Over the last ten years, more and more businesses have slowly begun the shift towards a remote workforce. This has meant identifying best practices, finding the technology and infrastructure to ensure transparent, timely communications, and training staff to empower healthy work from home routines and foster productivity, writes Carolyn Breeze, GM ANZ GoCardless.
However, with the recent and rapid emergence of COVD-19, many businesses have been forced to make the shift to a remote workforce, with very little time to prepare.
For employees and those in leadership positions who are used to working in an office environment, this almost overnight shift presents a range of challenges; How can employees be effectively managed when most remote communication is done in private? How can a leader effectively lead a meeting held on Zoom rather than face-to-face, especially when these new remote teams can have upwards of 15 personnel on one call?
While it’s easy to fall into a panic around the challenges, the benefits of a remote workforce shouldn’t be ignored: from increased productivity and a better work-life balance for employees, to reduced overheads and reduced employee turnover for businesses, the pros of a remote workforce definitely outweigh the cons; and this doesn’t even take into account the ability for businesses to empower social distancing and continue operating in what is a difficult and uncertain time for many thanks to COVD-19.
So how exactly can a business making this rapid transition manage?
As a leader of a ‘pre-corona’ borderless business who already empowers staff to work remotely, I’m not unfamiliar with navigating the challenges of managing a remote workforce. I believe there are three essentials in effectively transitioning to and managing a remote team. The first and most monumental challenge of leading and maintaining operations being the ability to forge open, honest and effective lines of communication.
Luckily, many technologies exist to empower this. Slack, for example, enables instant messaging between teams without clogging up inboxes, and platforms like Zoom enable video conferencing. However, the challenge in using these channels isn’t just in finding and implementing the technology, but identifying best practices to get the most out of the technology you’re using, while also establishing guidelines on what ‘good’ communication is. The latter being especially cogent when managing a remote workforce, with a Harvard Business Review study finding that the majority of remote employees feel as though poor communication causes low morale, poor productivity, higher stress, and lower information retention.
With this in mind, how exactly can business leaders ensure they have all communication bases covered? It’s fairly simple – leaders need to communicate often and clearly, actively listen, convey trust and respect, and enquire about workload and progress on a regular basis, offering help or other assistance when needed. While this might err on the side of overcommunication or micromanagement, it’s important for leaders to understand routines and implement communication boundaries, as asking a team member what they’re up to every hour on the hour is more likely to cause frustration than enhance productivity or boost morale.
The second essential in transitioning to and managing a remote team is establishing a sense of connection with all team members, and luckily, leaders of newly remote teams will already have the basis of this down, especially when compared to teams that have been remote from the outset. Why? Most employees will already have connections with their colleagues or superiors, and these connections are vital in boosting and maintaining morale. The challenge here, however, is maintaining those connections. One especially effective way of doing this is through maintaining a routine around meetings, where each team is able to regularly check in, speak openly about their challenges, and ask for additional assistance when needed.
Maintaining these connections can also be fun. While instant messaging channels like Slack are great for getting fast answers on work-related questions, it can also be used to encourage casual and fun conversation that remote workers often miss out on. A great example of this is by implementing a #general channel where team members can share funny gifs or memes, air their newfound working from home experiences, or share general, non-work-related news.
The final essential in managing a remote team is trust. This is fairly self-explanatory: for any remote team to be successful and productive, they need to be led by someone who trusts that they can do their roles without the need for micromanagement. If a leader trusts that their team is capable, and maintains that trust through maintaining positive connections and effective communication, they will be more likely to effectively navigate any additional work-related challenges that may arise.
While the future of work, business and life is generally uncertain at the moment, businesses can effectively pandemic-proof their businesses through transitioning to a remote workforce. By doubling-down on the fundamentals of effective management, establishing clear lines of communication, setting realistic goals, prioritising connection, and leveraging trust in your teams’ individual and collective strengths, the transition to remote working can be made seamlessly and relatively stress-free.
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