This article is for you if you are faced with leading a remote team. Especially if that is new for you.
Who is working at home?
Of course, there are those who cannot work from home under any circumstances. Medical and emergency services. And retailers – and those who restock the shelves. This probably needs a whole separate article.
Then there are those people who already work from home occasionally, or often. Or all the time. They already have set routines and are wondering what all the fuss is about.
New to Home Working
Finally, there are those for whom this is a novelty.
There may be some who think it is a chance for a release from being managed and will think about how they can use it to the best advantage.
But the vast majority will welcome being trusted. They will be slightly nervous about the logistics. And they will be keen to make it work so they can continue to do it sometimes in future.
What are people feeling?
People will be distracted and interrupted by family around them. Some people will be sharing all sorts of advice – some of it fake – about coronavirus. Others will never mention coronavirus and will be “burying their heads”.
We all have concerns at the moment and we need to balance everything in our lives. We need to get work done to ensure we continue to have a job/business at the end of this crisis. And we are also caring about ourselves and our families. In particular, we are worrying about the more vulnerable people in our immediate circle.
Leading a remote team during the current situation
We need to balance the needs of our customers, clients, suppliers and teams, with our own needs, concerns and emotions.
Managers and leaders are critical in helping business to continue and the people within the business to carry on. Managers are key to keeping everyone updated. Their role is to help bring a sense of calm, rationality and peace. In short – this is the ideal chance to manifest love and leadership.
We need to offer help, support and compassion. Whilst at the same time delivering value, maintaining services and processes.
How to cope with leading a remote team
You might think you are too busy and have too much work to deal with all this. But managing your team is THE MOST important part of your job. The people make the business and you cannot afford to lose them or their goodwill.
It helps if you recognise that there are many different reactions. Others may not feel the same way you do, or as their colleagues do.
The principles of leading a remote team are no different from managing a team in person. The most important thing for a manager is to keep in regular contact with the team (phone, email, messenger, zoom, facetime, skype). Listen to what they are (or are not) telling you. Offer practical solutions where possible.
Have you thought about team meetings? These are more important than ever, to weld a team together and enable them to collaborate. You can set a regular time and date and hold the meeting by zoom or skype – some method where they can actually see each other is best. And encourage them to contact each other regularly and keep you all in the loop.
Dealing with the negatives
Where things can’t be changed, be honest, but understanding. Try to help people to come to terms with things which are impossible to change. Don’t promise things you can’t deliver.
People are going to be struggling with all kinds of anxieties. It is helpful if you canlag up counselling or other help which is available. Many companies provide a counselling service, but if not, there are plenty of charities which can help in a wide range of situations.
One major difficulty which many will face is financial. Even if your workplace is still able to function remotely, many cannot. This means that your team may have partners who are unable to work through illness. Or they may have been laid off or moved to shorter hours. This puts more pressure on your team members who may have become the only wage earner in a household. So again, it is helpful if you can provide information about financial advice or help which is available
We need to be aware of potential mental health issues. People will be feeling isolated, or trapped. They may be facing financial difficulties and/or relationship difficulties. They may be anxious, frightened, worried about falling sick. Or they may be anxious about vulnerable relatives or children. This makes your regular contact even more important.
Celebrating the positives
It is even more important than usual to remember to thank people. We all need some recognition for what we do – even if it is just “part of the job”. This is even more important when you are leading a remote team. They need to know they are not invisible and that you notice things they are doing.
The world goes on and people have birthdays and other causes to celebrate. So help them to enjoy their special occasions. We need to have fun days to enjoy even more than usual. Celebrate team and individual “wins”. Give them a reason to keep positive.
Finally, it is helpful to get the team to think about their personal wellbeing. Encourage fresh air, exercise, healthy eating, even just standing in the garden to look at trees and greenery. Taking a regular break is really important. We all tend to get stuck behind our computer, head down and involved and the day flies past without a break. This is not healthy or productive.
What are the likely reactions to homeworking?
Some people will have only just found this “freedom” and so might spend all their time scrolling though social media and not getting anything done. But this novelty will soon wear off and the vast majority will knuckle down to work in a few days.
At the other end of the scale, some will be really conscientious – to a ridiculous degree. They will want to prove themselves reliable and trustworthy. So they are likely to work solidly without a break – and that is almost a worse problem to manage!
I am already seeing some people who are in a real state of anxiety. They have been infected by the media and social media and the general scaremongering which is rife at present. They panic about every news bulletin, social media post, etc and so can’t settle to anything.
Of course, this situation is different from “normal” working at home. People may have their kids and partners at home. Tthe house is crowded. There is no privacy. They are keen to get some work done, but it isn’t really practical.
Finally – and of the most concern – there are some people who will withdraw into themselves and go silent. They are unable to face their fears and anxieties. They do not have a network around them who can help them to have some perspective. So they internalise it all and withdraw more and more.
As time goes on, things will change
- Some will get used to it and settle into a routine.
- Others will find living with their partner so closely doesn’t work, and they will find their own way to manage – move into the shed or a caravan. I predict (sadly) that all this enforced closeness to our loved ones may force a temporary increase in the divorce rate.
- Some will hate it and can’t wait to get back to normal.
- There will definitely be a few who continue to need support to stop them becoming more and more isolated.
- Some (I suspect quite a large majority) will find they love working from home, at least for some of the time, and will demand that it continues when workplaces reopen. I foresee that the world of work may see some permanent changes.
…. And finally…
These are strange and unsettling times for us all (and I really mean “all”). The whole world is facing this crisis and I find that quite comforting. Brought together in adversity. Maybe, maybe not. But the point is that we are all having to get used to things which are outside our comfort zone and don’t feel familiar. So reach out to someone if you need some help – there are plenty of others going through the same things you are!
If you think this article is useful and you would like to talk about dealing with this – then contact me for a no-obligation chat.
Jill Aburrow runs an HR strategic consultancy business – JMA HR . She provides strategic HR advice and support to businesses who want to improve loyalty, growth and profit. Why not join the JMA HR mailing list? Jill has been a professional strategic HR advisor for over two decades. She is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (FCIPD) and has a Post Graduate Certificate in Employment Law.