Since the COVID-19 outbreak forced many of us to work remotely, we have seen a flood of information on managing remote teams. It has been a popular topic for researchers, HR experts and leadership professionals, and for good reason. The sudden inability to see our people in-person has caused many of us to struggle as business leaders.
Perhaps it is time we question whether our struggles have been caused by remote work or whether they have always been present. Has the forced isolation highlighted challenges we were already facing within our teams? Unintended though this situation may be, we are now presented with an opportunity to re-evaluate the way we work. If we honestly and effectively question the way we lead and interact within our teams, we will not only be more productive remotely, we may return to our new normal as stronger, more effective leaders.
Here are a few areas of your business to re-evaluate.
Work schedules and flexibility
Many of us require our people to be at work at a certain time and we expect them to stay until a defined closing. We feel anxiety over watching a clock and asking where people are when they do not arrive on time. For some industries, maintaining strict hours is important but that isn’t always the case. Through forced remote work, many are realizing that it is the outcome of work that is important, not the specific time it is done. As you look to get the best from your team now and in the future, ask yourself:
- Does my business really require strict schedules?
- Has our performance been negatively impacted by my inability to see when people work?
- Would my business/people benefit from more flexibility?
- What are my expectations for responsiveness and are they realistic?
By asking these questions, you may determine that your attendance policies can be more flexible than you had previously believed.
Meeting frequency and format
It is common in business to fall into the meeting trap. The desire to work in teams and communicate has, in many ways, led to inefficiencies in how we do our work. As you create new meeting habits with your remote teams, reflect on the meeting frequency and format that works best. Ask yourself questions like:
- Who should attend?
- How often should we meet (daily, three times a week, once a week) and at what time?
- How long should the meetings be (one hour or 15 minutes)?
- What are we discussing (Are we providing updates or should we be asking strategic questions)?
Regardless of the format, set and share an agenda and create an expectation that everyone should be prepared to contribute.
Also keep in mind, everyone has a unique home situation. There will be background noise. Children partners and pets will show up on screen in the middle of meetings and the house in the background may be untidy. Set an expectation that it is ok to not be perfect. Say hello to those who inadvertently show up, and, most importantly, have fun getting to know your people on a more personal level.
Business communication is often measured in the frequency of corporate announcements or the amount of information relayed to employees. However, to effectively communicate, leaders should also focus on LISTENING. People are dealing with increased anxiety about work, their health and their finances. They likely have questions for you and important information to share.
Connect with your employees regularly. Ask them:
- How are you and your family doing?
- Does the work schedule make sense and how is your work load?
- Are you finding it hard to stay motivated?
- Are there any areas where you are struggling?
Learn from your employees and make it ok for them to ask you for help. Advise them of any support services that are available to them through your company or group benefits provider. Encourage them to seek assistance where it is needed. In your normal life, you may feel you are too busy to form these personal connections. Take this as an opportunity to create new habits and develop stronger relationships.
Goal setting and performance measurements
For many companies, goal setting is long-term, and performance is measured as part of the employee review process. The challenge for many leaders amid the COVID-19 fallout is long-term goal setting may not make sense. Depending on the service or product you provide, your business may be in ultra-high demand or you may be struggling to generate enough revenue to stay in business. Regardless of the demand for your business, goal setting is critical for ensuring employees are engaged and have a clear understanding of priorities. Take this time to ask:
- What goals should I be setting and how should I measure success?
- Can I set short-term goals that set employees up for success and help us through the current fiscal reality?
- Are there ways my team can work differently? Should we change how we do business?
It is time for all of us to think about innovation and transformation. Plan for life following the return from isolation. The goal setting and feedback habits you create now will be very helpful for your business moving forward.
Making tough decisions
Many of us struggle to make difficult decisions and we tend to wait too long to take actions that have a negative impact on others. As a business leader, you have likely experienced a time when you knew action had to be taken but hesitated or delayed in hopes that things would improve. In our current economic climate, time is a luxury you may not have. Like many leaders, you are doing your best to protect your people and your business. Allow yourself to think about what is best for the longevity of your business. It is time to ask:
- Are there areas of non-essential spending that need to be eliminated?
- What services do we need right now and what will we need going forward?
- Can we defer spending or eliminate some costs permanently in order to save jobs?
- Do I have the right team structure and the right people?
- Are there subsidy options available to me?
- What are my options if cuts are needed (e.g. temporary layoffs, work sharing, job reinvention or termination)?
- Should changes be immediate or would a phased approach be better?
- How should I communicate changes?
- What resources do I need to protect going forward?
This may be the first time you are dealing with a challenge of this magnitude, but it is a learning opportunity. Take this time to refine your ability to critically assess your business and make timely decisions. If you need help, there are services available to you. For any HR questions, connect with Higher Talent at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact a member of our team directly.