Managing A Remote Team In The COVID-19 Age

Apr 29, 2020
remotely working team

COVID-19 has been declared by WHO as a pandemic. Companies worldwide have been advised to adopt the “work-from-home policy”. With the majority of the employees using laptops and having access to good connectivity, remote working has become a realistic alternative to get work done. 

Working from home or remote working is more than just a trend. It has become the need of the hour for all businesses globally. Remote working and Remote Managing can be quite a challenge to implement, especially for extended time periods such as the one we find ourselves in. Fortunately, technology has made it simpler. Be it performance tracking, sharing files, or video conferencing, there’s an app for everything to enable an efficient remote work culture. 

Video is the new social

Video conferencing app Zoom, has become the most downloaded app in India and in the U.S., surpassing the likes of TikTok and Instagram (Source:Priori Data), which clearly implies how the workforce is participating in the remote work culture. Also at a time like this, when social distancing norms are in effect, video conferencing is a great way to stay in touch with friends, co-workers, and family.

Rise to the Occasion

The mid and higher management, i.e., the team leaders and managers suddenly are in a position where they are responsible for managing a remote team that’s a hundred-people strong. Also, there’s a growing concern among the business owners that company revenue and sales might drop. This challenge has suddenly developed a demand for analyzing new strategies for efficient work. Honestly, that can be scary, especially when such a situation is unprecedented managers don’t have a lot of time to prepare.

In remote team management, your primary job is to guide, reassure, nurture and support the team members. This article can help you get acclimatized to the remote working culture and manage their team members better during these trying times.

Managing Remote Teams: Challenges

Remote Managing differs from the typical workplace management. Managing a remote team comes with its own set of challenges:

  • Communication between virtual teams
  • Scheduling hurdles
  • Tracking remote employee performance
  • Lack of trust and cohesion
  • Handling conflict within remote teams

Best Practices For Managing Remote Employees

A survey called, Quality of Life Survey by the MIT Sloan School of Management’s Executive Education Department, stated that an employee is more likely to stay with the company, when their manager is open to flexible work or partial remote working. MIT’s Dr. Peter Hirst used this finding to pilot a remote work program. His experiment yielded the following results:

  • 90% of the participants informed that their family and personal life improved.
  • 85% stated that their stress was reduced.
  • 80% were happy that their morale and engagement improved.
  • 62% of them felt more trusted and respected.
  • And 93% even believed that collaboration was better than before.

Remote working can not only improve quality of personal and professional life but also yield better results. To achieve this, a well-thought work strategy is what you need. Here are a few best practices on how to manage remote employees. 

Have a Daily Check-In

Have a one-on-one, and face-to-face via video. Formal emails can not establish a proper conversation during a work from home scenario. Your outsourced team needs to see you when you set the work agenda for the day and provide feedback. 

Communicate Effectively

Online communication doesn’t quite strike the right chord unlike a face-to-face conversation. It can be difficult to connect with your outsourced teams without having good online communication skills. Be quick and concise while conveying your expectations, so the teams don’t get confused. Do not forget that clear and inclusive communication is vital in the remote workplace. Remote working should not result in loneliness or a sense of isolation. Have a regular loud and clear communication with an employee and the entire team. Have a group chat so that everybody feels connected. 

Use Technology

Take advantage of Slack, Teams, Google Hangouts, WebEx, Skype or Zoom. Right now, different tech companies are making it easier to work remotely with their free tools. Microsoft is offering a free trial of the premium plan for its Teams chat app. Google is also allowing free access to the enterprise version of Hangouts Meet to all G Suite and G Suite for Education users, till the 1st of July, 2020.

Set Expectations Early

Every business has expectations. Being clear with your outsourced team mates helps them keep focused on the same goal. Set clear and realistic expectations regarding the business goals, working hours, availability, communication tools, team meetings, deadlines, and email responses. Meeting these expectations apply to you as a manager as well.

Equip Your Outsourced Team Adequately

Being out of sight, it might be difficult to address the needs of every employee. Make sure your team has all the required resources and technologies they need to get the work done. It’s not reasonable to assume that everyone has tools like laptops, software, mobile devices, or even a high-speed internet connection. As a manager, it is your responsibility to make sure they do. If something is bothering them or hampering their work, give them a helping hand.

Focus on Outcomes, Not Activity

As a manager, you shouldn’t be trying to manage every aspect of the outsourced team’s work. It is practically not possible to scrutinize every minute during the working hours. Focus on the results, the productivity and measure your team’s effort accordingly.

Be Flexible

Try not to be rigid with your outsourced team, especially in the current pandemic situation of COVID-19. According to Blind, which conducts anonymous surveys on technologists, stated that 53.8 % of technologists surveyed are worried about their job security. The present work force is stressed due to the pandemic as well as the prophecy of recession. Understand that there’s a lot going on in their mind. Indeed, it can’t be an excuse for not getting things done, but it is a reason to consider while calculating the productivity. Trust your team, give them some freedom and flexibility to work. It boosts their morale and team spirit in a longer run.

Build a Rapport 

As a Manager, you must build rapport with every member of your outsourced team. Rapport does not mean only talking about work. Ask about their family, find shared interests and connect on a deeper level by learning their dreams and goals.

If you only call them to talk about what work needs to get done, then you are missing an important management lesson. Gallup’s State of the American Manager report states that employees whose managers are open and approachable are more engaged. Having a rapport allows them to trust you with their problems. It also helps you to manage conflicts and manage work related problems.

Use the Power of Emoticons and Gifs

As a leader of people, you have to be a good listener and you have to be a great motivator,” Richard Branson, Billionaire Founder of Virgin Group. When you want to motivate or congratulate a remote team member, it is a little more difficult to express the same kind of praise, you do in a regular workplace. Here are a few tips to let them know what a good job they’re doing. Given that most of the communication with your outsourced team is non-verbal, it’s hard for words alone to convey how you feel. When your team or a member did a great job, find a gif to send along with your message to congratulate, praise, or spark any other kind of emotion by sending emojis.

Treat Outsourced Teams Just as you Would Employees

It’s the little things that count. If you celebrate the birthday of an in-house team member then do the same for your outsourced team members as well. For a start, do not forget to wish them. In this time of quarantined life, it’s impossible to send a cake or a card, but have a group video call to celebrate their special days. It is truly the small things that go a long way. It diminishes the ‘us’ versus ‘them’ concept and helps build a cohesive team.

Key Tips for Remote Work Management During Coronavirus Pandemic

remotely working team in covid 19

Coronavirus outbreak has created a lot of stress and anxiety among everybody as very little is known about this virus and there are tens of thousand news and information regarding this. A situation where everybody is practicing social distancing, home quarantined and are scrolling and reading news about coronavirus; it has created a mindset of loneliness and stress, which is a deadly combination. The above mentioned remote team management tips are good to go but during this lockdown period due to COVID-19, where people are emotionally stressed, you need a few extra key tricks to manage your teams.

Help them Fight Cabin Fever and Isolation

As a manager, it’s better to have long one-on-one conversations. Ask your team members about their family or who they live with. In case they live alone, help them beat the feeling of isolation. Have regular video calls with them. Chit chat about other things than work. Talk about the pandemic situation but ensure they are not suffering from anxiety. Encourage them to take a stroll in evenings, or grab a book, or to enroll in an upskilling program. Share the occasional joke; if it is a bad one!

Increase Your One-on-One Length & Frequency

It is the best way to support your team. Try having a video call rather than a mere phone call. This has more benefits than mere checking on each other. Often it is observed, during work from home, employees tend to ignore a few basic requirements as they feel casual at home. There’s no proper designated workplace, they tend to casually lay around, nothing is organized and there’s no proper workflow. 

Your one-on-ones are likely your real time to solely focus on them. In such one-on-one calls, you actually get to find out how they’re really doing, you can update them about changes happening in your company, and answer their questions. When you regularly check on them through video calls, it tends to improve the work balance and efficiency among employees.

Bottom Line: Navigating the Transition to Remote Working

Transition to remote working

It’s easy to be caught up by buzzwords like ‘digital transformation’ but working in digital spaces is a lot more than just applying technologies and using tools. It is about transitioning into an unconventional method of work execution and accepting new behaviors. Embracing work from home culture and virtual collaboration is one of the most dynamic things organizations can do today to address the increasing complexity of the social distancing, current pandemic situation, and economic crisis.

This Coronavirus outbreak shall too pass with time, but it will hugely impact businesses and the economy. As an employer or an employee, it’s important to consider what we learn along the way. Remote working has a lot of benefits but comes along with drawbacks as well. It is going to completely revolutionize the work culture and how businesses run. Consider embracing a different mindset while working with the virtual teams.

We, the Expert Callers Team, sincerely hope that the Coronavirus situation gets better and people and life go up and running. Till then, Stay home. Stay safe..