The past seven days have seen increasing numbers of global companies rolling out mandatory work-from-home policies amid the spread of Covid-19. It would be realistic to assume that this model, for the time being at least, will become the new normal. For those businesses with a flexible working culture, this will be a smooth transition. However, for some employers and employees, this will be some of their first experiences of remote working – especially on this scale and at a time of such heightened uncertainty.
Remote working isn’t always easy to manage. It’s a challenge coordinating people and tasks when they’re not physically together. The gaps between communications also remove their tone and context, making it harder to understand their meaning. Without an immediate response, it’s easy for us to become distracted, second-guess ourselves or even grow frustrated with our teams. Here are our tips for managing a remote workforce.
Keep regular contact
Maintain good lines of communication with your team, talking to them regularly either as a whole or on a one-to-one basis. You don’t have the opportunity to chat about things in passing, so the method and frequency of communication is even more important. Talk to them in the morning about their daily plans, and again later in the day to see how they’re doing and if there’s anything else they need. If you do this briefly and informally, then you’re not micromanaging.
Research suggests that managers should err on the side of more than less communication. It takes effort to be on the same page all the time, which is why you should reinforce the message that you’re always available. Even if you’re being brief, make sure you get the balance right so everyone understands what is expected of them. Using too few words can sometimes lead to confusion as people spend more time trying to work out what you mean.
Cater your communications
Don’t overdo your contact. Try and avoid emailing, texting and phoning in quick succession. Abuse of these channels can lead to a form of ‘digital dominance,’ which can have the same impact as harassment. Don’t become annoying – choose your approach wisely.
Understand your people’s differences. People will have their own preferred response time, writing style and tone. For example, some individuals prefer quick messages, while others favour detailed responses. People also differ in their preference and tolerance for humour and informality. Think about the content and style before you reach out to them. Emoticons and exclamation marks can help to personalise and share the emotive intent of communications.
In a difficult time, mutual trust is more important than ever. People need to trust that their managers are looking out for their best interests and are available to contact at any time in the working day. On the other hand, managers need to trust that their people are engaged and motivated. It’s not about controlling what people are doing. Set targets and help them understand how they can assess their own progress. Have patience whilst you work through a different way of working. Some things may take a bit of trial and error.
While working from home gives a certain degree of freedom, it can also breed negativity and loneliness. In a time of uncertainty, keeping your team engaged, disciplined and productive – and reinforcing that they’re still very much a part of something – is absolutely crucial.
Ensure you still recognise good work, birthdays and other landmarks. It’s important to keep these going. Employees who feel valued are significantly more likely to feel a high level of energy and strongly involved in their work.
In a challenging time for all businesses, our experts are always on hand to offer help and advice on managing remote workers or any other aspect of looking after your talent. If you need to talk to us, get in touch now. Whatever your preferred mode of communication, we’ll make it work.