How to Manage a Team Remotely During This Crisis
By Michel Ouellette JMD, ll.l., ll.m.
Nothing is business as usual anymore.
A deadly pandemic, an economic implosion and a new way of working has created a lot of working from home distracted, anxious employees who now legitimately worry about job security. Yet you still have to deliver on projects, train and coach, settle disputes and engage the team.
Here are five ways to successfully manage the situation and your team:
1. Reassess your priorities and offer clear direction
Ask your higher-ups what the top priorities are now. This is how you can help your team figure out where they should direct their energies. The last thing they need is to be working in isolation and wondering, "Is this what they want?"
Offering your team clarity of purpose also helps with productivity and profits.
Especially in recessionary times, employees do best when leaders set clear expectations. Give them the resources they need to get the job done. And help them see how their work fits in with the bigger purpose of the organization.
2. Be flexible
The magnitude of what is happening hits everyone at different times. Even normal errands can take up more mental space than imagined, like strategizing the best time to get groceries safely and quickly.
For employees with young kids, life has become a 24/7 stress test and many may need to adjust their work hours to accommodate family crunch times. They have no child care and are actively overseeing their children's remote learning while working.
You have to respect each person's family situation and adjust timelines to that. People are working different hours now. You have to be a bit more adaptable to that than in the past.
3. Set a positive tone
With thousands and millions of people suddenly out of work and more to come, remind yourself and your team that whatever frustrations people have with remote working, you are really fortunate to be able to do it and get paid.
It is also helpful to start meetings with some friendly banter and ask everyone how they are doing.
Recognize individuals for work well done and continue to help them think about their career development. Since you may feel inaccessible to others because you are not in the same place, you might purposefully set up a regular time to connect individually with each team member.
4. Look for signs of distress
This crisis affects everyone: retirement and college savings have been hit; spouses are losing jobs; no one is seeing family and increasingly, people know someone who has died from Covid-19. Some of your employees may have a harder time handling it all.
Signs of extreme duress include drinking too much, abusing drugs, disengaging or being much more negative and combative than usual. As a manager, you have to engage in a more conscious way than they did before. Periodically remind your whole team how to access your company's employee assistance programs.
If you sense someone is struggling, be especially attentive. Doing so lets them know you care about their well-being, which is critical now. Since employees under duress are more likely to make costly mistakes, ignore rules and regulations, doing so, you may even prevent problems for your company or business later. Furthermore, remember that employees under duress also become vulnerable to manipulation from outside foreign actors and hackers wanting access to company systems.
5. Take care of yourself
As a manager, regularly encourage your team members to take care of themselves in the midst of this crisis. Above everything else, take your own advice. Model what you are advising your team to do.
Exercise, keep to a work schedule, take breaks and remember to breathe.
Michel Ouellette JMD, ll.l., ll.m.
Systemic Strategic Planning, Crisis & Reputation Management