8 Actions for Managing Teams Working from Home

8 Actions for Managing Teams working from home

Managing teams working from home is harder than managing teams working in the office. You don’t get to see for instance the pace of their work, when they are struggling, how they interact with others, and where their develop needs are.

When managing remote teams effectively, flexing how you manage others is needed. Most management principles and key skills remain exactly the same – just applied in a slightly different way.

To help you with managing remote employees, we are going through 8 actions for managing teams working from home

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8 Actions for Managing Teams Working From Home

  1. Setting Crystal Clear Expectations
  2. Establishing team rules
  3. 6 ways to over-Communicate
  4. Focus on Goals, not activity
  5. Show Flexibility
  6. Mentor more than Manage
  7. Prevent Burnout
  8. Encourage Social Interaction

There is an increasing focus on mental health and wellbeing as more of us are working from home without regular access to historical support networks. How to provide support, a chance to socialise and be a team together has become more important with greater home working.

At the end of the article there are 10 ideas to help you.

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Set Crystal clear expectations – The First Action for Managing Teams Working from Home

Whenever you are asking others to achieve a goal, solve a problem or do a task, being very clear with what you want from them is super important. When the team member is working from home, setting crystal clear expectations is even more important.

When setting work, a good place to start is to ask what their current priorities are and what they are working on. This helps you to work out where in the priority list you latest request should sit. Then you can ask them to complete pieces of work in a specific order.

Always set clear timeframes when managing remote employees. Check your team member is able to deliver to the timeframes you request.

Take the time to explain WHY you are asking for this piece of work. Explain how this piece of work fits into the bigger picture. If you can connect the work to the individual’s career goals and into the team and company goals, even better.

Make sure you always set SMART expectations.

For the higher performers or more experienced team members, think about delegating problems rather than tasks. This gives them a lot more to do and helps them build a range of skills that just doing tasks does not.

Ask them to summarise what you have asked for. This gives you feedback on how clearly you have set expectations. Do follow up the conversation with an email so you both have a reference point.

Missing Out on Office Communication

Establish team rules – The second Action for Managing Teams Working from Home

Establishing team rules when managing a remote team is a lot more important. Team members are not able to see your decisions and actions as they would be able to in the office. This makes it harder for them to judge what the rules are. To compensate, spend more time establishing the rules with the team.

You could tell them what you expect from them. You could coach them to a collective agreement, so they have more input and ownership. Or anything in between. Capture these rules in writing and share them.

Put procedures the team undertakes into writing and into process diagrams.  Share timetables of meetings and deadlines. These steps provide everyone with reference information to cover the basic expectations and rules expected of them – essential when managing teams working from home.

As always, only set rules that you are happy to live by personally. If you are not following the rules, no-one else in your team will take them seriously.

Communicating Objectives to Remote Teams

Over-communicate – The third Action

Communication is important in the best of times. It is consistently one of the biggest problems in any company. So spending even more time on communication will help in managing remote team members.

When managing teams working from home, I suggest you double the time you spend communicating. When working remotely, you miss out on lots of communication methods available in the office:

  1. Background conversations and questions and answers
  2. Conversations by the water cooler
  3. Ad hoc conversations in meetings or by people’s desks
  4. Whiteboards on the wall etc

This drop in informal communication when working remotely from the office can create big problems.

Here are 6 actions to over-communicate

when leading a remote team:   

  1. Share diaries within the team. Then everyone is able to check when team members are available. Sharing what you are working on helps foster open and honest working practices within the team.
  2. Book in a daily check-in meeting. Make the meeting short and cover the top 2-3 priorities for each person that day or week, with progress against each.
  3. Create collaboration opportunities with team members and between teams. Setting up tasks with two plus employees involved fosters teamwork and social interaction.
  4. Make extra time to praise great work, decisions, or actions. Positive reinforcement works and everyone enjoys receiving well deserved praise. Use team meetings, email and software to share the praise publicly when appropriate.
  5. Provide feedback through multiple mediums when managing remote team members. Call them, email them, text them, make a fuss of them at team meetings etc
  6. Use Project management tools to create visibility of the activities and project that everyone is working on. Creating visibility using software makes up for the lack of visibility that working from home creates.

When managing a team while working from home, make more time to communicate. Tell the team what is progressing around the wider business. Give them context and explain to them where they and their work fits into the bigger picture.

Show progress towards goals whenever you can. Over-communicate!

Focus on achieving goals, not tracking activity – The Fourth Action when managing remote team members

When you are managing a remote team, you can’t see what activity is happening as you would if everyone were in the office. If you try to follow the activity – say by requiring everyone to update progress daily in project management software – you risk micro-managing everyone

If you are managing a group of skilled employees, then any hint of micro-managing is the last thing you want.

Focus on achieving goals. Focus your team on executing and on achieving goals. If you have set crystal clear expectations and used SMART goals within these expectations, everyone should be clear on the goals to be achieved.

A very useful approach as a manager is to focus on how you can help the individual or team achieve the goals. Through helping, you have huge amounts of opportunity to find out exactly where progress has got to and what the issues are without a hint of micromanagement.

So spend time mentoring, coaching, supporting each person and getting the right resources in place at the right time for them to do a great job.

Focus on achieving goals, not tracking activity.

Show flexibility – The Fifth Action for Managing Teams Working from Home

Working from home gives everyone more opportunity for flexibility and to work in a way that suits them.

Think about those who rise late and work late, those who prefer to go to the gym at lunchtime, those with school drop offs…

Working from home makes fitting in all the non-work commitments and interests a lot easier providing their manager is flexible in their approach to these absences within typical working hours.

The flexibility working from home offers is a big perk to employees. For managers this flexibility is a strong talent attraction and retention tool. And lastly, checking when individuals are actually working, when at home, is very hard without for instance big brother software which would destroy trust.

Show flexibility. Focus on goals rather than when the activity is done. Trust your team member to meet the goals agreed in their way.

If certain employees consistently miss deadlines or don’t provide the output quality needed, then you can start more formal processes to get them back on track such as performance improvement plans.

Be flexible in your approach.

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Mentor more than manage – The sixth Action for Managing Teams Working from Home

If you are managing skilled individuals in office environments, I think taking a mentoring more than managing approach is a must. Skilled individuals have worked hard to acquire those skills. They are likely to be self-motivated, self-disciplined and have ambitions.

Focusing more on mentoring rather than traditional managing is a better way of harnessing your team members talents and keeping their motivation high.

Some of the features of taking this approach include:

  1. Providing support and help so they can get the task, activity or project completed quicker or better
  2. Sharing your experiences and learning so they can develop their skills quicker and to a better level
  3. A focus on developing their skills and career – which helps you, as manager, in a whole range of ways
  4. You extend trust until they give you reasons to withdrawn it
  5. Flexing your approach to in the individual and situation – to best meet their needs

In my view, most employees want to do a good job. As a manager, working to create the right environment, with the right resources etc so team members have the best chance of doing a good job is a no brainer.

When managing remote employees, this supportive approach becomes even more important especially as there are different problems to overcome, and you can’t see what is happening with each employee nearly as easily.

Managing teams working from home - features of mentoring

Preventing Burnout – The seventh Action

With more employees working from home more often, burnout has become a bigger issue. When you leave home to go into the office, you cross a clear barrier between home and work life. Over the years, technology has blurred this barrier.

Increased working from home and hybrid working has practically removed this barrier. When does work stop and downtime start?

As a manager it is in your interests to stop your team members burning out. If your team members do burn out, they are going to be off work much more. When in work they are going to be less productive. Burnt out employees are much more likely to leave your team too, which will cause you headaches and incur a lot of time and cost replacing them.

When thinking about how to manage remote employees, encourage employees to:

  1. create downtime in their schedules –particularly in the evenings and at the weekends
  2. help you in managing their workload and stress levels by giving you realistic feedback about them and their workloads
  3. encourage them to ask for help sooner rather than later – which reduces pressure and stress

Book in weekly one-on-one meetings with your remote team members and chat with them about their workload and pressures.  Get the insights you need to help manage their workloads and help them with their working practices.

Think carefully about the work you give team members and when you set deadlines. Make sure you are not the cause of your team members burning out.

Actions to Reduce Burnout

Encourage social interaction – The eighth Action for Managing Teams Working from Home

With a lot more teams working from home, we don’t have as much social interaction with colleagues within and outside our team.

Humans through time have existed in groups – we need social interaction. Forming personal and professional relationships at work helps with

  1. teamwork and general happiness at work
  2. getting things done because we are more likely to help those we know and like
  3. getting promoted. Promotion as much about relationships as being able to do a great job

When managing teams working from home, it is really important to work at overcoming the barriers to forming personal and professional relationships.

Book in more non-work events and activities to encourage people to mix and socialise. Include a range of physical and online, at different times so that everyone can attend some of the events.  Ideas include:

  1. Quizzes with prizes
  2. Team problem solving, riddles, and similar
  3. Challenges and activities:
    1. like everyone cooking a recipe and comparing
    2. scavenger hunts round the house
    3. Campfire – sharing stories, icebreakers
    4. Two truths and a lie – use your imagination
    5. Online bingo
  4. Meals or drinks together – as a group and one-on-one with breakout rooms
  5. Guess the refrigerator or desk – take a picture and ask team members to match picture to team member

Make sure they are fun, team orientated and help everyone get to know others on a personal level. Keep work firmly off the agenda. Bring in people from outside your team too.

Keep it fun and inclusive.

In Summary

In Summary, managing teams working from home uses all the normal management skills adapted to a different working environment.

Adjust how you use your management skills to be successful in managing a team while working from home. We have covered

  1. Setting Crystal Clear Expectations
  2. Establishing team rules
  3. 7 ways to over-Communicate
  4. Focus on Goals, not activity
  5. Show Flexibility
  6. Mentor more than Manage
  7. Prevent Burnout
  8. Encourage Social Interaction
Jess Coles Profile - Mgmt - ART

Managing teams working from home or remotely, I always found a lot tricker and harder, than managing teams in the office. You don’t have as many interaction points nor is the quality of the interaction as good.

Use these actions to adapt to manage your WFH / remote team more effectively. You have all the skills needed – adapting them will make you a lot more successful as a manager.

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