As Coronavirus has forced most organizations into going fully remote, many managers and executives are finding themselves unprepared for the scenario.
How do we keep productivity up while remaining supportive? What to do about all those critical projects that now feel at risk due to disruption? How can we get through what is likely the worst public health crisis in our lives? As employees, how should we act?
While I have not experienced a pandemic of this significance in my life, I can share with you my experience from managing and working on exclusively remote teams. I also have the ability to simply share another human perspective on the moment at hand. Perhaps I can be helpful and if you have a resource that could be of use, do not hesitate to share!
The most important aspect of remote work, especially during this crisis, is understanding that this is by no means a regular WFH scenario.
Your employees, who did not necessarily have any desire to work from home, are being forced to. In NYC and many other cities, that means people in cramped apartments, often with roommates or childeren, with barely enough space to work, let alone fit a desk.
While some employees, like engineers, may already have experience working remotely due to their career path, many of them don’t.
Aside from the fact that the work environment may not be ideal at home, there’s also the emotional toll that this experience will impose.
Walking home from the supermarket to see the shelves cleared out and expecting your employee to be at peak productivity is anything but supportive. Seeing the headlines take a continuous emotional toll.
So what does this all mean? Take the time to find out how people are feeling before focusing on their productivity. Mental health is the most important thing right now.
Encourage your reports to take breaks and potentially even a walk outside given that it’s now completely empty outside.
Something that the tech team at Dailypay has tested is “coffee talks” which are spontaneous 15 minute check-ins. Small groups of approximately10 or less can hop on Zoom and just chat about what’s going on in their world.
We plan on doing these daily for as long as this quarantine lasts.
So how does work continue in this environment?
It turns out that managing a remote team is going to be an ultimate test of your leadership style. Nobody believes they are a micro-manager but if you feel uncomfortable because you don’t know what your direct reports are up to, there’s a good chance you have a micro-management tendency.
Worry not dear leader, we all have this to some degree! Fortunately, I will guide you through these treacherous times, empowering you to motivate and inspire others as you get those mission critical projects.
Set A Clear Vision
Office spaces change the dynamic of management. When you can walk over to your direct reports it unintentionally encourages quick adjustments to projects. While this can promote “agility”, it also have adverse effects, undermining initiatives.
Like a paperclip breaking from too many adjustments, projects similarly suffer from continuous manipulation. The symptoms are reduced morale and decreased velocity. Unfortunately such symptoms appear gradually and you won’t know until it’s too late.
Fortunately much of this can all be solved with a simple act: the articulation of a clear vision.
When everybody is aligned on an outcome there is no question about what each person is doing on any given day. While the duration of this particular quarantine is not clear, it’s likely long enough to test your ability to provide clear messaging and definitive outcomes to your reports.
So to be clear all I’m suggesting here is this: be clear :)
Personally, I’m spending most of my time working with my team to ensure that the point we are running toward is vivid. My measure of success is this: how clear is my team and our superiors on where we are headed, how are we getting there, and when will we arrive?
Lightweight Status Updates
So while vision is important for great leadership, teams cannot operate without effective communication.
Communication is absolutely fundamental and in times of crisis, it’s absolutely critical. Let’s be honest, one advantage of offices is that you can maximize in person communication.
So in a world of remote work, how can you keep the channels of communication flowing?
Unfortunately the simplest answer is that you can’t. The more complex answer is that it’s nuanced.
The numerous tools at our disposal, which most of you are already using (Slack, Zoom, etc), support real-time communication. However if my experience has been any indicator, real-time communication in the office or remotely can actually hinder progress. Getting messages from 15 people triggers the expectation that you must immediately reply to every one of them.
Suddenly hours of time are tossed down the drain.
Asynchronous communication that doesn’t require an immediate response is actually best. One of the tools that we’ve been leveraging to ensure everybody knows what’s going on and address progress blockers is Status Hero.
Anybody on the team can see what everybody is working on and is incredibly helpful for surfacing blockers immediately. It’s also generally effective for keeping people in sync.
Making it through
I’m going to be honest: it feels incredibly disingenuous to write a guide on how to navigate unchartered territories. The one thing that has remained consistent for me and what has worked well though is truly being empathetic.
Your co-workers and reports are actually working more often now that they are always on and next to their laptops. With no commute there are more hours available to work.
That doesn’t mean we should though. Instead, take the time to be with each other as that’s going to be far more important than what comes next.
If you have any suggestions on how to operate I’m all ears (or eyes now that we are virtual). We’re all in this together!