Moving forward: How to manage your team remotely

The world is changing at an unexpectedly fast pace. As stated in Time; “working from home is no longer a privilege, it’s a necessity.” However, many managers are unfamiliar with managing employees working from home. The Deloitte survey shows that before the crisis, around 25% of respondents were working from home at least once a week. After the crisis, however, 34% believe that they will be working from home at least once a week. This leads companies to consider adapting to the hybrid way of working. Now is the time to learn how successfully manage your team remotely in times of uncertainty.

During the crisis, many co-located companies were seemingly successful in implementing processes and policies for remote work. However, these were short-term results, due to an extraordinary situation. Working remotely sustainably and long-term requires more than just sending people home with their laptops.

To avoid a rise in mental health and motivational problems, it’s crucial to revisit processes and culture in your newly distributed company. We recently conducted a webinar about the topic of employee engagement and motivation, and will focus on mental health in this article.

Here six ways newly remote companies can create a space that supports and acknowledges mental health across teams.

1. Facilitate connection

Among all the benefits and flexibility remote work provides, unfortunately, remote workers can often feel lonely and isolated. Though it’s not typically faced by all remote workers it yet can be prevented. It’s crucial that a manager must be a supportive and engaging leader. This helps to ease stress and anxiety during these uncertain times. 

The pandemic will continue to affect employees in the long run, both in their private and professional lives. To stay connected with teams, managers should make sure to ask simple pointed questions. Some examples include “How have you been holding up?” or “Is there any way I can support you?”. These can help give an answer they may have not shared otherwise. 

Creating a safe yet structured space for employees to interact is vital to maintain team morale and company culture. When working remotely, teams can easily fall into a “productivity trap”. There they only focus on getting as much done as possible but neglect human connection. While this can result in increased output in the short term, it’ll be detrimental to your team in the long run. 

A tip you can easily implement today, is to dedicate the first 5 or 10 minutes of a meeting to talk about things unrelated to work, if this is the first meeting with this person for that day or week. Some examples include what the kids are doing or how they spent their weekend. Just as at the office, discussing topics outside of work can increase the team camaraderie further enforcing a sense of belonging.

2. Build structure

leading remotely includes building flexible structures
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

There is a fine line between micromanagement and structure. During these stressful times, there’s nothing worse than working with a manager that micromanages your every move. Introducing set weekly or daily check-in calls can provide more insight into the new ways of work, but can seem overbearing for some teams. Productivity can occur at different times for everyone. Especially with kids home 24/7, you may see employee productivity higher at night than during the day. Understanding the differences between each employee’s lifestyle can help you personalize your support strategies.

If team members are often stressed, it’s advisable to encourage longer breaks from work. Encouraging daily off-times where employees mandatory shut off from work provide structure. This helps create a routine and expectations within the team. A structure can be brought about in the team through micro-dosing on smaller yet healthy work habits.

3. Set realistic goals for the team

The foundation of a successful team is based on trust and transparency. Communication is the key to promote accountability and motivation in remote teams. Team goals should be in-line with larger company goals. These should be communicated across various forums in a structured manner, both in verbal and written form.

To maintain motivation during these uncertain times, managers should set clear, yet realistic goals with their teams and create policies to support that. Consider each employee’s strengths and weaknesses before assigning their goals. Create an agile environment where managers are flexible in revisiting goals from time to time. It’s crucial to always create a safe environment that encourages team members to speak up if they are struggling with tasks or deadlines. The key is to communicate about tasks via thorough documentation, which fosters transparency and confidence. One of the ways to earn and build trust is to ensure a culture of openness followed by timely collating feedback about new processes and ways of work.

4. Differentiate your communication

remote leadership includes different styles of communication
Photo by visuals on Unsplash

Establishing the different kinds of communication tools for different tasks can keep remote teams aligned. Communicate to the team about the tools used for communicating both synchronously and asynchronously. A well designed internal communication strategy goes a long way.

However, different people have different communication styles. Someone may be the master of emojis and gifs, another person communicates thoughts in long paragraphs. Be mindful of these differences, especially in asynchronous communication, and ensure everyone is familiar with each others styles to avoid misunderstandings.

To create a sense of community, set up virtual coworking days. Teams can collaborate or work alongside virtual peers without a need to be physically present in the same space.

5. Provide psychological safety

Mental health should always be given priority, even more so now. It’s really important to support each other individually and on a team level by creating a healthy environment for employees to talk about any topics without any judgement. Mental health greatly affects productivity so we’ve found different ways to build on team-culture, relationships, and leadership. 

  • Team-culture; create slack channels for new topics such as #parent-sanity for all the parents on the team, or sponsor group games if your team is particularly playful and into online games.
  • Relationships; Buddy up to boost productivity and motivation or even cowork through tools like Tandem. Encourage virtual coffee breaks so people hang out virtually or even lunch-and-learns for a more organised meeting unrelated to work topics.
  • Leadership; Create a challenging but non-threatening environment by staying on top of communication and adjusting policies to stay connected. It’s important to be transparent as possible but it’s also about knowing what’s worth sharing and what might actually promote insecurity so this especially applies to job security. 
  • Encourage curiosity and the unknown; it’s always important to be open-minded, however, people forget to ask those open-ended questions in fear of judgment. As a manager during a crisis, it’s even more important to acknowledge people’s emotional state, especially when they’re remote. Find out what they currently think, feel, and want to learn what they need and how you can support them going forward.

6. Consider mental health benefits 

Photo by Patrick Schneider on Unsplash

Abrupt change is inevitable which means providing emotional strength plays an important role in keeping together an efficient team. As a manager, advocating and introducing programs that promote mental health speaks volumes of one’s leadership style. Programs created to promote mental health by providing counseling support and creating awareness around stress relief apps like Headspace for Meditation & Sleep, Ten Percent Happier for Mindfulness are proven to be beneficial.

Encouraging any form of physical activities has a positive impact on mental health hence employers can consider supporting few programs. Companies can provide fitness reimbursements like gym memberships, dance classes or Fitbits to reduce the number of sicks days taken and alleviate stress levels. 

At acework, we enable businesses to build their successful distributed workforce. We support you with tailored remote work programs and remote talent for your open positions. Our advisory creates actionable strategies for companies based on their culture, processes, and business needs. Schedule a free strategy session to start building your high-performing distributed team.

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We developed a unique soft skills assessment to vet for remote readiness, and have screened hundreds of candidates based on it. We screen for intrinsic motivation, organisational skills and independence, among others.

Assess your remote readiness with this free, remote-ready checklist, that we created for individuals working or looking to work remotely. The checklist includes essentials such as:

  1. Reliable, high-speed internet connectivity
  2. Appropriate video conferencing hardware
  3. Experience with current productivity tools… and 13 other expert tips to help you assess your remote readiness.