Over the last few days, we’ve seen countries introduce unprecedented lockdowns to try to stem the spread of the virus, including shutting down cities and restricting movement on public transport.

Home-working — asking your employees to work remotely from home by using the internet — is one of the best ways that businesses can play their part in reducing the spread of this virus, and in maximising productivity whilst these measures are in place. Working from home is an approach that many businesses might be unfamiliar with, though, particularly if you’re managing a remote team for the first time. 

Knowledge is the antidote to fear, so online learning experts ICS Learn - the Official Digital Learning Partner of the CIPD Middle East People Conference & Awards - have come up with some simple tactics that you can use to improve your management of home-working employees.

Why businesses must prepare to work from home

Before we delve into these methods, we cannot stress enough why it’s essential that businesses implement remote-working policies during this pandemic.

The most important reason is to slow the spread of the virus and protect people. Businesses have an essential role to play in stopping the spread of COVID-19 — workplaces are a playground for viruses.

These environments keep people together in close proximity for hours at a time and provide an ideal breeding ground for viruses. The science is simple: stop people from coming into the workplace, from using public transport and from mixing socially and you help to reduce transmission rates.

Social distancing — reducing your contact with other people — is an essential tactic to help slow and reduce the spread of this new disease.

A recent article by Tomas Pueyo on Medium.com, ‘Coronavirus: Why You Must Act Now’, which went viral (excuse the pun) explains this concept well and highlights the need for businesses to adopt social distancing measures immediately to flatten the epidemic curve and prevent ever-increasing infections.

In plain English, that means slowing the rate at which people are infected so that health systems can cope better with the pandemic, provide better care to those who are infected and so reducing deaths.

Secondly, implementing home-working policies will allow your business to mitigate any disruption from lockdowns and to keep working through the crisis. Homeworking makes sense from an economic perspective, as well as an epidemiological one.

So, now you know why you need to develop a remote working plan, what tactics can you use to manage teams who are working from home? Here is some tried and tested advice.

Set clear expectations and goals

You need to be clear with your remote team from the start about what you expect from them during their time working from home. You need to lay down some basic ground rules that everyone is comfortable with so that you can let go and leave people to get on with their work. 

Research from psychologists suggests that when we set a goal, our brains become emotionally invested in it. This motivates us to try to achieve that goal. Unable to distinguish between what we have and what we want, the brain treats failure to achieve a target as something personal. This is a great motivator.

The science says that setting clear goals will help to keep your team motivated and productive.

Have clear communication

Communication is one of the most important aspects of home-working — it can make or break the entire system. Good communication will make managing a remote working team relatively smooth, once you’ve got used to it.

How often you communicate with your team, and in what ways, largely depends on your approach as a manager. At a basic minimum, aim to have at least once conference call a week with your entire team, and daily check-ins with individual team members.

Standardising the apps and platforms that you use for particular purposes will also help to improve your overall communication as a team. Try designating platforms for specific purposes.

Make sure you communicate with your teams in advance of remote-working about the changes to their working routines too. Download any remote-working software that you need ahead of time and go through how to use this with your employees.

Make sure that everyone has the correct login details and passwords too, to prevent access mayhem.


Get used to video calls

Video calls are a great solution to the lack of social contact that working at home often causes. It’s also a great solution to the loneliness of self-isolation, where you obviously can’t meet with someone physically. 

Video calls are an effective way to communicate because they let you pick up on non-verbal communication cues — a vital form of communication that we use unconsciously. According to some studies, 70 to 93% of our communication is non-verbal. As a result, face-to-face contact feels intuitive, whereas written contact feels stilted and slightly cold.

Finding a good video conferencing app will help to maximise the non-verbal communication of a team and make communicating remotely seem just a little bit more human.


Have faith that your team will do their jobs

Trusting that your team will actually do their jobs whilst working from home and not just end up watching Netflix or painting the bathroom is a key thing that many managers struggle with when managing home-working teams for the first time.

To manage employees who are working from home, you’ll need to resist the urge to micro-manage. Direct supervision of remote employees is impossible — unless you were to install CCTV cameras in every team member’s home (top tip: don’t do this).

So, you need to build trust with your employees and let go of the reins a bit. You can do that quite well through setting clear expectations, being transparent about what you expect and when, and communicating regularly.

If you can’t trust your employees to do their jobs, why did you hire them to begin with?


Make use of small talk to combat isolation

Small talk might seem inconsequential, but it can be important— particularly if they haven’t seen someone else all day. Pandemics can be tough on mental health and the intense isolation that comes with working from home can exacerbate this.

That’s why small talk is a useful way to help your team keep their morale up. Small talk helps someone to feel acknowledged as a human, reminding you of your connection to others. In a stressful situation, small talk can help people relax and can bring a semblance of normality to an extraordinary situation, like a pandemic.

Small talk isn’t just good for mental health. Research suggests that it can also help improve planning, productivity and organisation.


Build capacity

Unless your company has used flexible working extensively in the past, it’s likely that most of your team members won’t be used to its unique demands. Remote-working calls for a specific set of skills that your team members will need to develop to be able to make the most of this style of work.

These include:

  • Critical thinking
  • Motivation
  • Time-management
  • Organisation
  • Familiarity with computers
  • Initiative

All of these skills can be learned, developed and enhanced in employees, so don’t worry if your team is lacking in particular traits at the moment. An easy way to identify training needs is to hold monthly one-to-one appraisals. This will let you provide clear feedback about what an employee is doing well, and what they need to improve on.

One-to-one appraisal video calls can be good for identifying the training needs of particular employees and setting targets for growth.


Create a culture of accountability

A culture of accountability needs to be embedded at the heart of your remote team to make homeworking effective.

Accountability means taking responsibility for your actions — it means being prepared to own both the successes and failures of a project. In the context of remote working, accountability is essential to completing projects on time and to a high-quality.

If you want to improve accountability in your business, providing regular feedback to help employees know what they’re doing well and what they need to improve on is essential. Again, holding one-to-one video appraisals and developing a personal development plan for each employee can help with this.

All pandemics end eventually and this one will be no different. Treat the need to work remotely during this outbreak as a business experiment into the feasibility of home-working at your organisation in general — you never know, you might learn something from the process.

Good luck. We hope that these tips will help you to ace managing remote teams during this period.


ICS Learn is the Official Digital Learning Partner of the upcoming CIPD Middle East People Conference & Awards taking place in Dubai on 2 - 3 September 2020. See the full line-up of speakers and book your tickets on www.cipdconference.com.

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