I wrote this post in March 2020 thinking, like many of you, that “leading from home” would be a short-term thing. Despite the fact that many organizations had employees working from home for more than a year, these organizations continued to believe closed-down offices and employees working remotely would end “any day now,” and thus, muddled through instead of taking steps to help leaders, managers, and supervisors effectively keep their teams together while working remotely.
Several of my clients even booked me for training their leaders in this skill, but then when things “opened up” again, canceled the training thinking the world was finally going back to normal. Unfortunately, with the Delta and Lambda variants of COVID on the rise, companies are sending staff back home, so I thought I’d run this blog post again in the hopes it helps leaders do a better job of leading their teams this second time around.
Although telecommuting isn’t new, the Coronavirus has made working from home the only way to stay in business for many organizations. Employees who never thought they’d work from home now find themselves struggling to carve out office space in their homes and juggling getting work done with bored kids who will likely be out of school for weeks, if not the rest of the school year. On top of that, those who are leaders are scrambling to do all that, in addition to figuring out how to stay connected with their teams when they’re not used to being geographically separated.
At a time when working remotely is so new for so many people, it’s important that leaders do everything they can to stay in touch with their teams and continue to coach and lead them whether this “working from home thing” is just temporary or your new normal.
1. Stay in touch “live” and regularly
Whether it’s a phone call or video conferencing, don’t let long periods of time go by without seeing or hearing from each of your employees. Every one of them needs to know you’re really there for them. A weekly check in email, which is what one leader I recently met was doing, isn’t enough. Frequent, informal check ins, even for just 5-10 minutes, let employees know you care about them and their work. However, don’t cross the line to micromanaging and calling every hour.
2. Take advantage of technology
Depending on how tech-savvy your team is, now could be a great (or terrible) time to try out a new communication platform. There are lots of newer platforms out there, like Slack, Pronto, Microsoft Teams, and more. However, I’ve also seen people stay in touch successfully just by using Facebook Messenger. Use what’s comfortable and easy for your team- right now especially, no one needs the stress of not being able to use the latest tool or gadget and being left out of communication with the rest of the team. However, also consider the proprietary nature or confidentiality of your communication before just putting it out there anywhere.
3. Maintain “normal” work hours as much as possible
Last week, I wrote a blog post on “Working from Home Successfully,” in which I recommended that new telecommuters close their laptops and their home-office doors at the end of the day. It’s tempting to work sporadically throughout the day and into the night when you’re not on a normal office schedule. However, it’s not good for you and it’s not good for your team. Even if you thought reaching out to your team at all hours of the day was okay before because those emails were sitting on their work computers for them to receive in the morning, don’t do the same when people are working from home. No one wants to be “on call” 24/7 especially if it’s not necessary and they’re not being paid overtime. Set the example of only working your normal work hours and your employees will do the same. In the long run, everyone will be less stressed and more productive when the work day begins the next day.
4. Continue having regular staff meetings
In addition to the advice in #1 above it’s important that you continue holding regular staff meetings. If you’ve never held regular staff meetings before, now is a great time to start. People need to feel like they’re “in the know” about what’s going on with the world and with your organization. They don’t want to hear it second hand from a friend or colleague. That’s just going to make them feel disconnected from you and from the organization. Regular staff meetings keep everyone in the loop hearing the same messages, instructions, and concerns at the same time.
I also suggest you have video conferences rather than phone calls and requiring people to show their faces. Having face-to-face contact keeps everyone more engaged and connected than just hearing voices on the phone or seeing someone’s name in a black box on a screen. It also reduces the odds of people muting themselves and doing other things while the meeting is running. Finally, I’d recommend these meetings be short and frequent versus infrequent and long. You should also plan and schedule these meetings in advance with clear agendas. If you need more advice on meetings, check out my three-part series, “Three Reasons Your Meetings Suck… The Life Out of Everyone.”
5. Be sure to provide regular feedback, especially positive feedback!
Now more than ever, employees need to know that their efforts matter to you. Stay on top of their performance and be sure to provide feedback often. Praise good work frequently and provide Performance Improvement FeedbackTM appropriately, proportionately, and whenever needed. Don’t leave either of them out of the equation. They’re both necessary not only for productivity, but for employee morale and successful growth.