Whether it is trying to figure out how to do more with less, frantically converting in-person business to a virtual model, working to save customers, or using this time to improve processes and reduce waste in your operations, there’s plenty of work to be done for most of our clients during this time. Therefore, many of our CEOs and executive leaders find themselves wondering, “How do I know if my people are still being productive? How do I make sure they are working on the right things to help our business survive and thrive?”
There are many challenges to remote work, but there are also many companies who have successfully employed remote workers for years and many studies showing the benefits of this type of work. As a matter of fact, Rhythm Systems has had almost half of our employees working remotely for over a decade, so it can be done—and done well.
Here are some of the challenges you’ll need to overcome to successfully manage your remote team:
1. Communication. You can be absolutely certain that your team is not focusing on the right priorities for your business if you have not communicated to them what those priorities are. Your communication to your team has to be even more precise and even more frequent when they are remote. You will have to hit them from different mediums—sending one email isn’t going to cut it. You need to share you plan and how they will help you achieve it many times in many ways. In addition to providing communication from leaders to the team, you will also have to provide avenues for your team members to communicate with each other. In an HBR article, Larson, Vroman and Makarius claim, “Newly remote workers are often surprised by the added time and effort needed to locate information from coworkers.” Here are some ideas for communication channels:
- Virtual town hall
- Weekly emails or videos from you
- Daily Huddles by team
- Virtual fireside chats or office hours with leadership team members
- Use Slack or other chat platforms
- Use a dashboard system like Rhythm to keep progress toward goals visible and accessible by the team
2. Distraction. In addition to the normal distractions of working from home (laundry, dishes, Netflix, family members), we are all experiencing a heightened sense of anxiety that can manifest in different ways. It could be difficult to focus because of people we know who are sick (or even being sick ourselves), because of increased responsibilities like homeschooling children, because of a preoccupation with the news, or because of fears of being laid off and financially impacted—there are countless ways this crisis could be chipping away at your mental energy and ability to focus. Here are some helpful tips:
- Encourage your team members to carve out time and space to devote fully to working.
- Be flexible. Talk with each team member about the most productive work hours. If they are doing dual duty with childcare and working, they may need to work early morning or later evening hours to have time for fully focusing on work.
- Do what you can to foster balance for your team by encouraging them to unplug during hours they aren’t working. It’s tempting to be always kind of working and kind of not, so having a schedule for when you are and are not working and being disciplined to stick with it will help with this.
- Understand that we are all experiencing this differently, and cut your team members a little extra slack during this time.
3. Social Isolation. This is especially a problem now for people who live alone. Not only are they suddenly cut off from the daily social interactions of the office, they also may be in a situation where they can’t leave home to see friends or family members. If your team’s basic human needs for connection, safety and belonging are not being met, they are not going to be productive in their jobs. Here’s where your team needs you to help create a sense of community and connection:
- Be available to listen to their concerns and reassure them when you can.
- Offer a way for your teams to check in with each other and maintain connections. Try a virtual coffee break or a virtual happy hour for the team to come together and interact with each other in a casual way.
Now that you understand some of the challenges and how you may overcome them, how do you know the team is still working hard on what matters most?
Here are some tips to help you measure productivity and stay on track with a remote team:
- Set goals together. Each person on your team should have a handful of KPIs they are measuring every week on their performance. Every position in your team should be responsible for a few key results, and each person should know what those numbers are for their role and how they need to perform in order to be successful. We use a Red-Yellow-Green success criteria to help clarify the goal upfront and communicate clearly what success looks like. In light of the changing circumstances, have a conversation with each team member about what is possible for this quarter. It may be a different goal than what you set at the beginning of the year.
- Align priorities. You should have a list of no more than 3-5 top priorities for the team as a whole, and each person should align their individual goals to achieving those team priorities. Track progress every week towards your goals, and have discussions with your team in your weekly meetings about how to get back on track together.
- Coach and collaborate. There should be no surprises at the end of the quarter. You should have visibility into your team’s progress toward achieving these goals, and you should step in early if you see that someone is struggling. If your team member is statusing Red or Yellow, make time to work with the person. Uncover the underlying issues—is the goal unrealistic? Is the person having challenges you didn’t know about? Do they lack a key resource? How can you help this person be successful?
- Focus on results. Ultimately, the number of hours your team works is not the most important thing—it's the results they achieve. As Jason Aten states in an article in Inc., “Instead of focusing on activity or hours worked, focus on the outcomes and measure your team accordingly.”
- Learn and adjust. You will learn what does and doesn’t work for yourself and for your team. Ensure you are taking an agile approach to your remote team management. If you find that your daily check-ins have become more burdensome than beneficial, stop doing that and try something else. Take feedback from your team, and check in frequently to ensure you are giving them what they need to be successful from home.
Don’t forget to take care of yourself in this process, too. Manage your own energy and focus by doing what you can to get a good night’s sleep, maintain an exercise routine and eat a healthy diet. Be patient with yourself and kind to those around you. According to the article in HBR I referenced above, “Research on emotional intelligence and emotional contagion tells us that employees look to their managers for cues about how to react to sudden changes or crisis situations,” so engaging in self-care activities is actually one concrete thing you can do to help your team’s productivity.
Here are more helpful blogs on remote employees that work from home:
Take Our Team Accountability Assessment to see how your team stacks up.
Photo Credit: iStock by Getty Images