As if managing a team didn’t have enough challenges – 2020 has certainly thrown up a few more! It can be difficult to keep on top of performance and welfare in the usual work environment, but it can be even more tricky when some or all of your team are doing their jobs entirely from home.
But as always, there are plenty of things you can do to adapt in the same way, and keep those healthy, trust-based relationships alive and well – which is even more important when working from home looks set to be standard practice for the foreseeable future.
There are two traps which managers can fall into when their staff are working in a different location to them. The first trap is micromanaging – constantly emailing, calling, and scrutinising every piece of work in much greater detail than normal, perhaps for fear of losing control of performance. The other is the opposite extreme – offering little or no guidance about what needs to be done, and reducing the amount of communication and feedback that they normally offer, perhaps for fear of losing control of staff welfare. Both are done with good intentions, but neither supports your team in the way they need it.
The micromanaging leads to extra stress and overwhelm about getting it right; the withdrawal leads to stress and anxiety about whether they’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing.
So what do you need to do instead? The answer is to strike a balance between the two. Here are a few habits to get into to make sure you’re filling the gaps that working apart is creating. Thinking about what those gaps are is a great place to start.
1 – Team Meetings
If you usually use a weekly team meeting to set clear, achievable tasks for each person, and to catch up on where they are with last week, then keep doing that. Whether it’s a phone or video conference, give everyone the chance to get together virtually, just as they would in the workplace. Make sure there’s plenty of time allowed for questions and clarifications – there may be more time than usual needed for this when they can’t just ask each other in person over the course of a normal day.
2 – Personal Catch Ups
Even if you didn’t allow time for one-to-ones before (and it’s good practice to do so), make sure you build them in now – weekly if you can. It’s more important than ever to make sure each member of staff is feeling supported, because you now have much less opportunity than usual to find out anecdotally or informally if all is not well. Make sure, when you have these conversations, that you always ask the question: “How are you, really?”. This will go such a long way towards building the honest relationship you need.
3 – Be Flexible
Working from home is very different to working in the office. There may be children around, or your staff may have other caring responsibilities that need to be juggled. The environment is different. Be flexible – if things go wrong, trust your staff to take care of the problem as soon as they can. If you have set clear and achievable tasks, allow them to complete them around the obstacles that get thrown in their way, and understand when things go wrong. If problems persist and start to impact on achieving those tasks, have an honest conversation about what needs to happen, and listen to what they have to say in return. You will be able to come to agreement, just as you would in the work environment, about what needs to happen to make it work for everyone.
4 – Give Praise and Say Thank You
Don’t forget to praise a job well done. It can be extra difficult to meet those targets under the current circumstances, so recognise your staff’s contributions where appropriate. It will always be appreciated; and don’t forget to say “thank you” for the small things, too. These small thankyous, given throughout the working week and not just after a large piece of work, are the building blocks of trust; they will show your team that you’re a manager who cares about and appreciates what they do.
The basis of any successful relationship is trust and honesty. Make sure you’re continuing to build that trusting, honest relationship you need with your staff to get the best from them, and to support you in what you need them to deliver – because ultimately, it will benefit the welfare and job satisfaction of everyone.