When it comes to managing our teams, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought a whole host of unique challenges and obstacles which we simply could not have anticipated. The priority, of course, for all of us, is to ensure the health and safety of our people. But, how do we as managers and leaders, when faced with extended periods of lockdown, help ensure our teams are productive, engaged, mentally healthy and happy?

Why you need to establish new remote management norms and habits

In my mind, part of this is down to establishing new norms as you lead your teams in this new working environment. Right now, your people are looking for consistency and support from you. You can provide this to them by being increasingly self-aware and self-reflective of your actions and, of course, how those actions might be perceived by each team member. You can also provide the support and consistency they’re looking for by forming new personal habits and rituals that you personally commit to, when managing your remote team from here on out.

So, below is a simple checklist of actions to ensure your remote team is as happy, engaged and productive as possible, during this hugely challenging period.

Get your team’s technology right

  • Ensure each staff member has access to the technology they need to do their jobs effectively
  • Provide training and support to help them make good use of these tools
  • Set rules around which technology you use as a team, for which purposes
  • Be patient and understanding if they experience Wi-Fi or other technical issues, providing support where possible

Be purpose-driven in your actions

  • Reiterate and, if needed, work with the senior leadership team to redefine the purpose of your organisation, and live it – this will help the people within your business find meaning in their work, and see the bigger picture
  • Give virtual shout-outs to members of your team who live the purpose and values of your organisation
  • Set out your team’s overarching strategic objectives, which should focus on helping your organisation to deliver on its wider purpose – weave this into the start of every remote meeting

Set relevant and realistic goals

  • Set weekly or even daily goals or priorities each morning – it’s a good idea to provide your team with the autonomy to set their own, which you can then sense-check and tweak if needed
  • Be clear about expectations, including who is responsible for what, and when you expect work to be delivered by
  • Share daily progress on key projects to ensure motivation and focus
  • Ask team members to block out time in their calendars to focus on specific tasks, and then share those calendars with the wider team
  • At the end of each day, encourage your team to think about three things they’ve accomplished that working day. This creates a sense of achievement and positivity

Communicate, communicate, communicate

  • Double down on the time you would ordinarily spend communicating with your team
  • As well as regular team meetings, make sure you’re conducting frequent one-to-ones
  • Ensure meetings are punctual and try to keep them under 45 minutes
  • Share the bigger picture, including company news and announcements, as transparently as possible
  • Try not to cancel or reschedule team catch-ups that have already been set – as mentioned, consistency is key
  • Communicate with each member of the team in the way they prefer, whether that is via phone, video, instant messenger or email

Practise inclusivity 

  • Before all remote meetings, set an agenda and ensure everyone has a chance to voice their thoughts and opinions
  • Avoid early morning or late afternoon remote meetings, as they may not be conducive to the personal responsibilities of each member of your team
  • Check with each team member if there are any points in the day where they will be unavailable to communicate with – be flexible and tolerant
  • Devote an equal amount of your time to each member of your team
  • Invite feedback and ideas on how remote working and projects are going, listening to your team members and taking their views on board
  • Be thoughtful about your communications and the language you use
  • Ensure mindfulness of time zone differences when scheduling remote meetings

Encourage autonomy, regular upskilling and job crafting

  • Empower your team to think about their skills gaps, and support their efforts to proactively upskill in the areas where they may feel they are lacking
  • Provide regular feedback to each team member on their performance
  • Encourage team members to use the time they have now for self-reflection to think about their longer-term career goals and priorities
  • Give autonomy to team members to encourage them to craft their roles, support other departments where possible and develop their skill sets where relevant

Be compassionate and trusting

  • Appreciate the unique challenges your team members are contending with which might impact on the way that they work at this time – such as childcare responsibilities or the need to look after vulnerable relatives
  • Let your team members know you are there for them if they want to talk about their worries or anxieties
  • Remember, just because you can’t physically see your team members, that doesn’t mean they’re not working, so resist the urge to micro-manage and trust your staff unless they give reason for you not to

Role model a strong work-life balance 

  • Give your team the autonomy to set their own schedules to help them manage any other responsibilities they have
  • Vocalise the importance of wellbeing, including the need to take regular breaks, avoid taking lunch at their desks and get outside to exercise at a time that suits them, if government restrictions allow
  • Tell your team when you are popping out for a walk, taking lunch or teaching your children – showcasing your own flexible and open approach will help your people feel they can do the same
  • Make it clear that you’re keen for them to keep up any newly established healthy habits after the crisis

Focus on maintaining your team culture remotely 

  • Create virtual ‘water cooler’ moments, using collaboration platforms like Skype or Slack to initiate casual discussion and inject moments of fun during the day
  • Set up a WhatsApp group or separate chat for non-work conversations
  • Celebrate successes – such as great client feedback or raising money in lockdown for good causes – virtually, and even share across social channels
  • Use the opportunity to help your team to get to know each other more – try virtual tours of home offices, introducing pets to colleagues or even quizzes

While the COVID-19 pandemic will one day be over, the principles of good management amid constant change, and potentially in an increasingly remote world, are sure to become increasingly crucial in the long-term. So, by proactively establishing new management habits and norms now, when leading your teams remotely through this crisis, you’ll also be proactively investing in your skills, ensuring you’re the best manager you can be in the defining new era of work.

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