8 Tips for Managing a Remote Workforce During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Managing a distributed or remote workforce comes with its fair share of challenges—from onboarding to compliance to engaging employees virtually. 

Plus, the sudden onset of COVID-19 (also known as Coronavirus) forced many companies to adopt work from home policies before they were ready. Whether your company just started working from home or if your employees are telecommuting veterans, it can’t hurt to brush up on some home office tips. 

Working from home can actually lead to increased productivity and happier employees—if done right. Trust, clear expectations, and consistent communication are a few of the often-overlooked elements needed to help remote employees thrive. 

Here are some tips to ensure that you make the most out of the work from home situation:

1. Set Expectations

When setting expectations with your team, be explicit about things that are often implicit, like:

  • Schedule: When will you be online? When do you expect your team to be online?  Does your team have set working hours? What are the expectations around responding to emails/tickets/etc. outside of working hours?
  • Working Rhythm: How will your team receive tasks and how do you determine the urgent tasks that take priority?  How are those communicated?
  • Communication/Meetings: What are the norms for team interactions (i.e. video calls, Slack, etc.)? How will you communicate throughout the day and how often will that communication happen?
  • Feedback: How will you provide feedback and at what frequency?

2. Stay on Top of Productivity

On average, remote workers are more productive and put in more hours than on-site employees. Still, it’s a good idea to track their time with productivity or time management apps, as this ensures team members get recognition for the work they put in, and help you monitor if they are overworking themselves and at risk of burning out.

Productivity and project management tools keep all your files in one place, make it easier for everyone to stay up to date on the status of ongoing tasks, and help you spot problems slowing the team down to assign additional resources where needed. Don’t use these apps to check up on your employees, but rather to empower them to better manage their own time and coordinate with the rest of their team. 

3. Trust That They’ll Get The Job Done

With everything that’s going on, it can be hard to stay on top of each of your direct reports’ productivity. If you suspect an employee is underperforming, reach out and ask them how they’re doing. They might be feeling anxious about the current state of things or be having trouble adjusting to working from home. Be sure you set explicit expectations and deadlines around the work you need from them, so they understand how to prioritize their days. During this time, it’s especially important to listen to what your employees need. If schools closed and suddenly your employee has to be a full-time parent in addition to having a full-time job, you might want to work with them to set up flexible scheduling so they can manage everything being thrown their way.

4. Make Time for Face Time

While your HR software’s employee profiles may help you put faces to names, nothing beats face-to-face communication when establishing a working relationship. When IRL meetings can’t be scheduled, regularly check in with remote workers over Skype, Google Hangouts, Zoom, or another video conference platform. Sometimes hopping on a five-minute call can save you hours of back and forth over email and Slack. 

5. Get Personal

Your chat application’s little green “available” dot makes for a nice indicator of whether an employee is at their screen or on break, but it also makes you available for questions, clarifications, or friendly chatter. Make sure every time you reach out to your team isn’t just to ask them to do something or check-in on progress. Periodically reach out to ask how they’re doing, what they have planned for the weekend, etc. It helps show you are thinking of them and care about their well-being in and out of the office.  

6. Keep The Team Connected

To create an inclusive and engaging work environment, it’s important to carve out time for team building—even if it’s virtual. Many teams are embracing virtual lunches and happy hours to encourage socialization throughout the day. Some companies are also introducing online yoga classes to help employees relax and unwind together. 

7. Continue Celebrating Employee Milestones

In order to maintain an atmosphere of normalcy, continue to celebrate employee milestones and successes. Even amid the craziness of COVID-19, the importance of fostering team spirit should not be underestimated. 

Be sure to call out important personal milestones like:

  • Birthdays
  • Work Anniversaries
  • Becoming a parent
  • Career goals
  • Charity work
  • Work accomplishments

You can send out a virtual card and have everyone on your team sign it, host a virtual happy hour or lunch, or set up a team game night to celebrate! 

8. Avoid Isolation

Make a point to reach out to your team on a daily basis, even if just a quick Slack to say, “Good morning.” Create a team Slack channel to share wins, team updates, and encourage participation in company events. Use your 1:1s to gauge how your team members are feeling and how you can support them. Follow-up All Hands meetings with a group discussion on how the meeting potentially impacts the team.

The current COVID-19 public health crisis has left many companies and employees scrambling to figure out the best way to work remotely. But with open communication, trust, and clearly set expectations, working from home can actually be incredibly rewarding and productive. 

Still not sure you’re prepared for the impact of Coronavirus on the workplace? Click here to read the top 10 questions that mid-sized companies have about the virus—and get their answers.

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