For many of us, the current situation is equivalent to the largest forced remote labor experiment to date. The burden of a sudden transition to remotework is felt strongly by managers who not only had to emergency adapt their teams to the current situation, but often bear the burden of maintaining business continuity. How do they deal with it?

I decided to ask about the real experiences and thoughts of my fellow managers who, like me, faced the challenges of sudden implementation of remote work and remote team management. Based on our conversations and my own experience, in the following article I will try to answer the following questions:

  • What are the biggest challenges for managers resulting from forced remote work and how to deal with them?
  • What are the management methods in the current environment?
  • Can we get any benefits from the current situation?

The challenges of the sudden transition to remote work, or what are managers struggling with?

Organization of work in the new reality

One of the biggest difficulties for managers was the sudden transition between office and remote work. First of all, the key was to ensure smooth operations, which was related to the reorganization of previous processes and the way teams functioned. For many companies, it was also necessary to select and implement new ones tools that will allow you to provide access to data, work quality control, more efficient communication and reporting. Appropriate allocation of resources was also important – especially in those people whose duties disappeared with the transfer of work “home” or who were associated with branches of the company whose activities slowed down during the epidemic.

The managers also had the burden of supporting the teams in organizing the working day independently and in arranging the place where they perform their duties. The lack of a physical border between the workplace and the place of rest, the need to reconcile work and childcare, or even the lack of access to a good-quality Internet connection were the first to affect the efficiency of employees.

After the first week of working from home, most of us had settled down and got used to functioning in the new conditions, and the managers faced another challenge – ensuring the effectiveness of the remote team and implementing “ quality control” methods ”.

The effectiveness of the remote employee

Concerns about whether an employee performing his duties” from home “really works have been with us for a long time and for many companies they were a real break in implementation remote work. So how do you know that with such a suddenly implemented change and additional preoccupation of employees with the epidemic, they will manage to maintain the appropriate level of motivation and focus on work ? It is possible, of course, to implement monitoring tools, but from the perspective of most managers, detailed tracking of every minute of work for each team member is simply impossible. So the team leaders had to switch from “I see people working” to “I see the effects of their work”. Moreover, the effectiveness of these activities and the results of the forced-remote teams’ work will be largely verified only in a few weeks, when we have to deal with project delivery or upcoming deadlines.

The long-term absence of the “clean exposure” effect can be an additional difficulty for management. When working with team members on a daily basis in the office, it is easier to mentor them, learn about and notice certain behaviors – both positive and negative. In remote work, it is much more difficult, and depending on how long the current situation lasts, it may hinder, for example, promotion decisions.

Communication and atmosphere in the team

Ensuring efficient and qualitative communication in a suddenly remote team has two faces. The first was the implementation of appropriate tools, which in most cases was relatively simple or even not necessary. After all, most of the popular messengers such as Slack, Google Hangouts or Skype offer video calls. Reorganizing the way we communicate was a bigger challenge. How often do I call? How to make us still feel part of the same team without seeing each other every day?

It is also difficult to maintain non-business relations and maintain a good atmosphere. Remote communication makes us focus more often on the merits of a problem and skip the topics that we usually talked about over coffee (and not at an officially convened meeting). It is also important that the inability to leave the house, the negative information provided by the media and the worsening situation related to the pandemic have a negative impact on our mental health, and thus on our motivation. Most of the employees are also probably concerned about their position and the risk of dismissal. The role of the manager is therefore not only to check whether the work is moving forward, but also to take care of the mental condition of the team members.

Increased number of duties (or too short a day)

Addressing these challenges means additional duties for managers. Especially since the number of problems and difficulties does not end with the above list. For most, however, this does not mean that their previous responsibilities have been relegated to the background. On the contrary, the threat to business continuity makes more tasks. A large part of managers’ time is also spent on re-planning activities and reacting to a dynamically changing situation. As a result, many managers work more today than ever before. Especially that the difficulty with “leaving work” associated with blurring the line between the office and home is just as acute for managers as for other team members.

Ways to deal with challenges

Number and type of meetings

The first step for many managers were changing meetings “weekly” to “daily”. Often, such daily meetings take the form of a short summary made by each team member on the following principle: what did I do yesterday, what will I do today, what are my problems? This method is commonly used in Scrum stand-ups to see how many things are actually moving forward and make employees reflect. After all, who would have to declare to the whole team that they did nothing the previous day? It is worth paying attention to the statements in the effected form – I am bragging about what “I did”, not what I “did”.

An additional element that is worth introducing are meetings “outside of work” – that is, meetings that under standard conditions would be a joint visit of the team for a beer or dinner. Implementation of, for example, popular in Denmark “Friday bars” and a virtual meeting with team members in less formal circumstances. Thanks to this, we gain space for jokes, exchange of private thoughts, and we have a chance to positively influence the motivation and sense of belonging to the team.

If meetings are only with video

People who have never worked remotely before may be reluctant to show themselves in front of the camera. The organization of video meetings is however crucial. Not only does it serve as an incentive to get out of bed and quit working in pajamas, but it helps to better replace the social relationships that we usually care about when meeting colleagues in the office. Live contact with another human being is essential for the proper functioning of our brain, and while it cannot be completely replaced, the videoconference will be closer to the “real meeting”.

The example goes from above

Managing employees in such difficult conditions is also a kind of leadership test – it is important that team members can draw a good example from the manager’s attitude and behavior. Regular progress reporting or sharing completed tasks should apply to all team members, including the team leader, without any exceptions. It’s also good to take care of the level of knowledge in the team – any manager’s hesitation or doubts will be even more visible and disturbing than usual in the current situation.

Can the current situation and the need to work remotely bring us any benefits? Yes!

Resource Verification

General tension and social anxiety mean that some employees can show off their “true colors”, which they masked before, e.g. by trying to look good in the eyes’ manager. Interestingly, this phenomenon does not have to be negative – displaying some previously invisible features may, for example, make us discover that a given employee will perform better in another position. And this, in turn, will allow for verification and better matching of tasks in the team.

Broadening the perspective

For companies where some employees previously worked remotely, the necessity to switch to remote work for all employees in the future may pay off with a better understanding inside the organization. After all, nothing is as good at increasing empathy and mutual understanding as walking in someone else’s shoes.

Time for creativity

Creative people tend to create extraordinary solutions in a situation of high comfort and peace. And these are usually easier to find working from home than in a noisy office. Paradoxically, the present situation may therefore be the perfect time to start working on a new project or to develop a difficult problem. Especially that the first stage of working on a new challenge is usually the research and planning process, for which direct contact with colleagues is not that important.

Efficiency

Efficiency is an area where managers should see not only risk but also opportunity. Working from home can translate into less wasted time (not moving around the company), better communication (getting things done online instead of going to a colleague’s desk) and more employee availability (fear of being accused of not working makes us more vigilant). Added to this is easier focus (not applicable to people with children) and time savings on commuting. As a result, our work efficiency may increase, and we will feel more productive.

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