If you are a manager, you have probably been given the task to keep your department and its employees functioning at a high level in the midst of this unprecedented time.
If your company traditionally resides in a physical office, you have the added challenge of figuring out how to lead and manage your team while working from home. And my guess is that you have received little training and direction on how to accomplish this.
I understand what you are going through.
Back in the fall of 2018, I moved from Texas to Nebraska. The organization I was working for (before I started SWCo) was very gracious and allowed me to work remotely for them through the end of that year.
I knew this transition wouldn’t be seamless, but I also didn’t realize just how difficult working from home would be especially when you are a manager. What made my situation even more challenging was that I was the only person working from home. Everybody else worked in our two office locations.
As I navigated through how to lead my team remotely and stay connected with the rest of the organization, I realized one important lesson that has forever changed the way I approach working from home and remote teams.
Working from home exposes both organizational inefficiencies and communication shortcomings.
My guess is that many of you are starting to see this. Issues that seemed small or you didn’t even know existed within your company are popping up and hurting your productivity.
The silver lining is that you (as the manager) can use this opportunity to make improvements to both your organizational efficiency and communication that will not only benefit you now (working from home) but, most importantly, will increase your and your team’s productivity when you get back into the physical office.
In order to be an effective manager working from home and lead a successful remote team, here are a few areas that you need to be excellent in:
Communication and Technology
As mentioned earlier, one of the biggest challenges I faced when I started working from home was that I was the only person working remotely. As a result, we didn’t have the necessary resources in place to maximize my effectiveness as a manager.
As you navigate this journey, the first step is to think through your communication strategy. There are 4 key communication areas that you need to think through:
- Internal Communication: How do your employees communicate with one another?
- External Communication: How do you communicate with clients (and anyone else outside of your organization)?
- Collaboration: How do you collaborate on projects? (I also include meetings in this area.)
- File Sharing: How do your employees access key files and documents?
As you think through your strategy or methods for each one, you also need to consider what technology is out there to help you accomplish this strategy.
Here are some resources, methods, and systems that will help you accomplish your communication strategy:
Note: If you don’t have an internal communication system and simply use email right now, I would highly recommend you take this time to research the tools listed above and consider moving to an internal communication system. When implemented with excellence, they are highly effective and increase productivity.
For this area, you probably don’t need to make any changes. Pretty much everybody uses email and phone calls. But you do need to think through what hardware your team needs.
Are you going to be providing a laptop, tablet, etc. for your team? Are they going to use their cell phones for calls or do you have a VoIP system that they can use?
Most organizations (and managers) don’t do a good job of communicating their expectations or “rules” around communication in a physical office setting. Most of the time an employee or manager just walks up to someone’s desk and interrupts them. (Which is not the most effective method, usually.)
Of course you can’t do that when everyone is working from home. So you need to develop other strategies that go beyond just calling and texting every time. As the manager, you need to let your team know your expectations when it comes to how they communicate using the tools above.
For example: If something is not urgent, what tool do I use to communicate? Is it an email, text message, phone call, or carrier pigeon?
Author and leadership guru, Carey Nieuwhof, has a great outline for what working from home communication expectations look like. Here are his team’s expectations:
- Most things: weekly one on ones (video call)
- Big things: weekly team meeting (video call)
- Important, can’t-wait-for-the-next-meeting communication: Slack
- Urgent questions: Text
- Important and complicated urgent questions: Phone call or quick video call
- Email: ONLY for interaction with outside clients (people not on your direct team)
If you would like to get more specific about your communication expectations, I highly encourage you to read Carey’s blog My Top 7 Rules For Leading a Digital Team.
Managing Work From Home Employees
One of my soapbox issues is using time to manage employees. Meaning that you measure an employee’s productivity and “success” by how many hours they log. I actually know of one company that makes their full time, salaried workers clock in each day. That’s so demotivating.
If an employee’s productivity is directly correlated to the amount of hours they work, then people who work 60-70 hours per week should be the most productive. The problem with this logic is that it’s a myth. Research has shown that once a person starts exceeding 50 working hours in a week, their productivity begins to drop significantly.
Effective managers don’t focus on the amount of hours an employee works but the amount of productive hours they work.
I know many of you are thinking, “This sounds good. But you still haven’t answered the question. How do I ensure that my employees are working and not watching Netflix all day since I can’t physically be around them?”
Here are few things to think about:
Manage work not people
If the expectations are clear on what your employees need to get done, when it needs to get done, and what excellence looks like, you don’t need to manage them. Their work will speak for itself. Most of the time when our employees are not getting their jobs done the problem is not with them, it is with us, their managers. We don’t do a good job of clearly defining what projects need to get done and their completion date.
Give your people meaningful work. Show them why this project or task is important to helping the company accomplish its mission. Communicate clear expectations while also giving them latitude to provide their insight on the work. And then get out of their way to let your people actually do their work.
I’m a huge fan of 1:1 meetings and I think every manager should have them with their direct reports. I recommend having these meetings on a weekly or biweekly basis. If you already do 1:1’s, just move them to a Zoom meeting. If you don’t, then this is a great time to start them.
The 1:1 meeting is where you check in with your direct report to see how they are doing and get an update on the progress that they are making. Ask them about the benefits and difficulties of working from home. Ask how you can better set them up for success.
1:1 meetings are the antidote to micromanagement.
You can still connect with your team and have fun, these times just need to be moved virtually.
If your team normally does a happy hour on Thursdays at 4pm, have everyone grab their favorite drink and hop on a Zoom call at that time.
If you have Slack, create a channel for random, fun conversations where people can post memes, videos, and gifs. (Just be sure to communicate what is appropriate.)
Connection is not dependent upon proximity; it’s dependent upon intentionality.