- March 16, 2020
- Posted by: Robert Grossman
- Categories: Culture, Leadership, Management
Responding to the Corona Virus with Remote Employees
We all know the Corona Virus is having a tremendous impact on businesses across the globe. For some companies, having a remote workforce is how they do business already. Still, businesses are not prepared at all and lack the managerial training and infrastructure to make it through this global crisis.
Successful remote team managers must actively work to establish mutual trust with their team members and to communicate effectively. This includes modeling trustworthy behavior – by doing what you say you will do – including being available during set times, reporting on milestones reached throughout the length of a project, and communicating when changes arise. Managers must also have trust in their workforce – that they have the skills and tools to accomplish the work at hand and the personal management to do so within the timeline required (with flexibility in how they tackle each task and when and where they work each day).
Effective remote managers have an ‘open-door’ policy. They’re available via phone, video conference, or other communication tools at set times and are flexible and responsive to changes and emergencies. They provide constant feedback, support, and encouragement – and they reward success and share best practices with the entire team. They use procedures like daily or weekly check-ins, monthly reports, team calls, and clear goals – not to stymie flexibility but to encourage effective remote work by tracking and supporting individual and team progress.
One crucial skill for all dispersed workers is the effective use of electronic communication tools. Whether that means using the right emoji for the conversation or remembering ‘not to email mad’ – there is a new set of useful communication tools for working collaboratively in a remote setting and in managing remote workers. And that means understanding how tone can (and cannot) be used effectively in email and other electronic communications. Video conferencing and collaboration tools can help.
What It Takes
Meeting the challenge of successfully managing offsite employees requires a manager’s usual toolbox of skills and strategies, and more. Certain factors need to be in place for offsite employees to succeed.
The Role of Trust
Managers need to be able to trust their offsite employees to do their jobs without direct supervision. Knowing that they are trusted helps motivate employees and gives them the confidence and drive they need to work on their own.
Employees also need to trust their managers. They must be able to count on their managers to treat them fairly and to do what they say they will do.
How to Establish Mutual Trust
Managers and employees earn one another’s trust by showing they can be counted on. They are honest, truthful, and open with one another. They behave with integrity, consistency, and do what they say they will do.
Tips for earning your employees’ trust:
- Be trustworthy. Show people, they can count on you by doing what you say you will do.
- Trust them to do the work. Instead of micro-managing, manage by objectives. Hold employees accountable for meeting goals and focus on results.
- Be an enabler. Provide the support, feedback, and offsite encouragement employees need to accomplish their goals.
- Keep your actions consistent. It’s difficult to trust someone who does one thing one day and another the next.
- Have an open-door policy. Be available when offsite employees have questions or need help (and designate a substitute if you can’t be around).
- Establish a check-in policy. Work with employees to set up a reporting or check-in procedure.
- Communicate clearly and often. (We will explore this in-depth in the next section.)
- Watch your tone. Be aware of the tone you use in verbal and written communications.
Share certain information face-to-face. Convey harmful or sensitive information, such as feedback on poor performance, in person, or at least face-to-face, not in an email or a phone call. Written and voice-only communication lacks the critical nuances provided by body language and facial expressions.
Don’t make it personal when things go wrong. Focus on the problem, not the person. Treat offsite employees fairly. They should have the same conduct and performance guidelines, obligations, and opportunities as onsite employees.
Keeping Offsite Employees in the Loop
Offsite employees are often at a disadvantage because they do not have the opportunities for interaction that onsite employees have every day. People forget to send them important information. Decisions are made without their input. The result is that they may feel isolated and ignored.
For an offsite relationship to work, managers need to pay special attention to establishing and maintaining ongoing communication. They need to beware of the “out of sight, out of mind” approach and make it a point to stay in touch, even if nothing particular is going on. They need to keep offsite employees “in the loop” and help them feel that they are important members of the staff community.
Tips for keeping offsite employees in the loop and creating a sense of belonging to the staff community:
- Make sure employees have easy access to relevant data. This includes team schedules, status reports, and company information (such as changes in policies, procedures, organization, and leadership).
- Select the most appropriate type of communication for the situation. Considering the subject matter and the purpose, decide whether it would be best to use email or chat, leave a voicemail, have a phone conversation, or set up a face-to-face meeting.
- Accommodate communication preferences when possible. Does the employee prefer writing or talking for regular communication?
- Ask specific, open-ended questions. Instead of asking, “How is everything?” ask, “What do you think you could do to….?”
- Hold regular meetings. Have one-on-one sessions with offsite employees and include them in team meetings as well.
- Create opportunities for face-to-face contact. Use video phone calls, video conferencing, and virtual meeting programs such as Zoom instead of relying only on voice and email communication.
- Use technology to provide casual contacts similar to those that onsite employees have every day. Tools such as discussion boards, internal blogs, and web pages let team members explore ideas, discuss projects, and establish personal connections by sharing information about their hobbies, interests, and experiences.
- Convene in person. If possible, have regular in-person meetings with the offsite employee and bring the entire team together at least once or twice a year.
Meetings serve vital functions for any team. When all or some team members work offsite, particularly when they are in locations that make frequent in-person meetings impractical, virtual meetings can accomplish many of these functions.
Challenges of Virtual Meetings
Fortunately, technologies such as phone conferencing, video conferencing, and meeting software make it possible for people to interact by voice or even face-to-face from diverse locations. However, virtual meetings still present certain challenges that in-person meetings do not. For instance, virtual meetings:
- Don’t allow for spontaneity. Unlike many of the impromptu meetings that happen in the workplace, virtual meetings usually need careful planning and coordination.
- Require technology. The technology should be suited to the type of meeting (informational, brainstorming, problem-solving, decision-making), and people need to know how to use it.
- Need advance preparation. Virtual meetings should always have a schedule that is distributed to team members ahead of time.
- Present scheduling difficulties. Timing a virtual meeting can be tricky when team members work in different time zones or at different hours.
Follow these best practices for managing offsite employees to help them meet their goals and contribute productively to your team:
- Provide employees with the tools they need to do the job.
- Establish and maintain mutual trust.
- Prepare employees thoroughly to set them up for success.
- Work with employees to develop relevant, achievable goals.
- Clarify expectations.
- Communicate clearly and often, and make sure that other team members do the same.
- Find ways to help offsite employees feel that they are a vital part of the team and the organization.
- Provide ongoing support and feedback.
- Address problems early, before they escalate.