Over the past few weeks, working from home has become a new norm for many people. If you are used to managing your team in the office, this transition might be pretty scary. There is, of course, a big difference between managing an on-site team and a remote workforce.
And, even if remote work suits you, it might be hard on some of your employees. People react to remote work differently, and some people simply have a very hard time working from home. They might be used to their office space or they might find it impossible to ignore the distractions at home.
Luckily though, a lot of employee problems can be solved quickly.
New to Working from Home?
If you find yourself suddenly in need to run your team from home, don’t panic. In this article, I will share my personal experience while working remotely.
I have worked in (and with) many remote teams all over the world. At Weekdone, I’ve been working mostly remotely for over 5 years. Remote work is a way of life with many benefits from both the employee’s and manager’s points of view. But it might be hard to get used to. This is especially true when your team is used to working in the office.
One of the most important things I can say is – you need an easy way for everyone to report their work and stay connected. Whether it is an active Slack group, regular video meetings, or a weekly reporting software, it doesn’t really matter that much. You just need a way to keep track of what people are doing.
And I know it is not always easy. For it to work, one must have a manager who knows what they are doing.
How to be a Leader from Home
When I started to lead a remote marketing team in Weekdone, I had to rethink everything I knew about leadership and working from home. At first, this was scary and frustrating. However, once I had done some research on working remotely, and discussed my ideas with my team, we found a process that works for everyone. Now, I can't even imagine going to the office every day.
But, managing a virtual team is still a challenge for many leaders. It comes with a set of unique problems you don’t see in your ordinary office. When I started, the challenge I first faced was communication – as setting up an internal culture or communication system is harder in a virtual team.
If people don’t have the option to socialize on a daily basis, they tend to stay strangers. For a manager, that means that you must find creative ways to get people working as a team, and while this extra work might seem hard, it is well worth the benefits you reap in the long run.
Remote Team Best Practices
Set Clear Goals
Setting clear goals, that your employees understand, is hard even in a normal office, but it becomes so much harder when you can't actually explain your ideas face to face.
The best way to set clear, meaningful, goals is to use the Objectives and Key Results (OKR) methodology. OKR is a popular methodology for measuring team improvements and growth. It involves setting inspirational public goals for all teams and measuring their progress with specific numeric Key Results every week.
The method became very popular in the tech scene when Google started using it. This popularity, of course, spread.
At Weekdone, the company’s leadership sets quarterly Objectives. Then it is up to me, as a team manager, to come up with our team’s goals that would help us move towards this vision. At the start of the quarter, I come up with ideas for how to move my team towards achieving quarterly Objectives. My plans are discussed in detail in a team meeting where we collaborate and set both our team’s Objectives and the Key Results we need to accomplish. As clarity is so important in a remote team, I make sure everyone really understands who has ownership of the specific KRs and what they must do to achieve them.
We discuss our progress towards them once a week to make sure everything is moving in the right direction, and how I, and the company, can help employees with their work.
Have a System to Always Know What’s Going On
Weekly review and regular meetings are important to understand how well your remote employees are moving towards their goals. But, you don’t want to spend most of your time in meetings. After all, employees must actually have time actually to do their jobs!
The best thing to do is to implement an online review system, something that shows both what people are working on, and how it relates to the clear goals you set. There is a lot of virtual team management software to choose from, so each company could find it’s personal fit.
In a situation, where employees are new to working from home, it is a good idea to have quick meetings daily. This way everyone still has some interaction, and you know what is going on. These daily meetings should be no longer than 10 to 15 minutes.
Be Strict About Meetings
If you set meetings, stick to your schedule. Always have them at the prearranged time, and always keep to an organized and strict schedule. Meetings have a tendency to run long and turn into pointless get-togethers that waste money. According to one study, in 2019 useless meetings cost US businesses $399 billion dollars (yes, billion). Not to mention that with everyone working from home, people will have a hard time sticking to schedules at first.
When it comes to meetings, I follow the advice of Steve Jobs. He had very effective meeting guidelines and simple rules to make sure time would not be wasted. First of all, he made sure that only the people who had to be present were there. Second, he made sure someone was responsible for every item on the agenda.
These rules make virtual meetings so much easier. I have learned that the fewer people you have on meetings, the better (fewer chances of “I can't hear you” and “Is my mic working?”). And, having someone responsible for each item on the agenda, makes sure there actually is an agenda before the meeting starts.
Be Open about your Work and Set an Example
As always, the best way to lead is by example. You need to be open about your own work, your own plans, and your own failures. That is the only way to encourage others to share their successes and problems as well.
I find it very important that all employees know what I am working on and how I structure my workday. They know, I do quiet work in the morning before our meeting. And they know, I have a break in the afternoon to walk my dog. This shows them that having a good structure for one’s workday makes working much easier.
This also means that when I fail at something, or when I have one of those days that I get nothing done, employees see that too. With most people, when I am honest with them, they see that they don’t have to hide their failures from me either, and this sort of trust is vital.
Organize Online “Down-time” for the Team Working from Home
There are so many ways you can set up entertainment for the entire team online. From VR escape rooms to classical online games and puzzles, there are a lot of options.
One of my friends who had to start running his team remotely because of the coronavirus decided that each Friday, their team will wear a costume for their video meetings and each week they’d choose the best one. This sort of online “casual Friday” is exactly the sort of thing people need to relieve their stress and keep going.
These activities help you and your people stay sane, especially if you are stuck at home and have nothing to do. And, like with any team, trust (and a team bond) only forms when you spend time together and have shared experiences, both work-related and fun!
I know, if your team suddenly is forced to work at home, it will be hard. New habits are not built in a day. There might be a lot of problems. But as a leader, you can make it work.
Show some leadership skills, show some empathy, and follow these rules to run your remote team smoothly. In the long run, even with a remote team, your life will be easier and your general stress level will be much lower.