Suddenly find yourself managing an entire team remotely? You’re not alone. The COVID-19 pandemic has separated countless managers from their teams, leaving them bewildered by how to do their jobs effectively from a distance. But it can be done, and it starts with knowing a few key facts about remote worker management.
There’s a saying that goes, “If you want to learn how to swim, jump into the water.”
But what if you’re thrown into the water, and forced to swim?
For many of us, that’s exactly what it feels like right now.
To go from working in an office and seeing our colleagues every day, to suddenly having to work alone in our own homes due to the pandemic feels a lot like we’ve suddenly been thrown into deep water without really knowing how to swim. It’s a difficult change for everyone, especially for managers. Managers, after all, must see to it that employees are working well and accomplishing goals, but how can you effectively manage people when they’re not even in the same room with you?
Just as knowing the basics of swimming can help one stay afloat, so too can knowing a few key facts about remote worker management help managers successfully navigate through these unfamiliar waters.
Whether you’ve just made the shift as a team to remote working, or are just about to hire and manage a remote team, here are some key things you need to know:
- It is very different from managing people onsite.
Before you even begin, you have to realize that this is an entirely different situation than when you were managing your team from the office. While it may still be the same management role, a lot of the approaches you’ll need to take to effectively manage your people will differ from the usual due in large part to the current circumstances and the challenges that these present. Speaking of challenges–
- It is uniquely challenging.
As you may have already experienced or are yet to experience, remote work has its own unique set of challenges which managers must be ready to face. There are a number of different factors that make remote work especially challenging:
- Lack of face-to-face supervision – With many managers and employees separated for the first time, both sides are feeling the effects of the lack of face-to-face interaction. Managers are concerned that employees won’t be working as hard, while employees struggle to get the managerial support and communication they need.
- Communication issues – The problem with the lack of face-to-face interaction extends beyond supervision and support needs. Without the non-verbal cues that come with face-to-face interactions, communication becomes limited and easily misinterpreted. According to Dr. Albert Mehrabian’s 7-38-55 Rule of Personal Communication, communication is essentially made up of three parts: 7% spoken words, 38% voice and tone, and 55% body language. Without face-to-face interaction, the latter two parts will be seriously lacking, and misunderstandings and misinterpretations are more likely to occur. This is especially true when it comes to email, chat, or text messaging communication.
- Feelings of loneliness and isolation – Human beings are naturally social creatures. Going from having an office full of people to interact with, to suddenly being alone at home every day will eventually take its toll on a person not just psychologically, but physically. According to a 2018 Neuroscience report, an experiment that removed mice from their typical highly social structure and into isolation caused their brain cells to show signs of social interaction atrophy. The effect may be similar on humans, and shows just how detrimental social isolation and loneliness can be.
- Other responsibilities – When remote work is planned, say for instance if you outsource staffing, you’re more likely to ensure that these remote workers have a dedicated workspace and adequate childcare before they start work. However, in the case of a sudden transition like the one many have had to resort to recently, such preparations are unlikely to be made. This causes workers to end up with suboptimal workspaces and unexpected parenting and household duties which can greatly affect their work.
- Other issues – Many other issues can arise from a sudden shift to remote working: limited work resources or access to them, unreliable Wifi connection, being unable to “unplug” from work– these are just some of the many other issues that can crop up during this time.
- There are proactive solutions to the problems.
Thankfully there are ways to proactively combat the challenges that come with managing remote workers:
- Have daily check-ins – While you and your team may not be able to see each other every day, you can and should still keep in touch daily. These check-ins could be in the form of one-on-one calls, team calls or a combination of both. Having daily check-ins is crucial to ensure that your team members are not just on track with their work, but are doing well holistically despite the challenges. Such communication also allows them to freely and openly consult with you on anything when they need to.
- Use video and other modes of communication – Speaking of calls, make sure that your team members can reach you easily in a number of different ways. As previously stated, a lot of communication signals are non-verbal and are auditory and/or visual, so as much as possible utilize video when communicating with your team. You can also use instant messaging, email, and phone calls. When using these other, more limited modes of communication however, make sure to be clear with your message and intent. You could use varied tools of expression such as GIFs and emoticons to better express yourself in non-formal conversations.
- Establish “rules of engagement” – To make communication more effective and organized, apply certain rules such as assigning specific modes of communication to certain situations. For example, you can establish using videoconferencing for team meetings and one-on-ones, and using instant messaging for other, more time-sensitive concerns. Also establish a fixed schedule for these conversations, and let your team know when you are generally available outside of this schedule so they can easily reach you when needed.
- Provide opportunities for social interaction – Of course in times like these it’s unwise to have social gatherings in public. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have quality remote social interaction. One of the simplest ways you can do this is to allocate some time at the beginning of your calls to catch up and talk about non-work-related things. You could also have virtual parties where everyone is sent a “care package” ahead of time, which everyone then opens during the video call. You could have everyone join in a short online game, or have costumes or themes on certain calls. It may seem silly at first, but these fun little virtual gatherings can really help keep those feelings of isolation and loneliness away, and allows the team to bond.
- Stay supportive – Workers need their managers’ encouragement and support now more than ever. In such uncertain times and with such drastic changes to their typical work setting, it’s crucial for workers to continue to feel supported. Make sure to continue offering that support even from far away by always asking them what assistance they need and you can offer, giving words of encouragement, and listening to their concerns. Don’t forget to ask about their career goals as well, and continue to help them achieve those goals.
- Remote work is not for everyone.
Despite your best efforts, sometimes things just won’t work out and that is completely understandable. Remote work really isn’t for everyone. Some people need that separation between work and personal life that an office usually brings, and they simply cannot do their best work remotely.
In these cases you can choose to allow some people back in the office (only if necessary and all other options have been exhausted, and given that it is already permitted to do so). You could have them take turns coming into the office, and working remotely on other days of the week.
All these are good to know and put into practice if you have an existing team, but what if you need to hire new people with whom you would have to work remotely? In these times, it would be best to outsource staffing. By having an outsourcing company find talent for you, you can have someone who’s already set up and ready to work remotely join your existing remote team.
Having to suddenly manage a remote team can be tough, but it can be done. And it could even become easier when you let a company like CoDev hire those remote team members for you. CoDev is an established offshore outsourcing company that’s been procuring high-quality remote talent for companies for years. We know exactly where to find experienced, highly qualified, remote-ready talent, and you won’t have to worry about anything else as we provide training, technical support, perks and more to your new hire. Learn more by getting in touch with CoDev today.