Managers are now having to grapple with us and our team members working from home.
My wife, who is a college lecturer, is finding it particularly difficult as she is so used to the social contact and ‘face-to-face’ element of her work. Video calls using Teams or Zoom help, but only go so far. What she misses most are not the formal meetings or lectures which she is admirably covering online, but the informal chats and general togetherness of the working environment.
On the other hand I am used to working from home and whilst I miss face-to-face contact with my friends and colleagues, I am happy to use the amazing array of tools now available to stay in touch and appreciate the comfort and flexibility.
During my corporate career at technology company EMC I was responsible for managing team members based all over the world in different time zones and I developed some working rules and guidelines for maintaining team performance which will work just as well during the current crisis.
The only way to keep in touch was using conferencing tools and whilst we all had to be flexible with our working hours it was not possible for the whole team to meet (as it had to be in the middle of the night for someone) so I had the additional challenge of being the pivot that held things together. I was fortunate to have a committed team, but a good manager will always acknowledge that it is as challenging for your team to have a ‘remote manager’ as it is for you to manage the ‘remote team’!
Without physical contact relationships tend to degrade over time. I had agreed with the company they would allow me to travel to meet my team members once every quarter and this would typically do enough to recharge the relationship for another quarter. I made it a priority, really looked forward to seeing them in person and made sure we went out for team dinners or met in a social setting outside the office.
Remote team meetings need to be more frequent to make up for the lack of working in the same office. People need opportunities to talk to each other as well as to the whole team. Things to talk about occur daily but may not be worth picking up the phone or scheduling a meeting just for that one issue, so make time to speak to every team member one-on-one at least weekly so they can tell you all the things that are on their mind – and believe me this is best scheduled so you both go into the call with a list. Just think how many times a day in the office environment a team member would pass you in the corridor with ‘can you spare a minute …’?
And I must add that – as many have pointed out in other posts – all home workers must limit their own personal screen time and chair time to around 40 minute chunks (whatever works for you personally), get out of the house daily for fresh air and exercise to foster your own mental health and keep on top of work. I get most of my best ideas when out of the house!
Using these simple rules I was privileged to manage some of the best performing teams in the company – all remotely. The lack of personal contact will however degrade the team’s performance over time – and I do hope that within three months we can all get back to it!
Peter is the Cyber Security and Data Protection partner at Empiric Partners LLP, the business advice partnership.