Remote working: five steps to getting the best from remote teams

For a number of years remote working has been on the rise, particularly as people have embraced the freedoms provided by technology to roam across the globe whilst staying connected back home. However, for the majority of office-based workers, the option to work remotely has been an occasional, and mostly voluntary, treat. 

In light of recent global events, and the possibility of millions of staff now being asked to work remotely, it’s critical that businesses understand how to keep a newly isolated workforce safe, engaged, and able to succeed in their roles. As we begin to tackle the challenges emerging each day, here are some tips to manage your teams effectively from day one:

Communicate, communicate, communicate

Communication should always be at the heart of your management strategy, but this takes on a particular importance in times of uncertainty. It’s vital that remote workers feel connected and informed; whether that’s your CEO hosting a weekly video briefing for the whole company, or one-to-one line manager catch-ups over the phone. 

Along with providing updates on business and strategy-related matters, it’s also worthwhile communicating positives to your team wherever you can. Perhaps it’s a team member’s work anniversary, or the successful completion of an ongoing project. During these testing times it’s more important than ever to recognise success and to uplift team spirit where you can.

Business as (mostly) usual

One of the biggest challenges to supporting a remote workforce can be the change in routine and lack of organisational structure. For many people, the disruption caused by extended periods of remote working can prove unsettling, and it’s important that team leaders retain as much normality as possible. Where appropriate, regular meetings should go ahead as planned, and the day-to-day schedule kept largely the same.

For those with 9 to 5 hours, retaining the usual working patterns and setting clear boundaries can help to ensure that employees know when they can switch off, and feel less pressure to be constantly available and on the clock. Remote working shouldn’t be allowed to drift into 24/7 working, so it is important to keep to structured work hours as much as is practical.

Offer increased flexibility

That said, businesses will also need to adjust for the fact that people may have new commitments on their time, whether it’s childcare, caring for a sick relative, or other priorities. Remote working can allow managers to offer bespoke hours for those who need it, and this can be a huge weight off the shoulders of an already stressed employee. For some people, flexible remote working actually plays to their strengths, with remote working participants in one US study reporting a 78% increase in productivity and focus.  Agree parameters to your teams’ flexible work schedules so that everyone knows when their colleagues are working and when they’re not, which will help to ensure people don’t feel pressured into presenteeism.

Adjust expectations

Considering the current events, it’s completely understandable for employees to be performing at a suboptimal level. The new challenges thrown up by remote working, along with added financial and emotional pressures are likely to result in reduced performances and stress. Leaders must remember this when scheduling reviews and performance management during this time. The onus for success lies with both team members and managers, and leaders must reassure staff that they have their complete support for whatever they need to succeed. 

This could be by offering meditation sessions, a personalised work plan and extended deadlines, or a session with a coach or mentor to discuss next steps and increase confidence. However you choose to rate progress, taking a compassionate and measured approach will help you to get the best out of your staff and to ensure their ongoing wellbeing.

The human touch

As an increasing number of countries go into various stages of lockdown and quarantine, it’s crucial to help staff who may be struggling with feelings of isolation and loneliness. A quick call instead of an email or instant message can help to alleviate these feelings, whilst reducing issues stemming from the lack of social cues we rely on each day, such as tone of voice and body language. We live in a world filled with technologies that help us to stay in touch with each other, and it’s important to remind ourselves that at the end of every email sits a real person at a computer, with the same worries, fears, and emotional needs as us.

Where possible, businesses should encourage video calls over phone calls, and phone calls over instant messages. Digitalised HR resources, such as digital coaching and employee feedback solutions, can help manage employee well-being and mentoring processes in difficult, or remote, situations. Tech products can be the answer to so many problems, but there is often no substitute for adding a human touch.

The most important thing for businesses to remember in this unprecedented context is that there is much more to life than the bottom line. Employees are people, with their own individual needs, concerns, and situations, and we must all remember to show kindness in our common humanity. While remote working can feel impersonal and isolating, with the right kind of tailored and personalised approach we can make sure that staff continue to feel supported, engaged, and able to go on with their jobs in a safe and considerate environment.

Juliane Sterzl is Vice President UK&I at CoachHub

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