Michigan’s Governor Gretchen Whitmer lifted the state’s stay home order over two months ago, but concerns over COVID-19 infection rates have kept many teams working from home. Some companies have even announced they intend to continue remote work entirely. If your company is making that choice, you will need to learn the tools for being an effective leader when teams work from home.
Tool #1: Compassion
Working from home in the midst of a pandemic presents a wide range of personal challenges for your employees – from desperate isolation for those living alone to coordinating bandwidth and conference call schedules among family members. Part-time school schedules and remote learning options, along with a variety of living arrangements, mean every employee’s household situation will be different.
That’s why compassion is the biggest tool of an effective leader in difficult times. As a business owner or manager, your people are your most valuable assets. Recognize the emotional and practical strain placed on your employees as they adjust to ever-changing pandemic response protocols. Empathize with them, acknowledging that in this moment, personal needs are paramount.
Tool #2: Clarity
We’ve all seen a war movie where in the midst of a hailstorm of bullets, the general stands up, calls out an order, and rallies the troops to victory. Your team is going through that hailstorm right now. The news, virus transmission reports, and studies about how COVID-19 are swirling – distracting your employees and scattering their focus. They need a leader who can stand up and point the way forward.
Clarity will be an essential tool as your company navigates its pandemic response. By being that leader, and recognizing the emotional situation they find themselves in, you can inspire them to do their best in hard times. By setting clear goals and objectives for your teams, and the company as a whole, you convey to your employees that even though you can’t see the future, you have a plan for how to get there.
Tool #3: Collaboration
Physical distance means you must work harder to maintain the same level of collaboration and coworking relationships that used to result from sheer proximity. The danger for managers is that you may overact to the distance and begin to micromanage your staff. If you are hyper-focused on achieving benchmarks, rather than being focused on making progress, you will add more stress to your employees’ workdays and ultimately reduce productivity. Instead, emphasize collaboration – through text messages, emails, and plentiful video conferences – and praise employees who maintain teamwork even when their coworkers are miles away.
Tool #4: Creature Comforts
You can’t make all your employees’ home offices look the same. Younger employees, especially, may not have a traditional desk setup at home – and they may not need them. However, there are certain comforts that will affect your employees’ productivity, and their connection as team members.
Be prepared to offer these creature comforts to your employees as your budget allows. Ergonomic chairs and laptop stands, for example, are in high demand as employees try to adjust to working from home. Consider lending employees the equipment currently sitting unused in your office. Within virtual platforms, make “watercooler” spaces or “random” channels to encourage employees to relate on a personal – even silly – level, instead of focusing entirely on company objectives. These kinds of creature comforts will help boost productivity and interpersonal connections within your team.
Tool #5: Communication
Going remote requires managers to trust their employees. When teams work from home, leaders have less control over how things are done. You can’t monitor their social media use (though some companies try), or prevent a child or a dog from disrupting your employees’ workday.
That’s why communication is so necessary to being an effective leader of a team that works from home. And communication doesn’t mean constantly checking up on them to make sure they are working. It means listening when they explain that their internet went out. It means discussing workload and progress, and it means facilitating team meetings, rather than directing them. By focusing on transparent communication, you can show your employees they matter to your business, and keep them engaged in the company, even while they are working from home.
David Stanislaw is an organizational development specialist with over 30 years’ experience helping small business owners develop leadership management skills to adapt to changing business needs. Through one-on-one executive coaching, David helps CEOs and executives develop the skills to lead their employees, even through tough times. Contact us to meet with David and build your work-from-home strategy today.