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Pilar Orti from Virtualnotdistant.com offers up some tips for line managers who suddenly find themselves in the new situation of managing a remote working team due to the coronavirus lockdown.
Are you a manager who has suddenly found yourself managing a remote team? There has been no time for a proper transition, including preparation and training to equip you but PPilar Orti of Virtualnotdistant.com has some suggestions on how you can manage your team from afar.
Change the conversation you have with staff, so that it does not focus so much on the measurement of work done. For example you could ask people about how they are organising their time, find out how they are managing in the new home working setting, and see if there is anything need to support them in their work, rather than focusing on what they have done. Make it clear that they can ask for help if they need it, and encourage them to speak up if there is anything they need to get their job done.
Try not to overwhelm staff by putting lots of pressure on them in the first days. It is a big transition for everyone. Instead, try to understand the context in which people are working and bear in mind that timetables and schedules will change as employees balance homeworking and homeschooling/childcare and other caring responsibilities. It might not, for instance, be possible to just convert meeting times into conference call times. Managers need to remain flexible. “Trust is going to be important and giving people the space they need,” says Pilar. “There is a real need for empathy.” Don’t make people feel you are checking up on them all the time. Be mindful of what is helpful and what might affect people’s motivation.
It is useful to share availability across the whole team, so everyone knows when other team members are working. Once things have settled down, managers can find times that overlap for everyone when conference calls, etc, can be held. Agree times when you should not call people unless it is urgent so they can get their work done without interruptions. Managers should also role model not always being “on” to make sure they send a signal that periods of unavailability are acceptable.
To avoid being sat down all the time on online conference calls try to also use the phone to keep in touch. It means you can move around more, take a break from your desk, even step into the garden if you have one. Managers should be role models to their staff, and emphasise the need to keep healthy and move around.
Remote communication tools like slack and trello are great, but there are many, many tools available these days so, to avoid tool overload, decide on one or two that work best for everyone.
Practice ‘working out loud’ through tools like slack where you can collaborate together and brainstorm. Doing this can give you new insights than you might never have benefited from if you just focused on results. There are all sorts of ways of working out loud, including through diagrams and charts or audio notes – these can help workers who are more visual or aural thinkers. Managers can use different channels to communicate with their team, for instance, a weekly audio message summing up the week can be effective, more personal and informal. It illustrates that there are different ways of communicating and is more inclusive.
It is a good idea to use your shared communication tools to create some ‘soft communications’ in place of water cooler moments. For instance you could share humorous observations, chat about the latest boxset etc Pilar cites one slack channel titled ‘what cheered me up today’. It helps to raise the mood and keep people motivated. When you work remotely water cooler type moments are less spontaneous but you could schedule more social video meet-ups. The meet-ups can be short and could be themed around something like tv series to get the ball rolling, or run an after work ‘virtual’ drinks get together.