How to manage your team virtually during the coronavirus crisis
Coronavirus reverberations have caught many managers off guard. Here’s a quick primer on getting your team up to speed in these challenging times.
1. Choose your tools
Is the correct tech infrastructure in place, and does everyone on your team know how to use it?
If not, productivity will slump and tensions will rise. A banker friend based in LA shared his frustration about the recent statewide lockdown: “I can’t access critical files remotely on my personal laptop and the method isn’t secure anyway. My home internet can’t handle big downloads, I can’t use our conference call software, and now, I’m supposed to learn a new digital CRM system. It’s a mess.”
In short, get your team’s input when developing your tech strategy; then make sure that everyone has the necessary resources and is empowered to use them.
2. Create a new/old culture
Try to keep routines that proved productive in the past, such as weekly report rounds and coffee breaks to discuss best practices. Just move the activities online in synchronous form.
At the same time, however, be open to experiment with new approaches. As Susanne Ehmer of Redmont Consulting Cluster, advises: “Make room. Leave something out! For example, cancel a meeting that is no longer helpful. Allow the temporary emptiness, because that’s exactly where new opportunities arise… Let yourself be surprised.”
It’s an ongoing balance of continuing whatever worked in the past while remaining open to innovative methods of working.
3. Manage expectations — and rumors
Your company is losing revenue, and layoffs may be inevitable.
So, what do you tell your employees? No use in scaring them but lying isn’t an option either…
Just communicate what you can — with honesty and clarity. Counteract gossip and misinformation with facts; make only those promises that you can keep.
4. Communicate, communicate…
No doubt some of your staff is insecure about the unexpected situation of working remotely. Others could be feeling invisible, left out of vital information loops and decision-making processes. Still others might be enjoying the relative independence and, as a result, be less likely to follow necessary procedures.
How to handle all of these challenges? Build trust through clear, coherent and frequent communication. Keep the message simple, and share it with the full team transparently.
To the extent possible, keep your team informed about organizational changes and get its input on related issues. Take the time to make the business case for tough decisions, and keep your eye out for brewing signs of conflict.
And especially in tricky cases, choose your communication method strategically. For example, if you notice an email exchange heating up, arrange a video call to get the issue settled quickly.
Use this opportunity to understand your team better. As Resilience and Leadership Specialist Alice Bromage points out: “Time spent learning and understanding the communication styles of your team will have an exponential effect on your efficiency — especially now that we are all working remotely. Knowing how to present and receive information well will be imperative to mission success.”
So, connect with your team daily, and make time for 1-to-1s.
The more visible and engaged you are now, the better.
5. Prioritize goals
Clarifying roles and goals at the start of the home office transition will prevent headaches and arguments later…
So, if anyone’s tasks have changed significantly since the move, or if the process of completing any task is very different, be sure that all team members are informed and on board with the new approach.
As a rule of thumb, focus on outcomes and deliverables rather than on the tasks to achieve them.
6. Keep it personal
Create a virtual watercooler where your team can catch up on small talk and connect. Relationship-building activities shared in the past can still take place via synchronous media.
Schedule regular interactions with your staff, and make sure that everyone is included. Virtual teams suffer when the boss is seen to be favoring certain individuals, granting them better access to information or resources. Keep communication transparent and inclusive.
And finally, when managing virtual teams for the first time, it’s normal to feel somewhat out of control and to compensate by focusing on task completion. If you find yourself falling into that trap, remember to ramp up the personal connection. It builds team morale — and ultimately, productivity.
7. Understand your team’s new working environments
Schedule a virtual 1-to-1 with each team member to go over the specific challenges s/he is facing. Ask what can be done to make this new work approach more effective.
And since regular hours are often impossible now, allow more implementation flexibility while still meeting deadlines and keeping quality high.
8. Connect with your clients
Use this time to communicate with your clients proactively. Give them updates, helpful strategies for coping in their market… a reason to stay connected to your company.
In short, get creative with virtual possibilities. You might find a new product line just waiting to be developed…
9. Promote work/life balance
The border between personal and professional blurs when doing home office. Irregular working hours combined with the temptation to catch up on tasks late at night can be a recipe for disaster long-term.
So, be sure your team is psychologically ready for this transition to working remotely. Emphasize the necessity for them to exercise and stay healthy; release expectations that they should be available 24/7.
Bottom line, support your team members in developing a productive and sustainable home office lifestyle. This lockdown could last awhile.
10. Use the disruption to innovate
How can your product or service gain traction supporting the general public during this market disruption?
If you offer video conferencing or medical services, it’s a no-brainer.
For everyone else, creativity is key. As sales meetings and client consultations move online, new strategic approaches can be explored. Approach this disruption as an opportunity to consider new virtual markets and fresh ways of working.