Work at home professional woman with her duaghter

With the uncertainty and sudden change in business due to the Corona Virus, businesses of all sizes and services are responding to concerns by asking employees to work from home. While working from home can be a benefit and a great way to continue operating a business while the workplace is unavailable, managing a remote team requires a different management approach. As Tech 2 Success celebrates its 6th anniversary, I have experienced and learned a lot from managing a dedicated remote workforce in the past 6 years. Previously, I managed a large workforce spread across six states that also helped form some of the skills and management techniques required to manage a remote workforce.
Here are some tips for managing a remote team transitioning to work from home.

1. Have empathy

Anxiety is primary concern

Although throughout my career, I’ve managed through the Y2K, the dot com bust, 9/11, the 2008 financial collapse and hurricane Sandy, this is an unprecedented event in our lifetime. Everyone is anxious, fearful and confused about the whole Corona Virus. As a manager, we must put the team we manage and their fears above our own, even though we may be feeling the same emotions. Encourage the team to be candid about their concerns and communicate often to convey numerous opportunities for your team to express their concerns. Share these concerns with your HR departments and resources from your insurance company if you don’t have HR to help the team address their concerns.

Getting situated isn’t easy.

Not everyone is equipped to work from home, either from a personal or professional aspect. Many people are so set in their ways that they can’t possibly operate outside of the office. Others have so much going on at home that they can’t possibly isolate their work when at home. It is extremely rare that a team member can separate their work life from their personal life when working at home. In my own work at home experience I have the following distractions often.

  • Children who are incapable of keeping quiet.
    It’s not humanly possible to prevent them from making noise or refrain from seeking attention while you are working. They also may need a ride to a friend’s house, etc that will certainly interrupt the day.
  • Deliveries.
    A mailman or an Amazon delivery is an easy one. Gets dropped at the door and you get it when you get it. Groceries get delivered and perishables need to be put away before getting back to work.
  • Services.
    Remember when you couldn’t schedule plumbers, repair men or any other home service until you got home from work? Well while working from home, that’s out the window. Welcome to the wonderful world of flexibility.
  • Visits from neighbors or friends.
    Your “working from home” equates to “your off today” when you say it to your friends, which just means there is plenty of time to BS about the Corona virus when they stop by to pick something up or drop something off.
  • Pets
    I have 2 dogs who generally go without attention all day but when your home, you can’t escape the fact that they will absolutely bark when you are on a conference call and require a quick walk I the middle of the work day.
  • Chores
    Yes, you should refrain from doing household chores while you are working but who can resist the chance to get a load of laundry done while working on a document or dusting while you are on a conference call. This way when your spouse gets home from work, you can leverage the time together. No harm no foul, right?

The bottom line is that you cannot expect your team to completely segregate their life and work. Embrace it, welcome it, and laugh about it when it interrupts your work. If you don’t, you will create an unnecessary anxiety for you team to suppress their home life and upkeep a facade that they are recreating a professional environment in their home.

2. Over Communicate

Over communication is the cure to most issues.
  • Weekly Meetings
    A minimum weekly team call is a must for work from home team. We use Microsoft Teams and have a video conference every Monday morning to start our week off together and in unison. We review general business items, new implementations and current customers and challenges. At the end of each meeting, the floor is opened for everyone to discuss items important to them whether it be to notify the team about time they won’t be in the office or discuss a topic they think would benefit everyone. The weekly meeting is a concept I cannot believe most companies already do not have in place. Even if you are in the office, this is one you need to get started on.
  • Daily Meetings
    If your team requires it, have a daily call or touch point to ensure everyone is aware of things going on in the company. It can be as simple as a 5 minute sprint. Give everyone the chance to communicate is the bottom line.
  • Call your team members one on one
    As the company is further impacted by the effects of the Corona Virus, their anxiety levels mentioned earlier will only increase. As they see people they know get laid off, lose their businesses or get sick, this anxiety will only grow. Growing anxiety coupled with being segregated from the company decision makers will result in the crippling of productivity from your newly transitioned work at home team. A quick call just to check in on them personally will keep their anxiety in check and maintain their confidence in the company they work for, the team they work on and you as their leader.

3. Over supply

Not everyone has what they need at home to work effectively. If you are fortunate enough to control your own budget, use this time to build a little confidence in your team by supplying them with what they need.

  • Office Supplies
    Get on Amazon or Staples and create a shopping list they can buy of simple office items. This stuff is so cheap, they should be able to stock up for less than $100. An option would be to send them an Amazon or Staples gift card for a certain amount like $100 to get their home office situated as they need.

    • Paper, pens and notepads
    • Ink for their printers
    • Mouse and Keyboards for their laptops
    • Paper clips, staples, tape, etc.
  • Computers
    • I use a Microsoft Surface Pro and love it but if you haven’t given your team a good laptop to use, consider making sure they are equipped with the right technology to get the job done.
    • You also don’t want all of your company’s information on their insecure home PC’s. Give them the tech to keep your company data secure so you can hold them accountable for it. If you expect them to use their own devices, expect your information to be unprotected.
    • If you don’t already have one, subscribe your team to a VPN service to keep their connection secure. I use NordVPN.
  • Headsets
    A headset with boom mic is super effective when working at home. It helps block out background noise and keeps your hands free while on calls, which becomes a majority of work time. You can get an inexpensive headset like Logitech for $20.

4. Be flexible

Permit flexible work hours.

As we’ve integrated our home lives and work lives, the demands of each tug on each other frequently. This requires our team to flexible and us to flexible with their time. Some of our team members wake up at 5am and that is their most effective time. Others get the most done after 8pm when they put their kids to bed for the night. Of course, some can’t disconnect from their 9-5 life that they’ve been following since graduation. The bottom line is that everyone will figure out their own “sweet spot” for productivity and we as managers will have the most productive remote team if we support the team in leveraging their sweet spot and pushing non-essential tasks outside of the traditional work hours. Encourage your team to communicate with each other when they will be available and unavailable so that they can manage communication effectively. Don’t force your team to work when you do and make sure they all know its ok to respond to an email when they get to their desk and that they do not have to be online 24/7 because their desk doubles as their living room.

Remove people from unnecessary meetings.

Have you been on a conference call lately and when someone is asked their opinion or the status of a project they respond, “Can you repeat the question please?” or “I was on mute.” This is probably because a majority of the meeting had zero impact on them so rather than waste 45 minutes of the hour paying attention, they are performing other non essential tasks for work or household chores. The way to get around this is to ask your team for their full attention during conference calls. How do you do this? Don’t include them on calls that they are not needed. Maybe just ask for a quick update prior to the call so you have their info but don’t waste their time. If you use a program like MS Teams or Slack, you can shoot them a quick message to ask clarity on something during the call or ask them to jump into the call to explain further. The more calls they are on where they are not needed, the less attention they will pay on ever call.

5. Leverage Technology

Although I sell it and would like you to buy it from Tech 2 Success, I can’t express enough how good a job Microsoft has been doing with the Office 365 suite. We use Microsoft teams for internal and group chat, plan meetings, video conferences, file sharing, etc. MS To Do tracks our tasks and MS Planner tracks our open projects. The collaboration is unbelievable and new features seem to be added weekly when you log in to start your day. Here are some apps we use that can as well to help your team stay as productive as they are when they are together in the office.

  • MS teams
  • MS to-do
  • MS Planner
  • Hubspot
  • Zoom
  • Nord VPN
  • Grasshopper
  • Cloud PBX

6. Consult a Professional

Our team is fortunate to have a relationship with a certfied life coach who specializes in helping professionals maintain their focus while working from home. Elisa schedules half hour team presentations to engage the team and give everyone pointers and methods for improving their focus. She also schedules one on one sessions to help the team members discuss their own challenges maintaining focus at home and leveraging easy to implement suggestions for keeping a focused mindset in the home office, even if your home office is a kitchen table.

A simple result of our meetings with Elisa is that I no longer have meals at my desk. I take breaks to snack and have lunch. When I return to my desk I am better focused on what is in front of me rather than have a cluster of break time and work time invading each other.

I have been pleasantly surprised how the team references the different items they’ve implemented from these sessions and also how they point out on our video conferences when they notice someone else has implemented an improvement or violated a mindset no no.

Visit https://www.elisablifecoaching.com/ to schedule a free consultation with Elisa.

7. Ask for assistance

If your team is working on adjusting to a work from home environment, please reach out to me on LinkedIn or e-mail and I’ll be happy to talk through your challenges and recommend strategies, technologies and consultants you can use to successfully lead a team working from home. Wash your hands and stay safe. I hope everyone’s businesses are impacted as light as possible and that recovery will be as enlightening as the impact has been so far.