team is made up of individuals. Make time to communicate on a one to one basis. Flex your approach to fit each individual. Try not to focus on the time that all this will take, instead view it as an investment that will pay off in results and performance. Remember that as a manager and leader, you can’t achieve anything on your own. Your role is about helping to get work done through your team. For that to happen, you need to engage and communicate with them.

Focus on the big picture

Don’t micromanage. Focus on leading your team. Create a vision and ethos for the team, set direction and expectations, agree the outcomes that are needed and then let people get on with it.

Trust is vital in any team and even more so when teams are working remotely — and now, often in challenging situations. Give your team the benefit of the doubt. I guarantee you that the vast majority of them want to do the best they can. And, guess what, maybe can achieve even more if left to get on with it.

If you are used to being there with your team, checking in with them all the time, closely monitoring their work, or just being available for questions and queries, this can be a tough change. Many managers and leaders find this aspect of leadership difficult even when they are based with their team, feeling that they should be hands on, directing work and there to answer any and all problems.

And yet, all the research shows that people perform better when they feel trusted and able to take ownership of their own work.

So, if this aspect of managing a remote team is making you feel uncomfortable, maybe you are learning about your own management style and it’s worth viewing this an opportunity to work on letting go and delegating better.

Wellbeing

Think about your own wellbeing and role model good behaviours.

Be clear about when your working days starts and ends, take breaks and build in healthy habits. Encourage the same from your team. If people work 9 to 5, don’t send emails at 11pm and don’t expect your team to answer your emails at 11pm.

Accept that people in the current situation will likely have worries and concerns, may feel stressed at times and may have good days and bad days.

And accept that you will likely feel the same. Acknowledge this with you team.

Offer support when people need it. Ask people how they are and build relationships so that if there are issues, people will feel that it is safe to open up and share them with you. Check in with people on a regular basis so that it becomes the norm. Ask them how they are.

If you are worried about someone, be brave and open up a conversation about it. And then listen. Listening is a skill that is underrated and has such an impact. You don’t always need to have a solution — sometimes listening can be the solution in itself.

Master the tech.

It’s been amazing how quickly many workplaces have been able to adapt so that staff can work from home. They have put in place systems and started using new technology that in many workplaces would have taken years to consider and implement.

If the tech and systems are new to you, take time to learn and practice with it. Don’t be the manager who is reluctant to hold meetings, because they are not sure how to use the tech. That technology isn’t going to go away. So, use this as the time to get up to speed with tech and start to think about how you can use it going forward.

At the same time, check that your team are okay with any new platforms or systems that you are using. And make sure that they have the equipment and any support that they need.

Developing as a Leader

All of this may mean that you have to move outside of your comfort zone a little, but that’s where development and growth happens. It may also mean that you make a few mistakes, that’s human and your team will forgive you, if you are open and honest about it. Remember, as well, that’s true for members of your team and they may make a few mistakes too.

Reach out for help. Managing and leading people can be a tough job. As an executive and leadership coach, I’m going to recommend coaching of course, but there’s other support as well. Talk to your peers, reach out for mentoring support from other managers and ask for training if you feel you need it. Try new approaches and reflect afterwards on how they went. Accept that some of the recent changes aren’t going away and that you need to learn and adapt.

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Marie Ferris

Marie Ferris

Helping people to thrive, both at work and in their life. Writing about coaching, leadership and resilience. https://www.thrivecoachingdevelopment.com/