Shift: Managing Remotely

leadership development Mar 31, 2020

by Ann Getz, Ph.D. 

In response to the uncertainties presented by the Covid-19 pandemic, many companies, schools and universities have asked their employees and students to work and learn remotely. As a society it is now necessary that we make these changes at lightning speed without time to understand or to be mindful of factors that can make remote work especially demanding.

Here are a few obstacles of working remotely:

Absence of face-to-face interactions: Both managers and their employees often express concerns about the lack of face-to-face interaction. Supervisors worry that employees will not work as hard or as efficiently. Many employees struggle with reduced access to managerial support and communication.

Access to information: Newly remote workers are often surprised by the added time and effort needed to locate accurate information across their teams. Even getting answers to what seem like simple questions can feel like a significant obstacle to a worker based remotely.

Social isolation: Loneliness and isolation are some of the most common complaints about remote work, with employees missing the informal social connection of an office setting or working with clients.

Distractions: Typically, we encourage remote workers to ensure that they have both dedicated workspace and adequate childcare. But, in the case of a sudden transition to virtual work, there is a much greater chance that team members and colleagues will be contending with suboptimal workspace and unexpected parenting responsibilities.

How Managers Can Support Remote Team Members

As much as remote work can be fraught with challenges, there are also relatively quick and inexpensive things that managers can do to ease the transition. Actions that you can take today include:

Establish structured daily check ins: Many successful remote managers establish a daily conference call or video conference with their remote team members. 

Leverage technology: Email and conference calls alone are not enough. Remote workers benefit from having technology, such as video conferencing, that gives team members many of the visual cues that they would have if they were face-to-face. Video conferencing has many advantages and can help reduce the sense of isolation among teams. Quick collaboration can be fostered by mobile-enabled individual messaging functionality (like Slack, Zoom, Coda etc.) which can be used for simple, less formal conversations, as well as time-sensitive communication.

Establish norms: Remote work becomes more efficient and satisfying when managers set guideline for the frequency, means, and ideal timing of communication with their teams. Let your employees know the best way and time to reach you during the workday. Keep a pulse on communication among team members and check-in to see if there are ways to improve communication.

Establish opportunities for remote social interaction: One of the most essential steps a manager can take is to create ways for employees to interact socially and broaden the dialogue around managing stress and anxiety. Some examples: 1) open calls with a brief check-in, e.g. high-point for the day; one intention for the day, 2) one person begins the call with an inspirational quote, 3) share ways to manage stress, 4) reflect on and create a gratitude list, 5) open a discussion around strength, resilience and grit and ways to develop these attributes, 6) create opportunities to learn, develop and grow, and 7) use humor to promote a common connection e.g., share funny videos, stories or jokes. These little acts can help reduce feelings of isolation and promote a sense of belonging.

Foster a climate of emotional support and positivity: In the context of an abrupt shift to remote work, it is important for leaders to acknowledge the stress and anxiety this uncertain situation has created, be present, listen attentively to employees’ anxieties and concerns, and empathize with their struggles. Leaders have a tremendous opportunity to have a positive impact on the lives of their team members. This is a defining moment. Your team members will look to you for words of encouragement, confidence and focus.

Managing remotely across multiple time zones: For a team with remotely dispersed members who are across many time zones coordination can be a real challenge. Successfully managing these remotely dispersed team involves clear communication and coordination, being aware of constraints such as Daylight Savings Time (which happens at different times worldwide) and national holidays and using the right tools for team collaboration. One suggestion is to set a home-time zone to help the team coordinate their work efforts. At the same time, it is also important to acknowledge each team member’s situation and be open to adapting processes to foster equity and balance across the team.

Take time to decompress: You can only lead and support others when you have the strength and energy to give. Here are a few tips to recharge: 1) get adequate sleep, 2) breathe – take a break, 3) get out in nature, 4) move your body – exercise, 5) eat nutritious food that will give you energy, 6) meditate, 7) create a gratitude list, 8) be mindful of how much you are watching TV, newspapers, social media and internet, 9) cultivate a positive, growth mindset for yourself and others, 10) have some self-compassion – we are in unchartered waters.

We can do this together…..it is a defining moment for you, your team, your company, your family and our world. How we show up can make all the difference.

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