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5 best practices to manage your team remotely

As a team leader, manager or a head of department, you no doubt understand the importance of building, growing, empowering and maintaining a strong team.

someone working from home with remote team on computer screen

As a team leader, manager or a head of department, you no doubt understand the importance of building, growing, empowering and maintaining a strong team. The morale, culture, engagement and motivation of your team are all critical pieces to the success of your organisation. This is even more true in times of crisis when you need your people to be at their best to rise to the challenges of the situation.

Even in the best of times and with physical proximity, it can be hard to manage a team and its dynamics. So, when you add the social isolation that most employees are currently facing, keeping a team empowered and focused while working remotely can become a minefield even for the best leaders.

Remote workforces and flexible working arrangements are nothing new, but it is the scale and pace at which this shift is taking place that is unprecedented.

To help you navigate and adapt to this new reality, we have compiled 5 best practices to successfully lead a remote team and keep them happy, healthy and productive:

Frequent, Clear and Open communication

After a few weeks, most employees working from home would be starting to feel cut off from information, resources or relationships, which would be a source of frustration. Without clear and regular communication from you, your team will be left to its own devices to figure out what is going on which could lead to assumptions, whispers and miscommunication.

Clear and direct communication is essential in a time of crisis. Company direction, business results, mitigation plans, job security are all on the mind of your team right now. It is your job as a leader to alleviate as much “uncertainty” as possible to keep your employees focused on the task at hand. If your people’s minds are preoccupied, it will be hard for them to produce good quality work.

Keep the line of communication open and broad and with an honest tone. As a manager, you will not doubt be extremely busy, but making time for your team should be at the top of your priority list.

It is also best practice to consider the different personalities and preferred communication styles of your team members – while some would appreciate regular text updates, others would prefer less frequent but longer video calls. Hearing from you at regular intervals will be crucial to maintain your team’s trust in the leadership of your organisation.

Finally, if you have an intranet or a health and wellbeing platform, now is the time to make the most of it. Having one place to send your team to get information will make things a lot easier and will also ensure consistency of the message as the “one source of truth”.

someone viewing health and wellbeing platform online

Lead with trust

Being concerned about the productivity and engagement of your team while they are working remotely is an expected concern, but succumbing to micromanagement due to a lack of visibility and proximity with your team is certainly not best practice.

Instead, build, nurture and lead with trust. Having confidence in your people will go a long way in establishing a trust culture. Treat your employees the way you would want your boss to treat you in these circumstances and know that your employees will do their work even if you can’t see them.

It is also very likely that not much will change in the virtual world. Your performing employees will continue to perform well and your under-performing employees will continue to require additional time, help and coaching.

But trust is a two-way street, so it is important for you to lead by example, keep in regular contact and of course have some “checks” and processes in place to foster this critical ingredient to successful remote working (more on this in our following point).

Set clear expectations from the start

Even if your company has some well-developed guidelines and work-from-home policies, it is important to set clear expectations with each of your team members on a one-on-one basis. Ideally, this should be done early so that the remote working arrangements can start on the right tracks from the beginning.

Start discussing and aligning on the “logistical” questions (preferred communication and contact methods, working hours, technology to be used) and ensure your team members have everything they need to be successful. From workspace, to stationery, to online connectivity, it is important that your team are well setup to perform their job remotely.

Once the logistics are taken care of, you can start focusing on the actual work expectations. Best practice is to first provide high-level expectations aligned with the organisation’s purpose (Why) and then go into the specifics of the activities and tasks that are needed (How), with KPIs in terms of deliverables and timings. With these in place, it will be a lot more meaningful for leaders to focus on the outcomes and achievements of their team.

It is finally crucial to listen to your employees. After all, it is as much about setting your expectations of them as it is understanding what they need from you as a manager.

Being on the same page will bring a sense of calm, empowerment and accountability to your team and will lead to better performance.

Establish a daily huddle

With the amount and pace of change in the current context, establishing a daily huddle with your team will go a long way to ensure everyone is informed, clear on priorities, challenges and specific next steps and will also help highlight any urgent roadblocks.

These huddles should also reduce the numbers of ad-hoc meetings that are inevitably taking place daily among the team in these volatile times.

Finally, this huddle will help promote a “one team” mentality where all team members will feel included and valued.

But a daily huddle, like any other meetings, should be a “well-oiled machine” with a clear purpose and agenda. It is also recommended to keep it sweet and short – 15 minutes is usually all you need – and have it first thing in the morning.

Another tip is not to start a huddle on the hour (eg. 9.05am), as this will help promote punctuality. If implemented correctly, this huddle could soon become the most important meeting of your day and will keep your team focused and accountable.

Encourage your team to look after themselves
(both physically and emotionally)

When working from home, it is easy for your team to neglect their physical health which in turn will also affect their mental health. Work and home spaces are becoming blurry, the computer and phone are always on, and the amount of information and change is enough to overwhelm the strongest of your team members.

It has never been more important to remind your team to prioritise their health and wellbeing while they are working remotely.

In your one-on-one connects, your team huddles or any other team meeting, make it part of the agenda to talk about some activities your employees can do to look after themselves while at home (hydration, nutrition, regular breaks, exercise, mediation and mindfulness) and also encourage others to share what they are doing to keep fit and sane in these difficult times.

Scheduling virtual coffee breaks or virtual lunches are other ways you can help your team beat social isolation and feel more connected.

Finally, a health and wellbeing platform is another ideal way to support your team’s health and wellness remotely. You can send all your team to one place to get information and to deploy any key health initiatives (eg. webinars, team challenges, ergonomic assessments) directly accessible from their homes.

close up of feet in running shoes going up steps

This unprecedented change is hard, and managers shouldn’t expect everything to be perfect as they and their team adapt to this new environment. But while remote working presents some real challenges for managers and teams, with technology’s ability to connect people and a few good practices in place it can also provide some benefits.

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