With remote work taking over the world, you may feel confused or lost. Is your team doing their job? Will your business be okay or will the procrastination and laziness of your employees sink it down? A lot of companies have dived into this concept head-first a couple of months ago and while we may see a light at the end of that COVID-19 tunnel, there’s a good chance the world as we knew came to an end in 2020. It’s hard to say when the new regulations and limitations will be lifted (or if they’ll ever be), and now, since we've tasted the remote work benefits, it may be hard to go back.
But you don’t need to tear your hair out over this issue. Remote work is not a perfect concept, but its advantages are too precious to give up on. Maintaining the current model - even partially - can lead you to great results. Your current team will definitely thank you for it, and with Millenials and Gen Ys starting to dominate the workforce, you’ll become a more attractive employee to them. 99% of those who experienced home office claims they’d like to have this option available for the rest of their careers. In the future, when home office will be a matter of sink or swim, you’ll already be ahead of the competition.
How Not To Lose Your Head When Managing A Team Working Remotely
This time, we’ll show you some smart moves you can take now to make your team happier and more satisfied with their job (and save yourself some heart attacks). It’s not easy to go from zero to ninja on this, and mastering these techniques will definitely take some time. So why delaying what’s inevitable?
You know you should have dipped your toe in this ocean before going head-in, but let’s face it: if 2020 was the Titanic, we’d be Jack and Rose holding on to that rail before hitting the water. No chance of going slow. That’s why I encourage you to step back and take a look at the current state of your management. There’s always room for improvement (even a slight one). But before you implement new solutions, check if you’re not making these mistakes!
A Business Is Not A Dictatorship
After the coronavirus attack, many bosses have eventually agreed to send their teams to the home office, endlessly putting stress on the word ‘temporary’ and numerously highlighting that this is an extraordinary emergency. But what happened afterward was definitely not remote work. It seemed like good source material for the sequel to ‘1984’ by George Orwell.
Managers have turned the micromanaging mode on. It wasn’t enough that most telecommuters struggle with work-life balance and can’t seem to just ‘unplug’ at the end of their workday; a lot of bosses have established new business hours, forcing employees to stay online from early hours of the morning to late at night, being on their tiptoes non-stop. After all, they’re at home, there’s not much to do outside, so what else can they do?
If your work is your life, that’s okay. It’s your choice. But don’t make the same decision for others. Scheduling round-the-clock meetings will probably backfire as your team will become more and more frustrated with the lack of free time. Not to mention that forcing everyone to be a phone call away 24/7 is legally questionable.
Never ever set a virtual timer to see how fast your employee will react to your out-of-the-blue message. In the end, you may be your team’s biggest distraction. If they have a heart attack every time you email them demanding an immediate answer, this will take a toll on their end-day results. And if you write them yet another lengthy email on how they’ve failed because they didn’t meet your expectations today, then well… you’re asking for someone to hand in a notice.
I’ve even heard of bosses tracking their employees’ whereabouts via GPS tracking apps, using screen-logging devices, or stalking people on social media - let’s just not go there, okay? It creates the narrative that you know they’re guilty, you just need proof (for whatever reasons).
How To Make Your Business Thrive Thanks To Remote Work
When switching to the home office, you could stick to what Steve Glaveski calls level two of remote work - it’d still be a level-up from doing nothing to make a home office the same as ‘regular’ office experience. Level two is basically recreating the entire office setup online, including unnecessary meetings and real-time communication that can kick everyone out of their productivity zone.
Or you could learn how to adapt the new technologies to your advantage and reap the benefits for years! Read on to learn how to boost your company’s benefits from remote work.
Learn The Art Of Clear Communication
Instead of recreating your entire pre-COVID-19 office calendar, try to reduce the number of meetings and the people attending them. Step away from using meetings as a way to communicate something that’s already been established. Determine if you actually need a meeting to discuss something or an ad-hoc Slack conversation or an email will suffice.
Take advantage of the asynchronous communication and teach yourself and your team members the art of efficient messaging (one that includes sufficient details, clear action items, and expected outcomes with a due date and a path of recourse). Take yourself back in time and think how many of your requests were really that time-sensitive that you needed someone’s assistance right this second. I agree that we can’t predict everything and sometimes you really need to take care of something right away, but you don’t keep a plumber at your house 24/7 just in case there’s a leak, do you? Thankfully, we live in an age when everyone is just a phone call away.
Switch Your Focus To What’s Truly Important
Some of the managers require notification from everyone at the beginning of their workday and an end-of-the-day report of things they’ve worked on. The question of whether or not a manager can argue over the number of accomplished tasks is yet to be solved, but to be honest - it kinda smells like a dictatorship anyways. While it’s understandable that you demand some kind of control, ask yourself: would you implement the same solutions at your headquarters? Would you feel like you’re not trusted if you were asked to do the same by your boss?
Instead of never-ending questions about your team’s progress and “busyness”, go back to that art of efficient messaging and give your employees the time to actually finish what they’ve started and then show you the results. I may sound like a broken record, but demanding a report at the end of each day is another task that eats precious time. Most people won’t voluntarily stay after hours just to write a well-thought, excessive email with details of their day. This means that instead of working on an important project for 8 hours, they’ll work for 7.5 - which quickly adds up to 2.5 hours per week!
If your team works with a deadline, set it, and wait for the results to arrive then. Look for things that can be seen rather than measuring the progress with complicated equations.
Keep Calm And Lead On
Don’t bite your nails just because you’ve hit ‘Send’ a minute ago and still haven’t received a reply. Your team is not a pack of Pavlov dogs. They might be in the middle of something important or are just taking a lunch break (you did make it clear that they’re still entitled to one at their preferred time, didn’t you?).
Step away from strict react time policies (unless you want to manage your team Industrial Revolution-style); this may sound harsh, but even if the sense of urgency comes from someone else, i.e. your client/manager, they should understand that it may take more than a millisecond to sort something out.
There’s a reason some managers are called managers and others step up to be leaders. Learn the difference between the two and strive to become the second: focus on the big picture instead of micromanaging every step your staff takes to achieve your common goal. Lead your team, but don’t take them by the hand and watch carefully as they put one foot in front of the other. They’re not two-year-olds (hopefully!), they’ll be fine.
Implement The Right Tools & Policies
This one is tricky as the line between management and controlling really is thin. If you hesitate whether a solution is acceptable or not, think if you’d be comfortable with it as an employee. Or describe it to someone else - if it sounds a bit like an episode of Big Brother, better think twice before implementing it.
Make sure your remote work policy is transparent and there are no misunderstandings. This may require setting up extra communication channels or maybe even some trial & error, but that’s normal. Everyone learns from mistakes, so don’t get mad if something doesn’t work the first time around!
Consider Agile & Scrum Techniques
Agile and Scrum are definitely the buzzwords of the modern era and while you might think these are good for IT startups full of Gen Y weirdos, they’re actually easy to adapt to many types of businesses. Some’d say they’re that agile, but I’m not a dad, so I won’t go for that joke.
Scrum and other similar methods of running a project involve daily meetings that can be held in person, over the phone, or entirely online. Their goal is to make sure everyone on your team is in sync with the others and to create a place to express their ideas, concerns, and obstacles. If held properly, these resemble a friendly chat rather than a painful confession.
Get Out Of The 1800s
My mother works as an accountant and I have to admit she’s a very old-school one. She likes to have everything printed and stored away in binders that are easy to access… as long as she’s at the office, of course. If she were to work remotely, even just for a day or two, she’d probably have to rent a crane to take everything she needs to her third-floor-no-lift apartment.
It’s 2020, the forests are suffering, and the technology is here to stay. If you still rely on printed documents by now, you should digitize whatever you can, no matter if you and your team will work remotely or not. It drastically reduces costs, storage space, and courier services, not to mention it’s also the best way to secure your documents from disasters.
Create An Online Chillout Area
Taking a break while telecommuting will never be the same as relaxing for a second in an office. Many may think that your own home is actually the best place to take a breather - you comfy couch and everything you could think of are right there! But it can get quite lonely after a while, as there’s usually no one to interact with (or the only person to talk to is your same old partner).
Make sure your team knows they still can take breaks (I truly hope you didn’t think they don’t need one when they’re at home!) at their preferred time. During those, they should be able to relax and stay away from work activity. Consider setting up extra communication channels (like a separate one on Slack) purely for off-work chat. To take this even further, promote online coffee meetings between your employees. I know I may sound delusional, but if your team grows apart from each other, it may be tough to bring their morale back up. And actually, it may be a good idea for you to catch up with your team’s joys and problems.
Remember To Motivate
When working away from the headquarters, it’s easy to become unmotivated as you may lose track of some things. That’s why it’s utterly important to make sure everyone on your team is on the same page. Don’t shy away from sharing the news - even if they may not be so optimistic. Be transparent and open.
Make sure your team members feel appreciated and they know where their hard work goes. If they don’t see a point in making an effort, their motivation will drop, so remember to make sure they’re on the same page with you and you don’t hide anything from them. Recognize everyone’s contribution, celebrate great results and don’t hesitate to share your team’s achievements with everyone. As a matter of fact, this is another move you should take regardless of your remote work plans - a positive workplace with happy employees is proven to be more productive and increase sales rate.
Set Time Boundaries
Going back to that work-life balance: I hope you still remember not to make the ‘all work, no life’ decision for others. But even if you do, your team may struggle from time to time. Sometimes it’s better to stay after hours to finish that task you’re 85% done with, I’ll agree with that. But don’t let it become your new habit.
When working from home, a number of people may have second thoughts about logging off for the afternoon. After all, our laptop is right there in the other room, it wouldn’t kill us to log in again for ten minutes and answer an email. And then you wake up three hours later, in the middle of an impromptu meeting you’ve just had with your colleague to discuss something that has just come up.
I told you, and I’ll tell you once again: do not stalk your team. Give them some freedom. Still, if you see them working after hours, you should act. Let them know that the workday is over and they can finish tomorrow. Encourage them to take a breather, relax and load their batteries before the next day. And whatever you’re up to - don’t contact your employees after work. And if you simply must - don’t make a habit out of it.
Look For Extra Training
Managing a remote team is a challenge. Luckily, many have done it before you and succeeded. It’s never a bad idea to learn from others, so if you feel like you need more help to open yourself to the concept of home office, look for it! Workshops, webinars, books, courses - the knowledge is right there. Also, it definitely won’t hurt you to talk to other leaders. Share your experience, express your troubles and concerns - this may lead to interesting results!
Future Remote Work Benefits
Home office is not a demon and an employee who requests it is not a ‘problem’. Sure, it may take a while to set everything up and make sure they’re comfortable in their new workspace, but it’s not the end of the world! Now that you’ve dipped your big toe in this pond, hopefully, you’ll be more eager to keep this concept alive after COVID-19 lockdown.
Remote work is not only beneficial to you and your team right now - it’s also setting a course for the future. It’s anticipated that by 2027, more people will work remotely than commuting to an office, and by 2028 more than 70% of all teams will include at least one remote worker. This means that changes are happening right now and the way we work will change tremendously in less than a decade - even more than it has changed since the beginning of 2020. Not to mention that reduced traffic and smaller utility bills are an eco-friendly and sustainable way of doing business.
So before we wrap up, let me remind you of some ground rules for healthy & rewarding home office:
- Instead of requiring obedience, aim for results. In the long run, will you care more about the finished product or how many bathroom breaks your team member took?
- Introduce transparent, but not tyranny-like policies and procedures. I’m not saying rules are bad - but some of them might sink down your ship.
- The same goes for productivity tools - they can turn against you if they’re not thought through.
- Steer away from micromanagement and Big Brother-y tools.
- Digitize your files (make sure you stay in line with legal requirements and policies) for easier access.
- Promote breaks and establish non-work communication channels for that water cooler effect.
- Recognize your team’s work and be transparent with them.
- Consider adopting Agile methodology and Scrum techniques.
- Set boundaries and make it clear that there’s a time for work and a time for other activities.
- Look for remote leadership training courses that’ll teach you how to leverage your team’s productivity and show you the best tools for managing them. This will also help you understand the mechanisms behind your remote teams and make you less stressed about their results.
Finally - controlling your team can be exhausting and time-consuming. So how are YOU supposed to do your job if all you do all day is making sure your staff isn’t playing truant?! ;)