The current situation with the coronavirus has certainly had an impact – whether you’re sick or not. In many countries, it’s caused massive shutdowns and changed many aspects of everyday life. Many of us have been forced to redefine how we live, how we interact, and how we conduct business.
More than half of all workers globally do at least some work from home every week. With concerns over a global pandemic, that number has certainly increased. It’s created a new set of challenges for managers that suddenly must work remotely and may be interfacing with team members that are spread out in different places.
It goes beyond keeping communication channels open. A great manager knows they will have to use their leadership skills to keep the team focused and to manage their personal concerns as well.
When you are working from home, it’s crucial to focus your management skills first on the fundamentals: establish clear goals, communicate and stay connected to your team, make sure they have the tools they need, and help them manage their personal situation.
Establish Clear Goals
Shifting to remote teams, a great manager will prioritise the development of clearly defined goals and boundaries. This helps keep the team focused on what’s important while giving them guidance on what’s expected.
For top performers, these boundaries are especially important. They may feel like they are not contributing as much as they want when they can’t physically be at work. Hard workers may have trouble setting their own boundaries. When everyone is working from home, it can hard to leave things at the office. Workdays may stretch beyond reasonable business hours, which can lead to burnout quickly.
It’s also important to redefine how you will measure success. It’s no longer about how many hours someone works or how hard they work during their shift. It takes a mindset shift to evolve from what is being done to what is being accomplished. This is especially important for sales professionals. Up until now, they may have been judged on call volume or face-to-face calls. When people are sheltering in place, limiting visitors to their business, or facing economic challenges, meeting pre-established goals may not be possible. Recognise the changes in the way business operates and adjust your goals accordingly.
Make sure to clearly define who is responsible for what. Business still goes on. It’s crucial to keep things moving forward.
Encourage your team to set up regular schedules. Start and end your day at specific times and use your calendar just as you would at work. Find ways to tune out distractions.
Communicate and Stay Connected
Communication is always important but when you are working from home it’s an even bigger imperative. Teams need to hear from you often even if you don’t have major news to pass on.
Schedule regular group meetings and individual meetings. This helps provide a sense of normalcy and regularity. If possible, meet by video conference. It helps to see people face-to-face. Fortunately, there are many free or low-cost online video conferencing solutions that weren’t available just a few short years ago.
You need to establish early on that you trust your team to do what needs to be done. You won’t be able to walk over their office or desk and see how they’re doing, so you’ll have to trust them anyway. Let them know you do.
Listen more than talk. A great manager is a good listener.
Recognise that your team wants to hear from you. More importantly, they want to hear that you have a plan and you’re looking out for them. It’s time to use all of your management skills and leadership skills to project confidence.
Be honest. If you don’t have the answer – and you probably won’t have all the answers – let people know. They’ll appreciate the fact that you aren’t just glossing over problems. Let them know that we are all in this together and we’re figuring it out as things evolve. Solicit feedback and act quickly on good ideas or concerns.
It’s also important to provide a sense of connection for team members. Working from home sounds great but it can also lead to a sense of isolation or disconnection.
Leaders that are not used to working remotely or managing remote teams may feel an added burden to make sure the team is working. It’s easy to get very task-focused and micro-manage. Avoid this tendency. The best remedy is regular communication and interaction with team members.
Make Sure They Have the Tools they Need
When you and/or your team members are working at home or remotely, you need to make sure everyone has the tools they need. If you have information that’s only available on your work computer, you need a way to access it from home. Your team members do, too.
Some of the tools you will need:
- Good internet connection
- Ability to access company email
- Video conferencing and chat
- Dedicated workspace
- Mobile phone
- Secure access to company servers, databases, and industry-specific software
If you haven’t had to start working at home, talk to your tech team to plan for what it will take. If you’ve already made the move to work at home, make sure you – and your team – have the tools they need to do the job and communicate regularly.
Show Them You Care
In trying times, it means taking care of your team’s personal needs. Many will have childcare concerns, especially if school is interrupted or cancelled. Team members may have sick family members, elderly parents, or neighbours to care for. They may not take the time they need to care for themselves. Making sure you show empathy for their situation and provide accommodations where you can. It will go a long way to helping guide team members through crises.
Telecommuting has its own set of challenges. When something like the coronavirus closes a school or daycare, you’ve suddenly got additional burdens on parents working from home. Maintaining a healthy balance between work and personal life becomes even more difficult.
If they can’t manage their personal situation well, sooner or later you will pay the price. Be flexible when you can and show them you care.
Maintain a Positive Attitude
Change is difficult for most people. Realise that you are disrupting habits that have been long established. You need to develop new habits to replace them. As a leader, it’s your job to maintain a positive attitude and help everyone else feel that things are going to be OK.
They’re depending on you to lead the way and assure them you are in charge. Even if you’re not feeling that way right now, fake it. Psychological studies show that forcing yourself to project a positive attitude – even when you don’t feel it – makes a difference not just for others but for you as well. Smiling, it turns out, “tricks” your brain into believing you are happy. That can spur feelings of happiness. Faking it can make it real. When you think positive thoughts and express them, it can make you feel more positive. That attitude can be contagious.
It can work the other way, too. Anxiety can be contagious, too. In times of stress, uncertainty takes an emotional toll. As humans, we’ve been wired to react to fear. It helps us to survive in the wild, but it can also cause us to panic unnecessarily.
These are just a few of the things that are key to leadership training programs. If you think about it, they are the same things you should apply whether you are working from home or in the office.
- Set clear expectations
- Communicate and stay connected
- Make sure your team has the tools they need
- Show them you care
At some point, the coronavirus situation will pass. In the meantime, we’re learning new management skills and demonstrating leadership skills that will serve us well in the years to come.