As businesses plunge into the digital revolution, both managers and employees are faced with challenges of remote working. Companies who were initially resistant to allowing their employees to work remotely have since been faced with two decisions with the recent COVID-19 crisis: either shut down their business or figure out a way to let their employees work from home. Employers have been scrambling to keep their business operating and managers are struggling to adopt the skills needed to lead their remote workers during a crisis.

Times of crisis can be the make or break of leadership. Everyone’s emotions are at an all-time high as they fear for the future of the business and their job. Managers who struggle to lead in-person will undoubtedly struggle as they try to lead their remote teams. A recently released VitalSmarts survey found

  • 1 in 5 leaders are unprepared to manage their remote team
  • 21.9% of employees don’t feel their team members have good enough collaboration habits to work effectively from home

It’s the moments during a crisis that will be remembered long after the crisis has ended. Therefore, it’s vital employers treat their employees with respect and remain compassionate, flexible and communicative.

Here are five simple tips to help you successfully transition and lead your remote team during a crisis.

Create A New Normal

It’s up to you to lead the way and create a new normal with your remote team. Leading remote workers requires a different set of skills and habits than leading in-person teams. Likewise, there’s a new set of challenges for everyone involved. Managers will need to be more present and accessible. It’s vital you set expectations, increase communication and keep your remote team engaged. Otherwise, employees will feel silo’ed and unsupported. As a result, morale rapidly deteriorates. Managers often assume that what works in the office will work remotely. For example, they believe their remote employees will reach out on their own if they need them. The truth is, employees are unsure of what’s acceptable and what’s not. For this reason, they won’t reach out at all and instead suffer in silence.

Check-In Often

Some ways to set expectations and increase communication are through frequent check-ins, one-on-ones and virtual team meetings. I always have my clients send out an email at the start of the week to their team to remind them that they’re there to support them. Part of establishing a new normal means reinforcing and repeating information like sending reminders to your remote team that you’re there if they need you.

One-on-one meetings are a great way to check-in and see how each individual is doing and how you can support them. The key is asking them targeted questions. This helps expose areas of improvement or humble successes. The biggest challenge employees might have is being disciplined and staying focused which is expected if they’re new to remote working. Additionally, leaders should follow up again mid-week with their team and have an end of week email as well. Don’t overlook the power of a weekly remote team meeting. In fact, I encourage this so everyone is on the same page and knows what the other is working on.

Leverage Tools To Minimize Distance

My biggest piece of advice when leading a remote team is to opt for video over phone calls whenever possible. Remember, everyone is stuck at home and feeling isolated from their team. This can spark new emotions and bring out insecurities. In addition to video calls, having a communication tool like Slack is a great way to invite remote employees to interact. This will create a sense of belonging and make remote workers feel less alone. Slack has a fun channel called Donut that encourages collaboration, authentic relationships, and trust while increasing productivity and engagement for remote workers.

Be Empathetic

Keep in mind, even though employees are working from home they will need some time to adjust to this new “normal.” The reality is, with schools being closed and some eldercare being put on pause, employees are trying to manage their work and home responsibilities. Be understanding and empathetic towards what they’re going through. Instead of focusing on hours worked, focus on employees’ well-being and individual productivity. Coach them where necessary to help them learn the skills they need to be successful while working at home.

Squash Negativity, Rumors And Gossip

In times of crisis, people become uneasy and consumed with any information they can get their hands on. Unfortunately, much of what they’re reading is unreliable and pure speculation. Consequently, rumors and gossip spread harming the overall morale of the company culture. Especially as businesses close down and layoff workers, remote employees grow fearful about losing their job as well. To minimize the spread of misinformation, managers should keep communication fluid. If they expect to layoff workers, suspend payroll or reduce hours, this should be communicated to remote teams immediately. If employees are using the communication channels to feed the hysteria by spreading unreliable sources, insensitive comments and conspiracy theories, managers need to put a stop to this immediately.

My coaching clients have been leaning on me a bit more during this pandemic. What they most appreciate is having someone to lean on, guide and keep them level-headed during a time when it’s easy for everything to fall apart. If you’re struggling to manage your remote team and need help improving your communications, let’s talk! Schedule your complimentary call here.