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Managing While Quarantined: Tips to Lead A Virtual Team

Local government advisories for companies to work remotely has resulted in many managers leading remote teams for the first time. Virtual teams can be a challenge to manage, especially in the midst of crisis, because leaders need to simultaneously set expectations and hold staff accountable while creating an atmosphere of support and cultivating corporate culture remotely.  

This challenge is magnified as employees may be quarantined in their home with their entire family and may be feeling anxious about their healthsafety or their economic future. A strong leader leads through times of uncertainty with vulnerability, sensitivity and strategic thinking. Below we answer four of the top questions asked by leaders about how to manage staff virtually through pandemic. 

How do I hold my staff accountable and gauge performance? 


Define Work Systems


While working remotely, provide more detailed descriptions of tasks, outlining responsibilities and a clear timeline with examples of what the result should look like. While not in the office, details that were once implied need to be more direct. Setting clear and detailed deliverables helps to avoid missed deadlines and reduces uncertainty without a long chain of clarifying emails. Because you are not able to drop by someone’s desk to ask questions, more direction at the beginning of a project increases the likelihood of success. 



Measure Output


If you’re managing employees to metrics, it should be relatively easy to gauge their output. Emphasize that whether in the office or working from home, performance will be evaluated and formulate a plan for reporting metrics and status updates on a regular basis.  

Not every employee is managed by metrics. Consider utilizing project management tools to get a clear picture of how they are performing. You can break down projects into individual tasks with deadlines and easily see each employee’s progress.  

Regular team meetings to give updates on each employees’ progress can be used to respectfully keep employees accountable and ensure your team is meeting its goals. Frequent, straight forward communication on employee performance allows everyone to know what areas they are doing well in or need to improve upon.  

Define Your SOPs


Employees each have different methods of completing tasks. Creating Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) can help get everyone on the same page and set expectations with a definitive timeline and metrics. By setting these expectations, the team will have less uncertainty and have a clear-cut plan for their day. These procedures should be both standardized to maintain equal expectations for all team members and flexible enough to allow individuals the necessary freedom to complete tasks given their strengths and personal home situation. 

How can I keep morale and productivity high?  


Encourage Teamwork


Rather than being the single point of contact to mitigate issues throughout the day, pair up team members to work together to overcome a problem or complete a project togetherThis empowers employees to be creative in their problem solving and may bring new ideas to the table. Collaboration helps combat loneliness as well as boosts accountability. 

Celebrate Often & Visibly


In periods of high stress, finding ways to keep morale high is crucial. Make a deliberate effort to celebrate your employees’ successesWhile this may seem trivial, visibly acknowledging employees is even more important when you’re not in-person and can help to break up the stream of negative communication coming from media and news sources right now. Consider starting meetings off with each team member sharing a 'win’ from their day or create a channel in Microsoft TeamsSlack or other messaging tools where your team can share their successes. 

How do I communicate most effectively? 


Utilize Multiple Communication Methods


Especially as the news is constantly changing regarding the pandemic, government advisories and economic concerns, maintaining an open line of communication with employees is crucialUtilize multiple communication tools including email, chat and video conferencing to stay connected. Consider holding a standing video meeting with staff each day to check in, stay connected and set or alter priorities for the day. Having various methods of communicating, both professionally and casually, contributes to a greater feeling of togetherness. 

Be Clear & Concise


There is a fine balance between open communication and over communication. Some employees may feel micromanaged by too frequent messaging while others appreciate the updates. Remain concise and clear in your communication to avoid unneeded back and forth.  

Survey Employees


Emotions are high right now across the board. Chances are your team is going to take some time to adjust to this change. Consider setting up an employee engagement survey to tap into the general mood within your remote workforce. Don’t assume an employee will call attention to a problem they are experiencing unless you specifically ask.  

How do I support my team emotionally? 


Create Routine


Maintain your regular meeting schedule of days and times you would have met in the office and encourage everyone to turn on their cameras to recreate the normalcy of face-to-face meetings. With so much uncertainty right now, this routine can provide familiarity and reduce stress. 

Be Available


Take into consideration the team members who may have traveled to different time zones to be with family. Plan out at least three to four hours a day where the team is all online at once for easy collaboration. 

Manage your Mindset


For many leaders, this is the first time working with an all remote team. Given that, and the unprecedented social and economic circumstances, don’t be surprised if you feel a twinge of self-doubt or confusion. Be cognizant of your own mental and emotional state just as much as your employees'. 

 

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