If you were working remotely before Covid-19 your transition to remote work was probably much easier than your colleagues who had been working at your organization’s home base. Responsibility for communication pre-Covid-19 generally fell to the remote worker. “Out of sight, out of mind” was typically the rule of the day and remote workers bore a disproportionate share of the burden to communicate with colleagues at the home base.
In the time of Covid-19, that burden has shifted disproportionately to managers. Regardless of your place in the hierarchy, if you are managing staff then there are new guidelines for managing up, down, and laterally. Your ability to be successful will revolve around how well you communicate, set clear goals and expectations, advocate for and provide the necessary tools for successfully meeting those goals and expectations, and maintain your organization’s culture and your team’s alignment to its mission.
- Be active in scheduling regular team meetings, one-on-one meetings with each staff member, and one-on-one meetings with your manager. How you defined a “regular” interval between meetings is up to you with one caveat: what may have defined “regular” pre-Covid – monthly or quarterly, for example – needs to be shortened to weekly or biweekly. Meet often so that your staff feels less isolated, even if the meeting time is shorter.
- Structure your meetings and have a tight agenda. Realize that it’s easier for people in a meeting to drift when a phone or video meeting goes too long or lacks focus. Assign parts of the agenda to others to give them a chance to lead the discussion. Remember how you’ve felt when you’re in a meeting that turns into a lecture. Use the breakout features in apps like Zoom to vary the pace of the meeting.
- Make sure you know how to use whatever virtual meeting application (e.g., Zoom, Skype, Google Meetups, WebEx, etc.) your organization uses. Nothing interrupts a conversation more than experiencing avoidable delays and disruptions in launching your app.
- If your city is opening up, take the opportunity to visit staff in person one-on-one (taking necessary precautions). Use your one-on-one meetings to check in on things other than work. Some of your staff may be having to deal with young children in addition to keeping up with their full-time work (and you may be in that boat yourself). Be empathetic.
- Staying emotionally connected to colleagues is something that is often not emphasized enough. Remote employees are often overlooked, for example, when personal and professional news circulates through an office. Regular check-in meetings with supervisors and other colleagues help to fill this gap and keep remote employees connected to the organization while also building loyalty. Set aside time in these discussions for “watercooler” news in addition to updates on business. Use an app like Slack to create a channel for watercooler postings.
- Make sure you communicate clearly to staff about team and individual goals and expectations and use your one on one meetings to check in on their progress. Your standard dashboards will show some elements of the productivity of remote officers, but the quality of that productivity will only be understood in weekly interaction between remote employees and their supervisors. Some interaction can be handled by email and phone, but supervisors should plan for at least one weekly video call. The right combination of quantitative and qualitative metrics will also be an asset to the remote employee. Like in any other position, clear agreement on three to five key deliverables can help remote employees focus their efforts and be more efficient in their work.
- Managers should also pay attention to the logistics of working remotely and ensure that simple, yet critically important daily needs are met. For example, remote employees rely on having technology that works; tech support professionals in the organization should be available to ensure any disruptions are minimized, and full training is provided. Making sure that remote employees have access to other campus resources is also critical to their success. Having a support staff member who is assigned to remote officers can, for example, remove frustrations associated with trying to handle reimbursement of travel expenses and scheduling appointments from a distance.
- As a manager it is also important that you have a regularly scheduled meeting to stay in touch with your peers. These meetings are important to help you and your peers do temperature checks on how staff is performing, understand whether team goals and expectations are calibrated correctly, and whether the infrastructure is equal to the tasks at hand. Not to be underestimated is the opportunity to exercise some group therapy: you all share the same challenges and opportunities and can learn from each other’s experiences.
- Finally, examine how you are upholding your culture and mission while working remotely. If you haven’t done so pre-Covid-19, make sure to discuss with your manager, your team, and your peers whether the ways you are working together remotely reflect the culture and commitment to mission that you worked hard to build when you were working side by side.
While this crisis has forced many of us to think about remote working environments for employees for the first time, it’s not too early to assess the benefits of long-term remote work beyond COVID-19. Remote work is likely to remain, at least in the short term, a part of an organization’s plan to reopen. Additionally, many highly qualified advancement professionals are tied to specific geographical locations or even to working from their homes for a wide variety of personal reasons, ranging from family obligations to physical limitations. Building remote opportunities into your planning expands the pool of talent available to your team.