With Coronavirus confining your workforce to their homes, management by walking around is no longer an option. But while your team may be working away from the office, your leadership and people skills may be more important than ever before as you guide your organization through these trying times. If you are unused to managing a remote workforce, you may want to alter your style to accommodate your most important asset.
As usual, you should guide your team’s development of priorities, timelines, and milestones, but with a work-from-home staff, these duties need to be codified into a living document in order to keep workers and managers accountable and ensure sufficient coverage for all critical tasks.
Metasys offers this checklist of 10 areas on which to focus your management attention in order to minimize disruptions.
Show a Steadying Hand
Employees forced into working remotely will react differently. Some may take to it immediately, while others will feel overwhelmed, fearful, or pessimistic that they can maintain productivity and professionalism. Most will be worried about their families’ health, children’s education, and job security. You may have the same concerns, but you need to put them aside and set the example with a can-do attitude. Rally your troops! They may resist change, so exhibit empathy and flexibility. But make them understand that this is the new reality, and that everyone is expected to contribute and make the best of things. Acknowledge the learning curve and that the arrangement won’t be perfect at the beginning. Assure workers that after a few fits and starts, work will become more efficient and productive.
Keep it Simple…
Your workers will flex remote-work muscles they may have never used before, so until processes become routine, it may be best to reduce your reliance on technology. Of course, you can’t function without email, cell phones, and a strong internet connection, and you’ll need a few additional tools (discussed in the next section). Beyond these essentials, pare down your contact channels. Remote work makes it difficult to keep everyone informed at the same time. Most traditional and electronic communications media do not allow for dialog and collaboration. We are forced to document decisions and refer to them for everyone to keep track. Limiting the places this documentation exists establishes a single, up-to-date version of the truth so everyone is fully informed.
…But Stay Organized
With only a few communications and organizational tools at your disposal, it is important that the ones you use be robust. Google Docs or another document-sharing app is an obvious choice for writers, project analysts, and others who work on written, graphic, or financial assignments. Chat programs such as Slack are great for giving quick updates and assignments to the entire group, and videoconference programs like ClickMeeting can be used for more formal presentations, client consultations, and worker training. Use Basecamp or a similar project-management suite to track progress, spotlight logistical problems or bottlenecks, and ensure proper allocation of resources.
Whichever tools you rely on for employee updates, use them frequently. In a remote-work situation, there’s no such thing as overcommunicating. If your office routine includes daily or weekly team meetings, continue to hold them remotely. Connect with each contributor often, just to check in. Don’t give the appearance of looking over their shoulders or making sure they are on the job. If your workgroup is small enough, you could even keep the conference software open continuously during work hours. Remote workers can enter as they please, creating a virtual watercooler where they can informally discuss work and life issues.
As a manager, your value comes in extracting value from others. This is made more difficult when you cannot influence them face to face. But it is critical when employees are faced with family obligations and time-wasting distractions at home. Companies with histories of using work-from-home employees and gig workers often break projects into granular tasks. This allows workers to complete a few action steps, then submit them to colleagues or supervisors for input. They can work on other tasks in the interim, then act on the feedback when it comes. This iteration strategy works particularly well when teams are spread across time zones and where phase outputs form the building blocks for subsequent projects.
Base Success on Results, Not Process
You can’t just pop in on your remote workers like you can when you’re all in the office. For some managers, that constitutes a loss of control, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Your responsibility is to ensure your people accomplish the tasks that will make the biggest difference to your company’s success. That includes exercising authority, of course, but more importantly, it means ensuring they have the resources and advice they need. Concentrate on the quality, not the quantity, of the time they spend working. Trust that your people are committed and will get the job done. How and when they do it doesn’t matter, so long as they continue to meet their obligations, deadlines, and quotas.
Some activities and projects are made for remote work while others are more difficult or impossible to achieve without in-office resources. It’s up to you decide which challenges your team will not be able to overcome, which tasks they can accomplish, and how to best allocate your workers’ talents, budget, and technology to get the most out of the tools at your disposal. Prioritize based on projects’ criticality, complexity, and resource demand. It may be necessary to prioritize on an individual worker basis, as well. Meet with workers one-on-one, seek their input, and come to agreement on how best to use their talents.
Keep Your Information Safe
Many home workers use their personal computers, rather than company-issued laptops, leading to digital security concerns. The last thing you want is for hackers to gain access to sensitive files and confidential projects. Workers acting outside office protocols also could open your company to non-compliance of financial, taxation, and regulatory guidelines and perhaps jeopardize the quality of your products and customer data. Acquiring a virtual private network will protect internet connections from prying eyes. Remember, too, that Corona is not the only virus going around, malicious bugs, spread by clicking on email attachments, can infect computers and spread throughout the workgroup. Remind teammates to be leery of suspicious emails.
You and the other managers in your organization will be instrumental in guiding your company through the current crisis. Once the upheaval has passed, however, the lessons learned have the potential to transform the way your firm gets work done. The work-from-home movement has been slow to take hold, but once organizations see how it works in real time, more employees may opt to work remotely. In addition, companies are likely to expand their contingent workforce to facilitate scaling their operations and access critical skills.
If that is the case, the remote-workforce management tactics you develop curing the Coronavirus era will make you even more indispensable to your company.