Leading from Afar
Managing Remote Employees During COVID-19
March 20, 2020
The Accel5 team hopes that you and your loved ones are staying safe and healthy during the evolving COVID-19 pandemic. Our goal has always been to help businesses and individuals be the absolute best they can be. Now more than ever we’d like to serve as a resource as you adapt to ever-changing working conditions and face new challenges, both professionally and beyond.
This week, in addition to regularly added content, you’ll find featured videos and book summaries offering tips for employees who are currently working in their home offices — holding virtual meetings, handling unexpected problems, and trying to lead teams — all while working remotely. We’re offering access to this featured content to all users, regardless of subscription. So, whether you’re trying to learn how to effectively work from home, maintain a healthy work-life balance while your office is in your home, or just brush up on leadership skills, here are a few resources:
Set Clear Expectations
If you manage a team, a simple coaching technique for creating accountability for your remote employees lies in asking three simple questions from career coach and author Sue Powell’s video.
- “What will you do?” This gives employees the responsibility to express how they plan to successfully work in a remote environment and make their own decisions on what works best for their situation.
- “When will you do it?” This ensures that you provide clarity around expectations for your team. There’s less opportunity for confusion when timing and deadlines are made clear. Often the first question, and sometimes the second, are most commonly documented in meeting minutes, which can be captured after each meeting.
- “How will we know that you’ve done it?” Ask your direct report to send you a note or confirm once a task is complete to eliminate confusion.
Hold Successful Virtual Meetings
Once you and your team members have established a new working relationship, determine how often you’re going to check in with them. Try setting a weekly meeting to catch up and share progress and updates. These meetings can be relatively informal, but are important nonetheless. Regularly keeping in touch with team members can minimize miscommunication. It also doesn’t hurt to ensure your employees know that just because they’re out of sight doesn’t mean they are out of mind.
Leading effective virtual meetings requires preparation, energy, focus, and discipline. As a meeting leader, you can feel confident in executing the best virtual meeting possible by using the following guidelines from Harvard Business Review Press’ 20 Minute Manager: Running Virtual Meetings.
- “Is this meeting necessary?” When planning a virtual meeting, it’s important to decide whether the meeting is even necessary. Consider the goal of the meeting, the essential contributors, and whether the timing is appropriate. These trying times will make you realize how many meetings could have been replaced by a simple email.
- “What am I trying to get out of this meeting?” Collect information beforehand and always set an agenda. Prior to the meeting, clarify information concerning the meeting process, protocols, etiquette, and roles for each participant. If you find yourself realizing that no action items will come from the meeting, it might not be worth having.
- “Am I using technology to my advantage?” Once you decide that a meeting is necessary, make sure you’re using the right means of communication. Successful virtual meetings are dependent on the success of the technology. If you don’t use the right platform to host the meeting, team members may be unwilling or unable to participate. Appoint a tech czar to deal with any technology-related issues during the meeting so you can keep the meeting on track.
- “Am I ready to hold this meeting?” Conduct the meeting in a smooth and controlled manner. If you’re the host, be sure to log in early, test all technology, and facilitate the conversation with a calm and disciplined demeanor.
- Always end with an action item. Never leave a meeting without specific follow-up instructions or action items assigned. You and your team members should have a clear understanding of what needs to be completed before the next meeting.
Lead with Compassion
This last tip may be the most crucial. In this very uncertain time, it’s important to lead with compassion and understanding. Leading a fully remote workforce comes with a unique set of challenges. However, the principles of leadership remain the same regardless of where you — or your team — are physically located.
As a long-distance leader, your conversations with team members may feel forced, since you’re likely trying to cram as much as possible into a small amount of scheduled time. Since you aren’t running into people in the corridor or break room as you would in a shared workspace, every interaction needs to be intentional and consciously thought out. When you’re communicating through social media, phone, email, or on another platform, a sense of personal intimacy often doesn’t come through.
Kevin Eikenberry and Wayne Turmel offer their advice for remote success in The Long-Distance Leader:
- Your primary focus is your people. Although employees are still expected to work, it’s important to keep their specific needs in mind. Parents with children who are home from school may need different accommodations than employees without children. Always remember that the well-being of your employees comes first.
- Basic human behavior still reigns. The more you understand the fundamentals of human psychology (e.g., fears, anxieties, wants, and needs), the more successful you’ll be as a leader.
- Your role as a leader remains. You should still aim to coach, influence, communicate expectations; set goals; and lead no matter where your team members are located.
- Expectation of output also remains the same. You need to hit deadlines and goals, maintain your budget, and finish high-priority projects. Find a cadence that works for you and your team to achieve success.
Learning to work in a new environment can be difficult, but there are countless resources available to help you adjust. For more information on working remotely, check out our other videos, books summaries, and articles on Accel5.