managing a remote team

The coronavirus pandemic has forced nearly two-third of Americans to work remotely, leaving many employees and their employers working out of the office and separated for the first time. Although working from home isn’t a new concept — and a quarter of the U.S. workforce was already working from home pre-pandemic — the abrupt and unexpected transition to remote work has been challenging for staff and managers alike. Without adequate preparation time, companies were unable to establish clear policies and training. Even now, months into stay-at-home orders, businesses continue to struggle with employee engagement and productivity. Fortunately, there are several steps managers can take to remedy this:

Understand The Challenges of Remote Work

Remote work can be tough, and not just because of distractions from dogs or kids. The lack of face to face supervision leaves many employees feeling out of touch and unsupported by their managers (and vice versa). Furthermore, the social isolation that accompanies working from home causes employees to feel less connected to their organization, possibly reducing motivation and performance. As a manager, understanding and empathizing with the struggles of your employees is hugely important.

Set Expectations 

Just as there were clear expectations in the office, there should be in the telework world. How will people communicate? Will there be weekly or daily meetings? Do employees need to share a daily agenda with managers? What should be completed by the end of the week? Setting rules and expectations ensure that employees have a solid understanding of their responsibilities. 

Consider Implementing Structured Daily Check-Ins

Regular calls offer employees not only a sense of daily organization but also a reliable forum to connect with managers and voice their concerns. These can look like one-on-one calls between managers and employees, team calls, or even both. 

Digital Rules 

Similar to setting expectations, establishing digital etiquette rules can help reduce confusion and keep employees on the same page. Text, email, video chat softwares, among other digital communication platforms, all have different functions — make sure to make this clear to employees. For instance, you may want employees to text you when they have an urgent concern and email for less time-sensitive issues. It may also be wise, if possible, to inform employees of your availability. For example, are mornings better than evenings and how do you prefer to be reached? Creating digital expectations, such as those, can make communicating simpler. 

Encourage Virtual Socialization

Just because work is remote does not mean team bonds are any less important. Get creative by scheduling virtual coffee breaks, pizza parties, or happy hours. Or simply reserve a few minutes at the start of calls for informal socialization. Though it may take a few attempts before employees are able to loosen up, social interaction can promote a sense of belonging.

Even after coronavirus restrictions are eased, it is unlikely that we will return to work like normal. Learning how to lead a remote team is a necessary skill for the future. And, especially during a time as uncertain and stressful as this, individuals will be leaning on their leaders more than ever. Set the tone for success.