Tips to manage your team while working from home
Posted October 21st 2021
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By: Kaavya Karthikeyan
A lot of us are now first-time remote managers and some of our old management techniques just don’t apply anymore. Working from home, by definition, means that your team’s professional and personal lives are going to be more intertwined than ever. They will also have to face challenges in collaboration, motivation, productivity and more! Some of the world’s largest tech companies are embracing remote work at least for the foreseeable future. That brings with it a whole new set of challenges. Managing teams, for example. That’s challenging enough when everyone is in the same building. But managing them while you and your team are working remotely? That’s a whole new ball game.
Here are our tips on what you can do to help them and to make remote team management a smooth experience for everyone involved.
Set realistic goals and deadlines
Working from home doesn’t automatically mean that your team will have more time to work. Yes, they can save the time usually spent on their commute, but they now have to deal with a change of routine, new workspace, and distractions that did not exist in the office space.
Having deadlines that are too stringent during this time will only affect their productivity more. Give them some time to get acclimatized to the situation and create a new routine for themselves. Relax your deadlines if you can. If you do not have control over the deadlines, then try to reduce the goals and the scope of the projects for a brief period.
Encourage your team to take ownership
The aspect of teamwork that takes the biggest hit while working from home is collaboration. Providing hands-on training to your team, following up with them informally to see how they are doing, reviewing their work, and communicating feedback can become very challenging.
What used to be a simple water-cooler conversation now becomes a meeting. Whether you are following up on email or chat or a phone call, things become more formal and it increases stress for your team.
The best way to tackle this is by encouraging your team to take complete ownership of their projects. Have a single call to set clear expectations at the beginning. Allow them to make mistakes initially and let them learn from it. Just make sure they know you are always around to help.
While this might affect the quality of work and deadlines in the short term, it will help your team perform better in the longer run. Even when you are not working from home.
Modify your team’s sub-culture
Every team has a sub-culture derived from the overall culture of the organization. But holding your team to the same culture codes now may not be possible. Modify your sub-culture to suit the current situation.
If you don’t have an existing culture code for remote work, you can use these primary principles as a foundation to build upon.
Transparency: everyone should be clear about what the other person is working on. Your team members should provide unprompted status updates and keep each other in the loop.
Accountability: Your team should own what they do, start to finish. Set expectations that are reasonable and accepted by your team, and ensure they hold themselves accountable to these.
Communication: Your team should explicitly call out their work hours in your choice of communication tool. They can be unavailable now and then but they should make it clear when they’ll be back.
Be proud of their work: Working from home notwithstanding, your team should strive to provide their best work and love what they do. When you and your team take pride in what you all do, the final output will be so much better.
Tools are key
Remote collaboration is complicated but luckily there are plenty of tools that you can use to make it easier. Whether it is for planning (Trello), communication (Slack), sharing files (Drive), or tracking metrics (Analytics), encourage your team to use these tools extensively. Set aside some time to train your team on the tools too, if they are using them for the first time.
Hold periodic meetings
It is essential that you plan your day, week, and even month or longer out in advance. When you’re working remotely, this is all the more important as you need this framework to proceed with your day. By having these goals to work towards, it is easier for you to estimate the necessary time needed and divide your day properly. There are three things you need to do for your team:
- Have a meeting at the start of every month to set a tentative roadmap and plan the goals for every week during this.
- Have short daily standup meetings where each person talks about their plans for the day.
- At the end of the week, have a longer meeting where everyone covers what they did, whether they’re still on track, and talk about if they need anything from the rest of the team.
Work around different timezones
Everyone has a time of the day they function best at even if you’re working in the same region. Some of your employees might be working in a different timezone. For both these reasons, your teammates might work during different hours and it might be hard to work together if you need to. To function effectively as a team, you all have to talk and find a common time for collaboration on projects that have multiple contributors.
Set aside time for some fun
One of the biggest mistakes that managers do is talking only about work during calls. This makes the teams miss the camaraderie they felt while working together in an office. While nothing can replace in-person conversations, a good way to replicate that is by setting aside some time for fun.
This could just be spending five minutes at the beginning of your daily standups talking about anything BUT work. It could also mean a weekly call where you and your team introduce your family and pets to each other, share what you are all reading, watching, or cooking, or even showcase hidden talents. Doing this not only creates happiness, it shows your team that you understand that their loved ones and hobbies are just as important as work. It makes you understand your team and their motivations better as well.
Working from home can trigger various negative emotions like depression and demotivation and it’s your job as a manager to care for your team’s mental well-being. Keep your video turned on during team meetings and encourage them to do the same. If you notice a team member being withdrawn or behaving differently than normal, reach out to them separately and make sure they are doing okay. Have more one-on-one meetings with the team than you normally would and offer them help in any way you can.
The one thing you need to do while implementing these points is to “Lead by example”. Be the person you want them to be. Talk about the challenges you are facing while working from home to encourage them to air out their own concerns. Showcase the best practices around communication and availability that you want them to follow. The converse is true as well- give yourself the benefit of the doubt just like you would with your team because this is all new to you too!