How to Manage a Remote Team During Times of Uncertainty
In times of a natural disaster or health crisis like the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, tensions are high and workplace dynamics are significantly impacted. With schools and events closing, numerous businesses are relying on telecommuting as a solution to the growing crisis.
Like many organizations, you’re probably considering transitioning at least some of your employees to remote work. The good news is that if you want your employees to telework, their job is more than likely compatible.
A recent study showed that an estimated 56% of jobs in the United States can be done at least partially remotely. With the technology available today, it’s usually not a matter of if your employee can telework. It’s a matter of how to make it happen.
In this article, you’ll discover how to transition your physical team to a remote team and find solutions to common challenges caused by telecommuting.
For years, remote work has been a highly debated topic. While there are always challenges that come with transitioning to a remote workforce, there are also tremendous benefits for your business. Let’s take a deeper look at the pros and cons of telecommuting.
The Pros of Telecommuting
Remote work can minimize the impact of a health crisis
In the midst of a global health crisis, telecommuting can provide continuity for your business and stability for your employees. It can also help minimize your employee’s exposure risk.
During a pandemic like COVID-19, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends establishing policies for flexible worksites, such as telecommuting. This is especially true for your employees who fall into a high-risk category, such as employees over 60 years old and employees with chronic health conditions.
Even if your policy is only temporary, it can significantly help protect your employees.
Remote employees are more productive
If your team’s productivity levels are stagnant, telecommuting might give you the boost you need. With fewer distractions and interruptions, many remote employees report they can get more done than they would at the office.
One study found that productivity can increase by 77% with remote working and that employees use less sick leave when they work off-site.
Employees who telecommute are happier
Despite having limited in-person connections with colleagues, most remote workers enjoy it. TINYpulse research found that remote workers are almost 7% happier than other employees.
While every employee experience is different, it often comes down to flexibility, feeling valued, and a more positive work environment.
The Cons of Telecommuting
Remote teams may have lower communication levels
It’s not what you say, but how you say it.
Our nonverbal cues and body language often affect how someone perceives our message—much more than the actual words we use.
For remote teams in particular, this can be especially challenging. It can also be more difficult to plan the type of team-building activities that help strengthen professional relationships.
Company culture may suffer
Company culture is often cited as the reason why a remote working program ends—or never begins.
When you manage a remote team, you don’t get the same type of informal communication and knowledge-sharing that you would from being in an office. These types of social moments take extra planning to replicate in a virtual environment.
That said, with the right tools in place, it’s possible.
Less opportunity to develop a strong relationship with remote employees
The relationship you have with your employees is important because it can affect everything from engagement to productivity.
Between the informal check-ins and social activities that come with being in an office, there are a lot of opportunities to connect with your employees. On the flipside, it can take more effort to find opportunities to strengthen your relationship with your remote employees.
A rapid transition to large-scale telecommuting is a daunting task for any organization.
Whether your business is prompted to action because of a health crisis like the COVID-19 outbreak or you just want to make the switch, there are best practices you can follow to make sure the transition from a physical team to a remote team is a smooth one.
Step 1: Develop guidelines for telework
Before you transition your team to remote work, it’s important to have strong guidelines in place. Even if your company has a telecommuting policy in place, it may not adequately cover everything it should. Here are some areas your telework guidelines should cover.
1. Positions eligible to telecommute
Not every position is a good fit for 100% remote work.
Take a look at each individual position and determine whether or not telework is an option. If your goal is to get as many employees as possible to telecommute, but the position isn’t a good fit, all is not lost. Consider what duties can be done at home and whether there are additional duties they can temporarily take on.
2. Home environment requirements
One of the challenges of managing a remote team is ensuring your employees stay safe and classified materials stay secured.
While creating your telework guidelines, make sure to include a safety checklist for your employees to complete.
3. Hours of availability
The flexibility telecommuting provides is often beneficial to your employees and your organization. But expectations should be set.
At a minimum, it’s good practice to set “core” working hours. These are the times your employees must be available for virtual meetings, phone calls, and chats.
In your office, you probably have policies in place for requesting leave, emergency responses, and reporting workplace injuries.
Make sure your new telecommuting guidelines also address these issues.
Step 2: Identify tools your remote team will need and develop a cybersecurity plan
To successfully telecommute, your employees will need more than just a laptop or computer. Create a list of any software your team uses and any hardware and special equipment they may need.
For example, if they will have a desktop computer, do you need to provide a laptop? This might also include a printer, locked filing cabinet, or webcam.
Cybersecurity for remote workers
With telecommuting comes a potential increased cybersecurity risk.
A recent Cisco study found that is often caused by employees engaging in risky behavior—such as online shopping and using personal devices. Fortunately, you can mitigate most of these risks by creating a strong cybersecurity plan.
Have a contingency plan drafted up by your IT manager and train managers so when the time comes, they know how to enable their reports to work remotely while keeping the information secure. The more upfront planning you can do, the better. This will help ensure a smooth transition to remote work.
Step 3: Test run with a small group
If your organization is new to telecommuting and plans to implement it on a large scale, it’s usually a good idea to pilot with a small group of employees first to work out the kinks.
If you’re pressed for time, a short, three-day pilot should be enough to get a general idea of how things are going.
Be sure to monitor productivity and check-in with your pilot team during and after.
Step 4: Create a change management plan
For many employees, the thought of working from home can be unnerving.
Your employees may be unsure of what to expect—or even resistant at first. That’s why creating a change management plan is so important.
Keep the lines of communication open and be as transparent as possible throughout your transition to remote work. Be sure to give your employees the opportunity to provide feedback and address any concerns they have.
This will help create buy-in with your employees and give you the opportunity to address their concerns head on.
After you transition to a remote team, you’ll likely face some challenges and hiccups.
Here are some things you can do to help ensure your team is successful.
Encourage collaboration and communication among your virtual team
Establish communication guidelines
Effective communication is one of the biggest challenges remote teams face.
To help avoid this, establish communication guidelines with your team from the get go. For example, when is it more appropriate to make a phone call instead of sending an email? How frequently should your employees check their email?
Addressing common questions like this will help ensure your team feels respected by their colleagues and knows what’s expected of them.
Let your team voice their opinions from wherever they are
When your employees feel heard, they also feel more valued.
A tool like TINYpulse gives your staff the power to share their perspective or new idea by making anonymous suggestions. Unlike the traditional suggestion box, TINYpulse gives you the ability to follow up with each individual via private message.
This lets you collaborate and work out a plan without revealing their identity.
Find the best tools for remote work
Collaboration can be difficult in a virtual environment. Luckily, there are a lot of tools out there to open the links of communication and help your team stay organized, share information, and more.
Here are seven tools your remote team may find useful:
- TINYpulse: Get real-time feedback from your remote team and build a strong sense of community with peer recognition.
- Trello is a collaboration software to organize information, stay on schedule, and more.
- ProofHub is note-taking software that allows users to create notes, organize them in notebooks, and share ideas.
- Zoom is a video conferencing tool with screen sharing capabilities and real-time messaging.
- Slack is a messaging tool that provides a workspace for company-wide and private messages, and chat rooms.
- Status Hero is a web-based software team members can use to quickly check-in and provide status updates.
- Confluence is a collaboration tool that keeps work organized and gives team members a place to create documents and share information.
Enhance peer relationships and maintain company culture
Strengthening your employees’ peer relationships is always difficult. It’s even more challenging in a virtual environment.
Compared to non-remote workers, employees who telecommute regularly are less satisfied with their co-workers. The good news is that there are ways to overcome this.
Focus on team-building
One of the best things you can do to strengthen relationships amongst your remote workers is to set aside time for team-building. When your employees share a laugh or learn they have something in common with some, it increases trust and helps your team form meaningful connections.
With the vast amount of tools available, you can adapt a lot of regular team-building activities to work for your remote team.
Here are five virtual team building ideas to get you started:
- Coffee break: Encourage your employees to schedule regular virtual one-on-one coffee (or tea) sessions together. Provide a couple of discussion prompts to get them started and see where the conversations go. As an added bonus, you could even provide small gift cards to pay for the coffees.
- Support a shared cause: Get your team together virtually and select a charity to support. Allow each employee time to volunteer or participate in events to support the charity and encourage them to post it to an internal team site.
- Recipe exchange: Invite each employee to write down a recipe that’s meaningful to them. Randomly assign a different recipe to each team member that participates and hold an informal virtual meeting to share the history behind the recipes and their experiences using the new recipe.
- Book club: Host a monthly virtual book club for your team. After people have read the book, get everyone together to share and compare their perspectives.
- Health challenges: Who doesn’t love a good challenge? Set a fitness goal as a team, such as 200,000 steps, and have each member track and share their progress online. Provide a small reward if the team goal is met.
Encourage peer recognition
Like many remote workers, your team members are at risk of feeling disconnected and undervalued. Among all employees, only 3 out of 10 feel recognized when they do good work.
In a remote environment, this is likely even lower. When your employees feel disconnected, they are less likely to be engaged in their work and your company’s culture is negatively impacted.
A common myth about workplace recognition and appreciation only comes from management. In reality, your employees also need recognition from their peers. Feeling valued by colleagues helps your employees develop a sense of belonging and strengthens relationships.
Any easy way to encourage your team to recognize other team members is with TINYpulse’s Cheers for Peers tool. Your employees not only receive the recognition, it can also be publicly displayed so your entire organization can see their accomplishments.
Build trust with your remote employees
Your relationship with your employees is incredibly important. Due to the nature of telecommuting, it can be more challenging to develop a relationship with remote workers.
But it isn’t impossible.
Trust is the foundation of all relationships. Without trust, your employees will be less willing to come to you for help or admit mistakes and their productivity may suffer. A key to building trust with your employees is streamlined performance management.
Most employees want weekly—if not daily—contact with supervisors.
Make sure to connect with your remote employees and hold regular one-on-one meetings. These meetings will give you the opportunity to support your employees and better understand the barriers they are facing.
Transitioning from a physical team to a remote team can be stressful for your organization, your employees, and you as a leader.
To get started, create a solid transition and change management plan.Make sure to encourage collaboration and communication, and do everything you can to build trust with your employees. This type of employee-first approach can be the difference between a successful and a failed transition into a remote work-driven operation.