Managing and Supporting Remote Teams through COVID-19 

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Managing and Supporting Remote Teams through COVID-19 

Managers, we understand that even the most experienced among you will be feeling the pressure right now, as you help steer your organisation and its employees through these uncharted waters – and safely out the other side. 

For everyone, this will be a steep learning curve. Maybe you’ll be managing a remote team for the first time, or working with a skeleton crew? There’s also the added emphasis on protecting your employees’ health and wellbeing, as they too grapple with these uncertain times. 

Managers around the world have a vital role to play in helping employees through this pandemic. Here’s our advice on how to navigate the ‘new normal’, and help your teams bounce back stronger than before. 

How to manage remote teams

Manager effectiveness in an enforced remote environment is critical. But it can take some getting used to – especially without the luxury of a transition period in which to adjust. While technology is a fantastic enabler of remote working, there are pitfalls to not seeing your teams face-to-face.

When we rely entirely on calls, videos and messaging, we’re more likely to encounter miscommunication and crossed wires. Remain alert and take extra care to avoid this, double checking that everyone is clear on what they are doing. Given the current level of uncertainty, managers of remote teams are encouraged to increase the points of contact they have with their teams too. Schedule regular one-to-one calls, as well as team catch ups, where possible. 

Getting to grips with video conferencing and messaging tools

When it comes to group meetings using video conferencing tools, set guidelines to make them as clear and fruitful as face-to-face meetings. Appoint a meeting leader, who will direct the discussion and give everyone an opportunity to speak. There will inevitably be distractions – pets, children, technical faults or connection issues – so discussions may be clunky. Consider, therefore, allowing extra time for these meetings, and be as patient as possible.

Similarly, instant messaging tools like Slack can be incredibly useful for quick discussions with teams. However, they too have their pitfalls. After all, they weren’t designed to replace human interaction, or task management tools. Employees may feel overwhelmed if there’s a sudden spike in messages. There’s also a higher risk of misinterpretation, or missing instructions altogether – especially when there’s multiple groups and channels to keep track of.

You can help your teams manage this in the following ways: Encourage everyone to turn off notifications during breaks and when focussing on tasks. This can help prevent that ‘always on’ feeling. Summarise the most important messages and tasks in a daily email so nothing slips through the net. And, given the lack of face-to-face encounters, remind everyone to be extra vigilant about the language they use. The written word can be easily misconstrued, especially when people write in a hurry. Take a moment to re-read messages before hitting send. Also consider including an emoji to clarify the intention with which the message is meant. 

Continuous listening

If the last few weeks have shown us anything, it’s that a lot can change in just a few short days. More now than ever, it’s essential for managers to set time aside to listen to staff needs and concerns, and answer them as best they can.

As social distancing continues, and people spend more time alone, there’s a greater risk of employees feeling ignored or excluded. As you would on an ordinary work day, ask your colleagues how they are, and for their opinions, and continue to take their feedback on board. Being in-tune with your employees’ changing needs and expectations will empower you to make a real difference to them and their continued engagement. If you’re using the Peakon platform, then you may wish to increase your use of the Acknowledgment feature. This way your teams will know their anonymous comments have been heard, and are being acted upon. 

At the same time, trust your teams enough to occasionally leave them alone. Let them work autonomously. Monitoring how much, or when, they are working will not win you any favours with your direct reports – especially not at a time like this. Concern yourself instead with their wellbeing and continued engagement, and productivity will follow. Boosting your employee engagement has been proven to enhance performance and future business success.  

How to support employee wellbeing 

In March, we saw a 51% uplift in the proportion of employee comments relating to wellbeing. This is a clear sign that COVID-19 is giving employees worldwide more cause to look to their leaders for support and action. Managers have an opportunity to make a huge difference here, and to help them get through it.

Look after yourself

No one is immune to the impact of COVID-19. It is affecting us all in myriad ways. So self-care is essential. While pressure is running high, it’s important that you don’t risk burning out, or forget to consider your own needs. Heed your own advice and remember to take breaks. It’s in your teams’ best interests. 

Be agile to support individual needs

We know that a large number of people are already suffering from loneliness and alienation as a result of the pandemic. A way around this is online group activities, like digital pub quizzes or team lunches. But be aware that this sort of ‘organised fun’ may not suit everybody. Attempt to schedule a range of activities to involve everyone, across all age groups.   

Take into account too that colleagues who are now also looking after children full-time may be feeling torn. They may worry that they’re underperforming, especially if they are unable to keep regular working hours. Give them full autonomy to decide what’s best for them – free from judgement. Show them some empathy and reassurance. Be flexible on deadlines when possible, and offer new resources to help them get their jobs done. Finally, be mindful and extra appreciative of the efforts people do put in against such a difficult backdrop.  

As time goes on, it’s more likely that members of your team will be directly impacted by COVID-19. Maybe some of your direct reports will really struggle with self-isolation and social distancing. But while you play a critical role in supporting them, remember that it’s not all down to you. Encourage your teams to look out for each other too. In times like these, we’re better together – even when we’re apart. 

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