Why managers must develop new skills to manage remote teams
By Janet Candido
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020, employers felt the pressure as they were required to quickly deploy staff to work from home overnight.
Leaders needed to provide the necessary equipment for their staff to continue to work successfully — and technology, servers, and workplace setups needed to be up and running.
Most of us thought this would last two weeks and we’d be back in the office in no time.
After almost two years, employers and employees are starting to — and need to — rethink this mindset as working from home is becoming a new reality that needs to be adopted in some form.
One of the challenges with remote working is that managers haven’t been properly trained to manage a workforce that isn’t clocked in from nine to five and under the same roof. Managers haven’t been provided with the necessary skills leaders should have in order to lead remote staff successfully.
As remote work is here to stay for many organizations, whether it being full time or a hybrid approach, employers need to rethink the remote workforce environment and ensure that the in-person office experiences are being reworked to accommodate a virtual environment.
A new way of measuring workplace productivity
To measure an employee’s workplace productivity, employers need to measure results. It’s that simple.
Instead of employees needing to be at their desks for eight hours during the day, employers need to outline items staff need to produce within a deadline as a way to monitor productivity.
However, with that being said, not every workplace can do that as some work is process driven.
For example, a call centre is not going to be able to simply produce specific items and have their productivity goals met.
Tackling virtual brainstorming and onboarding
First and foremost, managers need to make sure that all employees have good technology, especially for brainstorming. They need to ensure that all their staff has the internet bandwidth and the equipment that makes for a smooth brainstorming session.
I recommend shrinking it down to a specific topic and theme. So instead of brainstorming a big, complex topic in one session, brainstorm a small aspect of it and keep it short with a time limit. Because if you’re going to have people in front of the screen, you want to minimize the Zoom fatigue, especially if they’ve had a whole bunch of other meetings beforehand.
It’s important to keep it to a network and keep it to a small topic. For example, managers can develop a series that takes place every Thursday at 1 p.m., and be very clear about what the intention is.
It’s still difficult because one of the obstacles is that people can talk over each other and interrupt one another so it can become frustrating. That’s why I usually suggest that participants have their camera on for these sessions, so it’s easier to engage.
It’s also important to really make use of technology that’s there. Try things like Miro, an electronic whiteboard, for brainstorming where everybody can contribute in real-time.
Onboarding is also difficult to do remotely and has been the most challenging for leaders to adapt to, however, the same thing applies to brainstorming.
Managers are not going to onboard a new employee in a day or even in a couple of days. So, it’s important to break down the onboarding process and do it over a period of time with themes for each meeting.
Again, it’s helpful to make use of technology that’s there like Google Drive and Docs, as opposed to long emails with attachments.
The social interaction between managers and employees
Of course, the obvious workplace feature that has most affected the office dynamics in a virtual environment is the loss of social interaction. The lack of social connections with managers has had a negative impact on employees.
Often there are a series of meetings scheduled either one-on-one or a team meeting with one specific topic and everyone forgets the niceties. Now, they have a reason for the call, and they go into the call with that mindframe of discussing that one topic and getting through it quickly.
At the office, staff could run into their managers in the hall, while grabbing a cup of coffee, or in the kitchen during lunch break, but now these connections are lost.
Managers need to bring in some social aspects in a virtual environment in order to keep these connections by providing a variety of activities, which shouldn’t be made a command performance, except for the manager.
Screen time is looming in Zoom fatigue, and it’s a very real thing so it’s important for managers to understand that people are exhausted from screen time but there are ways to offer these without making it forced.
Some companies will do a virtual happy hour every Friday, and whoever is available can join virtually. Managers also need to appeal to different employees as well.
This means doing these events at different times of the day so that you can capture the people who have other life responsibilities such as child care.
Janet Candido, founder and principal consultant of Candido Consulting Group in Toronto, has been working with various organizations in developing and implementing a strategy on the return to the office, remote workplaces, and vaccination policies.
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