One of the most challenging tasks for business owners and managers in the current climate will be how to manage the team that are usually sat in the same office as them but are now far away and working from home. Initially lockdown in the UK is only for three weeks until 13th April 2020, but it’s highly likely that will be extended or the guidance to continue working from home will continue for some months to come.
Managing remote workers can be challenging and it's easy to get this very wrong so I’ve put this guidance together to support you in ensuring that your work still gets completed and your staff remain integrated into the business and team without feeling like you’re watching their every move.
Ensuring the team have the right hardware, software and accesses is basic and I won’t go into this here but do ensure that you’ve covered all of the teams needs here to avoid frustrations building up and slowing down your work processes.
Depending on the job that your staff are doing, they may well have key tasks that they will just get on with ordinarily every day. For others they may rely on you as their manager to set and organise their work for them daily. So ensure that you set clear tasks for them to get through either that day, or that week with realistic and clear deadlines and reporting structures in place. For example, do you want them to email a work summary over at the end of each day or will you want them to have a call at the end of each day.
It’s important to stick to regular communication schedules. If you’d normally have a weekly team meeting or daily morning huddle, there’s no reason not to continue this and keep operations as normal as possible.
Presuming you would normally meet in person, why change this? Use the video conferencing software that’s available to us now (such as MS Teams, Zoom, Facetime etc) to meet ‘in person’. Keep these communications as normal and natural as possible. If you’d normally work through a fixed agenda, keep doing that. If you’d normally have a meeting over lunch, encourage everyone to bring their lunch to keep things as normal as possible.
In addition to this though, think about all the interactions you’d have with your team throughout the working day. It’s not easy to replicate this natural interaction but do ensure that you have a regular schedule to keep in touch with each member of the team. You should ideally be chatting to each remote team member at least once a day.
Why not encourage all team members to share their highlights from the week (big or small) in your group chats, it’s a great way to keep everyone updated and share the good things.
We’re thinking a lot about how you need to interact with your team members but it’s important to think about how they interact with each other. You need to ensure that the feeling of ‘team’ is kept alive during this time. Working alone can be lonely so it’s important to allow the team to be able to interact with each during the working day without this being seen as wasting time chatting.
Some organisations keep a virtual meeting room open for people to be able to check in and out of to just chat with colleagues who may also be feeling the need for interaction with someone else at that time.
Why not have some fun with the team and do something over video chat once a week like a quiz, or plan a team lunch, dinner or night out when this is over to give everyone something to look forward to.
You may well have very good reasons for needing to stick to your normal working hours and if that’s the case, it's fine to remind people of that expectation. However, you may have the opportunity to explore a little more flexibility.
We are all more productive at different times of the day and you may find that you can arrange for your staff to work slightly different hours to play to their individual strengths and preferences. Some early birds would probably love the opportunity to be sat down at 7am (or even earlier) and do a few hours while the rest of the team is still having breakfast and that may be a really productive working period for them. For others, this could be at the end of the day or into the evening.
You may want to consider having a chat to each of your team to see if they would prefer to work slightly different hours during this time to take account of their strengths. You may still wish for them to work specific core hours i.e. 10am to 2pm, but if you don’t need to do this for client/customer interactions then you don’t have to.
When we think about accountability, if the work you expect them to complete is done and done well, do you really need to worry about when they are doing it?
On the flip side of this, you need to keep an eye on people to make sure they aren’t working too much. Just because people now have the freedom to work 12 hour days doesn’t mean to say that they should be doing. Eventually, this will takes it’s toll. Work out how you can monitor this, speak to your IT teams to see if you’re able to track log-on/off times and chat with anyone that you’re concerned about.
Additionally, many working parents are now in the impossible situation of having their children at home with them during the working day and so they may be juggling childcare and home-schooling in shifts with their partners. For these workers, it will be even more important that you offer them flexibility.
These are unbelievable times we’re all experiencing at the moment so try to think about the minimum you expect from them and if these team members are unable to deliver that, it may be that you need to reduce their working hours or give them some unpaid leave. Get in touch if you need some support with these situations.
For many workers, working from home is brand new. It could quite easily divide workers in to three groups:
· those for whom it’s just business as usual,
· those who think it’s a bit of a holiday, and
· those who struggle without people around them and have negatively impacted mental health.
You hope that your workforce all fall into the first group, if they do, count yourself to be incredibly lucky. However, you may need to accept that for a week or two you’re going to have some challenges with the second group until the novelty wears off that they’re able to watch Phil & Holly at 10am and do their house-work throughout the day. Remind them of what you expect and what is and isn't acceptable. Consider setting out ground rules and be consistent in managing them, making them accountable and communicating their tasks, objectives and deadlines.
With the latter group you need to be sympathetic to their feelings. Be as flexible as you can with them until they can adjust. You may need to be flexible with their hours, allowing them frequent breaks to be able to have some interaction with you, with their colleagues or to get some fresh air, maybe walk the dog. Every Mind Matters are sharing tips specifically aimed at managing our mental health in these times.
Additionally, home systems will not be as reliable or fast as those installed in your workplace so even the most diligent home worker may not be up to their usual output.
Ultimately, at times like this you have to put your trust in the team. For some this will be easier than others and you’ll know where you need to prioritise your time in managing individuals and keeping them on track. Use the guidance above to ensure that you are fully aware of the achievements through the day.
Please note our blog posts contain general information and are intended as guidance only and should not be taken as an authoritative or current interpretation of the law. Please ensure that you obtain advice tailored to your individual situation before taking action. These posts apply to the UK only.