Over the course of 4 months, COVID-19 slowly changed the way business is done globally and compelled more traditional business organisations to adopt a remote working policy.
In a bid to contain the spread of the virus and flatten the incidence curve, partial and full lockdowns (mass quarantines) have now been instituted in 199 countries and territories around the world.
Asides from corporate organisations, schools and universities around the world have also transitioned to online classes with the closure of campus housing facilities.
While many organisations already had work-from-home policies in place, for the first time, many more businesses are having their employees and managers out of the office and separated from each other.
There will always be two opposing camps on the topic of remote working. One group will staunchly argue that nothing will get done. At the same time, the other believes that employees can be happier and more productive when working remotely. Overall, managing remote teams is easier said than done.
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Although it is highly advisable to always establish clear remote-work policies and processes in advance; an unforeseen pandemic such as the current COVID-19 crisis does not give room for proper preparation and planning to be done beforehand.
And we know that while some savvy business leaders might be leveraging this opportunity to disrupt their conventional operations; some others will remain fearful and ill-prepared.
For this reason, we have put together strategies to help you and your organisation effectively manage and evaluate performance during this lockdown. Settle into your home-office chair comfortably and read on.
You can also check out this downloadable article – Leading in uncertain times: Responding to COVID-19 pandemic and future challenges.
9 Distinct Strategies for Managing Your Remote Working Team
Schedule Structured Daily Check-ins
You know the saying, “out of sight out of mind?” This can be the case for new remote working employees. Adjusting to the effects of the COVID-19 virus on regular work-life might take a while.
Without daily check-ins, employees can quickly lose sight of work and get lost in all the distractions that come with the rapid spread of the virus. Whenever possible, these check-ins should be face-to-face via video. They need to see you and be seen by you.
Communication is essential but communication during a crisis is even more critical
Communication is essential but communication during a crisis is even more critical. With reduced human contact due to everyone practising social distancing, emails are just not enough. Leverage tools that aid collaborative communication with your team.
Services like Zoom and Google’s Team Hangout make this relatively easy to do. As part of Google’s corporate goodwill efforts, it is providing free access to Hangout’s video-conferencing capabilities at no additional cost to all customers until July 1, 2020. Zoom is also making available its platform for free to all schools who register with their domain address.
Slack, Microsoft Teams, Whatsapp and Vidyard are some other tools that can be used for less formal, more uncomplicated and time-sensitive communication.
And from now through June 30, Vidyard, a video messaging platform is offering businesses free access to their internal communications tool to help managers adjust and stay connected to their remote workforce.
Manage and Set Clear Expectations
It is crucial to help your team figure out what they should be doing and what you expect from them. It is also important to set realistic expectations. Set your team up for success, having in mind the new restrictions and limitations they might face with the changing work environment (spouses, children, parents, housemates, etc.).
Managing remote working teams can fast become a very slippery slope if certain things aren’t agreed beforehand. Your employees need to be self-motivated and accountable.
Still, as a manager, you also need to ensure that they know what they have to do, how they have to do it and to what standard to prevent frustrations and disappointments down the road. This means determining and agreeing upon the scope, deadlines and deliverables for each task and project.
Setting clear expectations beforehand is not only useful for measuring productivity but can also be an early warning system.
Do not be afraid to try new things because change can help your team grow.
Be Open to Change and Try New Strategies
Sometimes, what we are used to may not be the best option in cases like this. To make the most out of this new development, be open to suggestions from your team and try new strategies. If you never had one before now, it is the best time to create an open-door policy.
If this is your first time managing remote employees, don’t stress too much. It can and will most likely be a learning curve. Do not be afraid to try new things because change can help your team grow.
Embrace innovation and encourage your remote team to come up with new ways to achieve their set goals remotely.
Try not to assume and micro-manage; a remote workforce is mostly an autonomous one. But when you can’t see your employee right across the office from you, it might be difficult not to assume that they aren’t working or sticking to delegated tasks and targets.
Instead, focus on outcomes and goals. Workstyle takes the back-seat in these times as long as the work gets done when and how it should.
Encourage, Support and Reward your Team
When there’s an abrupt shift to remote work, primarily due to a crisis, it is possible for employees to experience higher levels of stress and anxieties. Employees might also feel disconnected from the rest of their team.
All of this might have grave effects on productivity if not properly handled. It is important to listen to your employees during this period, encourage them and offer your support where needed. Also, appreciate their efforts and reward performance, however possible.
Best Strategies for Evaluating the Performance of Your Remote Working Team
Evaluate Quality and Quantity not Time Spent
Do not be too quick to evaluate performance based on the amount of time spent on a project. You should be willing to shift your “time spent” metrics when evaluating performance and focus more on the quality and quantity of work done instead.
This is because there are a lot more limitations and restrictions that come with the remote work terrain and you should give room for that.
Evaluate Based on Clearly Defined Outcomes
Just like you would measure performance if employees were working out of the office, evaluate based on outcomes. When setting goals and tasks, set clear outcomes for each task and evaluate the employee’s overall ability to achieve that agreed outcome.
Evaluate Based on Clear and Specific Metrics and Expectations
Metrics are crucial when it comes to properly evaluating your remote workers. It is best to create metrics based on expectations set for the employee.
With remote work, it is important to be very clear and specific with all expectations. Examples of metrics are customer satisfaction and community engagement.
Evaluate with Scheduled Performance Reviews
Working remotely does not mean you cannot undergo performance reviews as usual. Now is the time to hold regular performance review sessions. It is always a good idea to regularly track the performance of your remote team and make necessary adjustments early enough.
Trust your Remote Employees
Lastly, trust your remote employees. Learn to believe that your team is working even though they are not in the office. Do your part by setting clear goals and expectations, and then trust that they are working hard to achieve those tasks.
As your organisation goes through this shift, you can reduce the level of impact it has on productivity. Be open to new ideas for fostering productivity, encourage and support your employees through this change and set realistic expectations when evaluating their performance.
Help your employees see the big picture and empower them to continuously improve their performance even as they embrace remote working.
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Stay Safe. Stay Remote. Stay Alive.