The coronavirus pandemic has presented organizations with unprecedented challenges, to include how to handle the transition and possible continuation of an entirely remote workforce. There had been talk over the years of remote work growing in popularity, but who knew we would arrive here so quickly! Although working remotely has become the new norm for many employees, some managers still resist the change. The pandemic, however, has repositioned remote work as no longer a perk, but a safety necessity. Reluctant managers must adjust and find innovative and effective ways to manage their remote teams.

At Gallagher, we offer the following seven tips to help managers of remote workers continue to build strong relationships and enhance productivity for better career and organizational wellbeing.

  1. Build Trust
    Above all else, pivoting to a remote workforce requires a new mindset. Leaders must trust their people. This includes offering more autonomy, trusting individuals and teams to make sound decisions, improving transparency through better communication skills, and holding people accountable for their own results.

    Moreover, trust is a two-way street. Employees and leaders must trust each other. I believe that leading people is less about checking their work or seeing if they are logged in, than it is about creating an environment in which teams want to — and are rewarded both directly and intrinsically for — doing the very best work of which they're capable.

    Some leaders are not comfortable with remote work or haven't had a good experience with employees working "out of sight." To build a trusting team and organizational culture, managers must focus on outcome instead of managing by "hours." Creating such a culture requires trusting and empowering employees to complete the job they were hired to do with little to no oversight. Managers must change the focus from where work gets done to what work gets done. 

  2. Provide the Right Tools
    Communication and collaboration are essential to successful remote teamwork. Yet communication quickly can become disrupted when transitioning from office work to remote locations. Luckily, organizations can quickly put in place a number of helpful platforms. Many remote teams use such video teleconferencing software as Zoom or WebEx; real-time messaging apps like Slack or Flock, shared document platforms like Google Drive and collaborative project management tools like Asana or Other communication tools include engaging in quick chats using web conferencing, Jabber, Google Hangouts, and other electronic tools.
  1. Avoid Isolation 
    Loneliness can effect employee productivity and engagement. Managers can battle isolation of their team members by checking in regularly. Consider running an impromptu virtual meeting or daily standup to start the day. Keep in mind, however, that not everyone wants to interact in this way. By staying flexible, managers can handle each person's needs with tact. Remote work works, but not in a vacuum. Consistent communication is crucial to maintain a high-functioning remote team. Asking questions in a regular cadence allows managers to create a culture where employees feel heard, stay productive, and remain accountable—even when team are physically dispersed.
  1. Set Clear Objectives
    Make sure team members understand objectives and expectations. That includes expectations of leaders. What can the team expect from their manager? Clear expectations and objectives can help avoid burnout caused by leaders who do not set boundaries on start and stop times. Ensure your team members are clear on expectations, but also remain flexible. Change is inevitable!
  1. Be Flexible
    As employees adjust to the "new norm," keep in mind that some must focus on childcare, children's distance learning, as well as getting the job done—all of which can overwhelm an employee. Allow team members the flexibility to use any of the 24 hours in a day to complete assignments, provided they meet deadlines. Also, be mindful of personal preferences in pace and learning style. Some employees may find remote work new and uncomfortable, while the same arrangement may offer better work-life balance for others.
  1. Practice Compassion and Self-Awareness
    Leaders will experience different emotions during this crisis. There are few or no answers, which can be stressful. Managers must recognize their own emotions before addressing the fears and anxieties of those they lead. Self-awareness is key to understanding triggers of different emotions. Various methods of reflection and meditation, for example, can support such self-awareness. By practicing self-compassion as well as empathy for others, managers can remain mindful that everyone may experience anxiety due to uncertainty about world business and social environments. Now is the time to build strong remote relationships and connectedness.
  1. Maintain Regular Meetings and Feedback
    Whether their teams are working in the office or at home, truly effective managers provide meaningful feedback to each person on the team. Leaders can easily forget to offer regular feedback when they are not interacting with their teams in person. However, virtual feedback can be just as effective as face-to-face discussions. Distance from an office and team can contribute to employees feeling detached from the organization's bigger purpose and larger goals. Regular meetings, whether conducted by phone or video conference, can help managers understand what employees are working on, where they're stuck, and what they've accomplished. Such understanding can help leaders connect teams back to the organization's larger goals and ensure the employee's feel supported.

Build relationships to enhance culture

Every relationship is personal, and those cultivated at work are no exception. Every interaction affects our everyday lives; providing space for honest feedback will strengthen the quality of these connections. It is through interpersonal relationships that leaders build strong cultures for great companies, allowing personal success to reach higher heights. Savvy leaders can mediate across physical distance with smart tech choices and creative activities. This will be even more important as some team members will choose to "go back to the office" while others may choose to stay remote.

There's no doubt that teamwork across distant locations has become normal in a highly interconnected global workplace. Forging stronger connections with team members is crucial to ensuring organizational goals stay the course. During this time of uncertainty, managers can demonstrate trust in their teams, support overall organizational wellbeing and face the future with confidence.

Remember, we are all in this together!

If we at Gallagher's Leadership and Organizational Development team can help you measure the engagement of your remote teams and design a strategy to strengthen their effectiveness, please contact me.