With the spread of the novel coronavirus, millions of employees are working from home for the first time, and while managing teams remotely poses its own unique set of challenges, so does managing teams during a pandemic. Stress and anxiety levels are high. This is not a normal remote working situation.
It’s not your job as a manager to be everyone’s therapist (though if your company has mental health benefits, especially ones involving telemedicine, now is a good time to remind your direct reports of them), but you should be available to listen to your team’s needs and make changes accordingly.
Sound like everyday manager duties to you? It’s not quite the same. You’ll need to be more intentional than you’ve been before. These are questions you should be asking your temporarily remote team members right now to stay on top of challenges your organization might face.
Do you have what you need to work from home?
Hopefully, if your team is already working from home, you’ve made sure they have the basic technology and internet access they require to do so. But what else can you as an employer provide? That’s something you need to start asking. Will noise-canceling headphones help your team work better with their families, partners, or roommates in the house? Do they need a more capable video call tool to dial into when talking to people from the office?
Do you need time off or more flexibility?
At the start of the pandemic in the U.S., project management platform Basecamp gave its employees two additional days off to prepare—to buy groceries, to navigate child care, you know the drill by now. While this isn’t necessary all the time, there are moments when it’s important, like the first day school is canceled and parents need to regroup, or when your city has a sudden surge of the outbreak. Now more than ever is the time to take into account the way life outside work is affecting your employees’ ability to focus and be productive. If your community is facing intense pressure because of coronavirus this week or next, consider implementing more flexible schedules or giving folks a few days off to refocus. Work is important, but quality of life comes first. Always.
What‘life’ work is impacting your ability to do your job right now?
Beyond the news, which is an ever-present distraction for all of us, you need to know what else could be keeping your team from getting their work done, and you need to account for it. Do they have kids they’re trying to keep entertained when they’re on conference calls? Are they the main caregiver in their household? Is someone in their home sick? Are they themselves sick? While these questions might edge on too personal, they’re important in building comfortable rapport with your remote team, and in knowing how your company culture will need to adjust to account for the unexpected and untraditional. Reinforce that it’s okay if a 5-year-old accidentally interrupts a meeting, just as it’s also okay to still take sick, personal, and mental health days when you’re working from home.
What would make you feel more supported?
Some people love working from home, they thrive even, and some don’t. Ask your employees where they stand, then what would make them feel more engaged and supported. Most importantly, encourage team members to schedule 15-minute coffee chats to stay connected. Lindsay Konsko, of entirely remote company Scott’s Cheap Flights, gave this advice in August about setting social expectations for remote teams: “It’s important that people on my team are viewed as whole humans. You have to be explicit about it. When you’re connecting with your coworkers, it’s not a waste of time. Work is a social and emotional activity, and it’s important to being productive.”
Do you want to have a call?
Continuing in the vein of communication, start having calls instead of firing off emails. While a running joke on the internet has been “it turns out all of those meetings we had could have been emails,” there’s a difference between communicating online versus on the phone or video chat. As a manager, you should suggest the in-person meeting first—to clear up communication and to make everyone feel included.
How do you plan to take time for yourself?
Given the state of things, it’s unlikely many of your employees will be able to take vacations any time soon, and that’s a problem considering work and home are now combined. It will be very easy for people to roll out of bed and “into the office,” to take calls at odd hours, and to very quickly become burned out. Emphasize the importance of your employees setting boundaries and finding something positive to do that is not work related. Model that type of behavior by sharing what you are doing with your team.