Written by Angie Joens
I just got off a Zoom call with my marketing team. We were all on a call to celebrate one of my employee's birthday. Her team members planned a surprise meeting first thing this morning and set a few gifts and treats on her front porch including a giant package of Charmin toilet paper. We celebrated her special day but also took time to catch up “virtually” with the entire team. It was fun – a new kind of fun – for our new found reality during this COVID-19 crisis.
Managing employees remotely is a new challenge for this old dog. I have been managing employees for nearly 30 years and have developed many skills over the years about how to do that most effectively. But this is the first time in my career when I have asked every employee to shelter-in-place with their families for the foreseeable future. I am asking them to perform their jobs to the best of their ability while the world as we know it is in chaos. There are more unanswered questions than answers. It is maddening to not be able to provide them the answers they need. How long is this going to last? Are we still going to launch our campaign this fall? What is going to happen to the economy? How far out should I cancel things?
For all of you managers out there facing this same challenge of how best to manage your teams during this unprecedented time – we’ve got this! Here are a few tips to help you:
Tip 1 - Set Clear Expectations
You cannot expect your employees to know what you are thinking. You need to clearly communicate what success looks like right now. If you want regular updates on a project they are working on tell them what you mean by regular. Is that hourly, daily or weekly? If you want something done quickly – what does that mean – by lunchtime, by end of day, or end of week? Be clear about what you need, when, and why. It is your responsibility to let them know what you expect of them so they can meet or exceed your expectations.
Tip 2 - Create a Communication Strategy
In order to manage a productive team remotely you will need to create a strategy for how and when you will communicate. How often will you meet formally for “check-ins”? When will you meet individually with your team members and when will you meet as a team? Will you use phone, email or Zoom to communicate? Identify the communication style preferences of your team members so you can communicate most effectively with them. Do they need lists at the beginning of the week or do they need a trickle of information? Do they prefer phone or do they need to see you via Zoom?
Tip 3 – Be Responsive
It is your job as their manager to be present and responsive. They need answers to continue to work and be productive. That said, you also have work to do, so come to an agreement on how quickly they can expect a response from you. Also create a mutual understanding of what is urgent and what to do in that case.
Tip 4 - Use Technology to Build Community
Your teams are used to being together to discuss challenges, celebrate special days, and work on projects. There are so many tools that can help you including – Slack, Zoom, Basecamp, Dropbox, Google Docs, and so much more. All of these tools will encourage connection so even when they are not together they can still work together. #AloneTogether
Tip 5 - Focus on Goals
This one is tough for many managers in a remote situation. You lose a little control on how the day to day is handled and want to know what is being done. But I would encourage you to instead stay focused on their goals. Do not worry what they are doing daily, but instead focus on what they are accomplishing toward their goals. Now, not every team member may be successful and they may begin to slip in their performance or productivity – so if that happens, look into why and, if necessary, coach the employee. It should be about their accomplishments, not activity.
Tip 6 - Engage Regularly
If possible, try to engage your team members on a daily basis through some kind of communication. Use multiple channels to communicate. Then, plan a regularly scheduled weekly face-to-face meeting (Zoom) with individuals. Do not forget to create space for the entire team to meet at least once a week and, if possible, make it a Zoom call as well so they can see each other and hear what the others are working on. This constant interaction and engagement will help remote employees feel included, secure, and informed about their work for your organization.
Tip 7 - Trust Your Team
Listen, I know it can be scary to have your employees working remotely. You may feel uncertain about whether or not the work will get completed at the same level as if they were in the office. To ensure their success, give them all they need to be successful – clear expectations, technology, information, responsiveness – and then step back and let them do their work. You hired them for their specialized skills and expertise, so let them show you (or remind you) why you made that decision to hire them in the first place.
Bonus Tip – Steward Your Team
I am in awe of my team! They have been stepping up and performing at exceptional levels to ensure we are doing our work and reaching our goals. So when they do something wonderful – share that with your leadership. You already know how great they are but make certain your leadership knows too!!! Other ideas – celebrate their special moments, send them thank you notes, create contests, and share funny stories about working remotely. Be creative. Have fun. Be grateful.
Finally - remember, dear manager, that you are human. While this is tough for your team members it is also happening to you and your family. The work will get done and one day (hopefully soon) we will begin to get back to our new normal. So in the meantime – slow down and be gentle with yourself. Take a walk. Have a glass of wine. Schedule a virtual gathering with friends and family from around the world. Send a note to an old friend. Pick up the phone and call someone you hold dear and check in.
We will get through this together. And as always the Donor Relations Guru Group is here to help in any way we can, so please reach out. Take care of yourself and stay healthy and safe!
We miss you and cannot wait to be back with you again soon.