Managers gradually acquire expertise through MBA training and on-the-job experience to build and sustain highly effective teams. With so many moving parts to consider, it takes quite a bit of know-how to maximize productivity and efficiency while keeping employees motivated and tapping into their creativity.
So, what happens when a wrench is thrown into the system, like a global pandemic, for which no one has planned or prepared? When managers and workers are suddenly thrust into an unfamiliar situation that requires massive adaptations in a narrow time frame, is it even realistic to maintain the same expectations for work performance? Considering the lack of supervision and access to information, as well as the social isolation and home distractions, the challenges of the pandemic can seem insurmountable.
Without effective ways to compensate, team cohesiveness and productivity will falter. Fortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has given us five proven ways that managers can compensate for the sudden shift to remote work and keep their teams rolling smoothly along:
Online video conferencing software including Zoom, Skype (Teams), Facetime, and GoToMeeting has been quickly and broadly implemented to take the place of face-to-face meetings, with excellent results. From a hardware perspective, employees only need a functioning laptop or desktop computer, a webcam, and headphones.
Depending on your industry, there are countless digital platforms, enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions, and software packages to enable your teams to collaborate remotely, from home, or wherever they choose to work. Software manufacturers and vendors have worked with their clients to get these systems up and running quickly and employees trained and comfortable. This feat has been made much easier by the cloud-based software delivery model.
Videoconferencing is a much better solution than email or audio-only communication, as it is multi-sensory and enables conversations and collaboration. It also feels much more personal, which encourages employees to engage and contribute at the same levels as they do in person.
As a manager, you must set expectations for group and manager-employee meetings, collaborative meetings, and intra-team communication, especially in project management situations. There should also be time for team building and bonding, which can be accomplished by talking about the present situation and challenges anyone is facing. Let employees commiserate about the issues that are bothering them and encourage them to provide solutions for one another.
Do be aware that too many meetings can hinder productivity, so encourage your team to communicate when they are anticipating or experiencing meeting fatigue.
Finally, determine how and when your workers can reach you and what the communication chain will be in your absence. Check-in with team leaders frequently to ensure that communication in teams and between employees is taking place. Establish expectations regarding communication from the outset because breakdowns quickly lead to insecurity and inefficiency.
Since you cannot walk around the office and read body language or see who is busy, performance measures in a remote work environment need to be clearly defined and quantifiable. There is a tendency for some workers to slack off due to the distractions of home or the lack of supervision. Use key performance indicators (KPIs) relevant to the individual's role, such as customer satisfaction scores, email response rates, or sales conversion rates. Relying more heavily on KPIs in this scenario will make it easier for you to trust that employees have the right motivation to get the job done and will keep you from micromanaging them.
Some of your employees will struggle with the transition to remote work, and it likely will not be because of character flaws. Many people simply need to practice attention management skills such as minimizing physical clutter in the workspace, responding to emails at scheduled times rather than in real-time, and setting expectations with housemates about when they cannot be disturbed. As a manager, you should also be cognizant not to overload employees with emails. Use longer emails with grouped messages or meetings instead.
Before COVID-19, remote work had been on the upswing for years. Younger generations in the workforce value work-life balance, and for many, remote work is an essential component. To keep your talented employees satisfied, have defined shifts with some flexibility in hours. If an employee needs to take a vehicle in for maintenance or see a doctor, they can make up lost time in the evening or early morning.
Your successful shift to managing a remote workforce will not happen overnight. Set an expectation of continual improvement for yourself and your employees to let out some of the pressure from the sudden change. Then make gradual improvements as you learn what works best for you and your team and gauge your progress over time.
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