Management training can prepare you for a lot of things, but a global pandemic usually isn’t one of them. COVID-19 has had an unprecedented effect on the world and has been devastating in many ways. It’s also redefined the boundaries of work and home life, as well as what it means to be a manager.
Catching up in the hall, brief chit-chats at your desk, and going out to lunch with the team are no longer options (and might not be for some time). So how do you stay close with your direct reports? What are you doing to make sure everyone stays on task? Are you aware of the mental, or emotional struggles that might be going through?
All good questions to keep in mind as we explore 4 tips on how to manage a team while working from home.
Tip 1: Never miss a day of individual communication
Communication with each individual member of your team is more important now than it ever has been in the past. Regardless of how you feel, there’s a good chance that multiple members of your team are feeling tremendous amounts of stress and anxiety. As death tolls continue to climb, media reports become more dreary, and layoffs and unemployment claims are at an all-time high, you cannot underestimate the emotional battles being fought by your direct reports.
So what can you do? Communicate. And communicate on an individual level. It’s nice to have a Company All-Hands-On-Deck meeting, and it’s nice to have team meetings at the start and end of every day to catch up with one another. But the most critical communication you can make will be a daily check-in with each individual.
A phone call or Zoom interaction is great. A message on Slack is awesome. A text or an email just to check in and show you care is well worth your time. If you can take just a minute or two of your day to check in with your team members and ask them personally how they’re doing and if they need anything, it’ll go a long way to show that you care. We’re not saying you need to conduct a full 1-on-1, but we do suggest a daily check-in to build that trust and rapport with your teammates.
This will be particularly meaningful and impactful for teammates who are either new, or who you don’t know as well. Reach out and get to know them. Discover what they’re passionate about. Talk about things other than work. And be quick to acknowledge the crazy situation we’re all living through.
Your consistency in creating these daily, personal connections will have a positive impact now, and going forward.
Additional Note: There might be some employees who are experiencing significantly higher levels of anxiety than others. If you sense this in your conversations, or if they tell you about these struggles during a 1-on-1, please take this seriously. Mental health is a fragile thing and can be easily disrupted in times like these. If your company offers access to counseling or therapy, make sure these options are known to the entire team (you might also notify your HR department to make sure they’re aware of individual team needs and to make sure they’ve distributed information on company benefits such as counseling to all employees). If your company does not offer such benefits, make your HR department aware of your concerns for an individual, and let them make suggestions for professional mental health services.
Tip 2: Make sure everyone has the right tools and knows how to use them.
Part of the adjustment to working from home may include the use of new tools or products to help manage the work. It’s uncommon for employees to speak up about things they need, so be proactive in figuring out if every employee has the right tools necessary to do their job.
For example, there are many sales teams who use big whiteboards to track metrics, such as the number of calls they make, the number of demos they set, and the number of deals they close each week. A whiteboard is perfect for this kind of number tracking while you’re in the office, but is no longer viable while you’re working from home. You might not be in sales, but there is likely a similar function or action that was consistently being done in the office, but may no longer have a place to be done now that we’re all working from home. As a manager, it’s your responsibility to come up with a new solution so nothing falls through the cracks.
The second part of this tip is equally important as the first. You may have done an excellent job of supplying tools, products, and software solutions for your team to use, but they might not understand how to use them. Furthermore, they might feel embarrassed to ask, especially if the rest of the team seems to have picked it up quickly, and they’re the only one struggling with it.
Already, we’ve helped members of our team who were unsure how to unmute themselves or display themselves on camera while using Google Hangouts or Zoom. We’ve trained employees on how to track work in task-management software like Asana or Clickup. We’ve demonstrated how to input uniform data into spreadsheets. We’ve taught others how to manage and collaborate within shared Google Drives.
All these things are relatively simple and likely seem obvious to you, but for some members or your organization, big changes like this can be daunting. They likely have never used remote tools like these in their life, and they might need some help! As a manager, we recommend reaching out to your teammates and asking three questions:
- Do you feel like you have all the tools you need to be successful in your job while working from home?
- Are there any tools, products, or software programs that we’re using that you’re not sure how to use? And if so, can we schedule a training so I can teach you how to use it?
- Are there any parts of your job that you feel like you can’t do as well from home as you did from the office?
The first two questions will help you gauge your employee’s ability to manage their job functions and comfort level with existing solutions. The third question will hopefully uncover something you may have missed in the transition to remote work.
Tip 3: Encourage your team to maintain schedules and routines.
One of the more difficult tasks in transitioning from working in the office to working at home is learning to overcome a new set of distractions that don’t usually exist in the workplace. Your team members might be at the kitchen table rather than a secluded desk. They might be helping kids do homework rather than helping you do your work.
It’s possible that they no longer see the point of waking up on time or changing out of their pajamas. With these, and many other new obstacles, it’ll be important to help your teammates create new schedules and routines so that they can stay focused, stay on task, and also, make sure they have time to take care of themselves and their loved ones.
To be a good manager while working from home, you’ll need to lead by example. Before you can give direction on schedules and routines to your direct reports, you’ll first need to figure it out for yourself. Chances are you’ve also had a major shakeup from your typical day, and it’s important to find a “new normal.” You’ll have to find the things that work best for you, but here are just a few ideas:
- Wake up at the same time you normally would when you had to go into the office. We know you’re no longer commuting, and we know you can be ready for your day faster now than ever before (after all, how hard is it to walk from your bedroom to your home office?). But starting your day at a regular hour will help put you in the right mental frame to get to work “on time.”
- Keep doing the basics to maintain your hygiene and dress/grooming standards. If you normally shower, brush your teeth, and brush your hair before going into the office every day, then do those same things before entering your home office. If you typically wear a polo and khakis or a blouse and jeans to the office, then pull those on at home. If you wanted to really get into “work-mode” you might even slip on some shoes.
- Maintain a calendar or running to-do list to help guide you throughout the day. Without the impromptu meetings and water-cooler chit-chat that takes place in the office, it’s very possible that you might have more time on your hands when working from home. If this is the case, it’ll be important that you stay productive. Mapping out your day and following a to-do list can be extremely helpful.
If you find that you have significantly less time on your hands because you’re now taking care of kids, walking the dog, or taking other responsibilities around your house, then follow this same principle. Clearly mark on your calendar when you’ll be “at work” and when you’ll be “at home.” Let this be known to your family or roommates. Let this be known to the members of your team. Once it’s set, then stick to it!
Once you’ve got your routine down and have maintained it for a few days, you can start to talk about the benefits of a regular routine in weekly 1-on-1s. Ask your teammates what they’re doing to maintain a regular schedule. If they aren’t following one, or are struggling to adjust to the new normal, lend a hand and be willing to share what’s working for you.
Talk about the advantages and benefits you’ve seen from following a daily routine, and invite them to work on creating something for them. This exercise will help make all your direct reports more productive, more happy, and more purposeful as they work.
Tip 4: Do something out of the ordinary.
These will certainly be memorable times for everyone. No one will soon forget how this coronavirus upended the way we do work in 2020. So what can you do, as a manager, to make these memories positive for your team?
The first step to having this be a positive experience is to make sure you’re implementing the first three tips, as outlined in this article. Be compassionate, present, and aware by communicating with your team every single day. Reach out to them to make sure they have the tools and products they need in order to be successful in their job, and make sure they actually know how to use them. Help them create schedules and routines that will keep them productive at work, but will also help them balance the new reality of working from home and the responsibilities they have to their families, roommates, or pets.
But beyond all that, we want to encourage you to do something out of the ordinary! It doesn’t have to be super expensive, and it doesn’t have to be elaborate, but with a little bit of thought (and maybe with the help of our ideas) you can do something to bring a little extra happiness to the members of your team. Here are some ideas (broken down by budget size):
- Reward every team member with one day a month where they can catch up on things around the house. No work commitments, just a day to do projects, chores, grocery shop, fold laundry, or whatever else might be needed.
- Hold a virtual meeting where you invite your team to join the meeting with the other people (or pets) in their household. This way you can get to know (and see) each other’s families, roommates, significant others, and furry friends.
- Order dinner, dessert, or both for the members of your team and have it delivered to their house using a delivery service like Doordash or Postmates.
- Send gift cards to each of your direct reports to a local restaurant that they enjoy. This allows you to support local small businesses while also providing a meal for your team member.
- Pay for one month of a subscription service (Disney+, Netflix, Hulu, HBO, etc.) of their choice
- Send a small care package filled with useful things like Clorox wipes or hand sanitizer packets, as well as fun things like company swag or favorite candy bars.
- Upgrade everyone’s home office by buying them a desk chair that’s actually comfortable to sit in during the work day.
- Offer to pay your team’s home internet bill while they’re working remotely.
- Pay for a week’s worth of meal-kit delivery services from places like Blue Apron or Hello Fresh.
- Pay for a one-time house cleaning service for all your direct reports.
At Eddy, we had our HR Manager surprise us with a really thoughtful gift in the week leading up to Easter. Because our employees all live relatively close to each other (within an hour or so) the HR team delivered small Easter gift baskets to each of our mailboxes, filled with candy, hand-written notes, and points to be spent on company swag. This seemingly small gesture delighted all of us, and our company Slack channel was filled with messages of gratitude and thanks.
Whatever it is you decide to do, the most important thing is that you do something. Your direct reports would love to have a little pick-me-up, and you’ll feel good knowing that you made this experience a little more positive.
These are trying times. We feel it, the same way you do. First and foremost we hope you and your families are safe, healthy, and happy. We hope that you’re finding a way to best handle these not-so-normal circumstances. There’s no way you could have prepared for the challenge of managing a team, from home, during a global pandemic, and yet, here we are. Hopefully by following these tips, the experience will be a little more cheerful, productive, and motivating for you and the members of your team. Good management is needed more than ever. Do what you can in your small (or large) sphere of influence to have a positive impact. We’ll be rooting for you!