Best practices to manage remote workers
- Learn 7 tools and technologies your team needs to succeed while working remotely, from secure networks to collaboration tools.
- 3 tips for communicating well when you’re managing remote workers.
- 3 ways to ensure productivity in individual workers.
- 4 ways to keep your team on course with projects and tasks.
- 3 tips for alleviating fear and keeping morale high.
- 3 cyber safety steps for your employees.
- If this drags on? More things to consider as you manage remote workers.
If you’re like most of our producers and agencies, you and your team are now working from home. Indeed, millions of Americans – including all your “non-essential” clients, are currently subject to shelter-in-place or stay-at-home orders to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Employees across all industries have shifted to performing their jobs remotely. So what’s the best way to manage remote workers when we’re all at home, under some fairly heavy stress?
How do you lead your team amid a global pandemic that’s creating anxiety and uncertainty in the hearts of your employees and their families? And how do you help employees whose kids or elderly parents are now with them, creating all kinds of distractions while they’re trying to work? Can you hold employees to the same standards as before without creating all kinds of unprecedented stress on their wellbeing?
Glad you asked. We’ve compiled tips for managing remote workers from 12 different sources. Here’s what they said.
Managing remote workers: Making the sudden leap from office to home office
Many of us had just a day or less notice that we’d need to start working from home the next day. We experienced the panic of, ‘What do I take with me? What files do I need to send to myself? How much can I load up on this thumb drive and take home?’ Needless to say, we had little time to prepare.
“There’s a big difference between those who were already set up to work from home, and those who suddenly found themselves unprepared yet working from home,” explains Jimmy Curcio, Arrowhead’s chief strategy and analytics officer. “I liken the person preparing to work from home pre-pandemic as someone preparing to run a 5k. They set up their structure and their schedule, and after a few weeks or months maybe, they’re ready to roll.
“But those workers who had little time to prepare? They were told their 5k is tomorrow with no time to train. And run it with an 80-pound backpack. And in some cases, carry a child in each arm. A fussy, uncooperative child. The two are just very different.”
He said his job as a manager has shifted to two things: Taking each team member’s pulse regularly. (Are you OK? What do you need? How are you feeling?) And helping to provide the structure they need to be productive. He stressed taking care of those that may live alone, checking in on them once or twice a day.
Workers who had little time to prepare for this abrupt lifestyle change understandably have ups and downs, frustrations and concerns.
“Remind them that your chief concern is their wellbeing,” Curcio said. “Our minds and emotions are going from 0 to 100 and right back to 0, depending on what we’re seeing on the news, what’s happening at home, and so forth.”
Then there’s the added guilt and fear of, ‘Does my boss think I’m goofing off? Is it OK to miss an hour of work to grocery shop first thing in the morning when stores are better stocked? Is it OK to take a longer lunch hour so I can go for a walk and decompress? And now I’m supposed to be homeschooling – how do I work that in my packed day?’
“You’ll probably need to reset expectations on how work gets done – especially if your employees have kids,” he said. “You’ll need to be more flexible than ever before.”
Download free eBook: How to manage remote workers when everyone’s working from home
3 tips for alleviating fears and keeping morale high
Gallup has studied Americans’ fears and confidence during nearly every major crisis in the last eight decades — the Great Depression, Pearl Harbor and World War II, the Kennedy assassination, upheavals and riots in the 1960s, 9/11, the 2008 financial crash, and now the COVID-19 pandemic. They note, “If leaders have a clear way forward, human beings are amazingly resilient. There is a documented ‘rally effect.’
“During high-stress times, managers need to go back to the basics of clarifying expectations, reviewing material and equipment needs, and readjusting roles so that people can leverage their strengths in new ways,” Gallup said in a recent article. “Further, each employee needs to see how they fit into the bigger picture of the organization — its mission and purpose.”
Employees want to know four things, Gallup said:
- My leadership has a clear plan of action.
- I have everything I need to do my job.
- My supervisor is keeping me informed as to what’s going on.
- My company cares about my well-being.
With this in mind, what’s the best way to communicate with your employees? Admit you don’t have all the answers. Communicate without platitudes, authentically, clearly and frequently.
- Solicit feedback – and heed it. What assurances do your employees need to feel safe at work and at home? As best you can, address the questions regarding health and safety, emotional well-being, employee benefits and other external pressures your workers may be facing (financial challenges, childcare worries, elderly parents, etc.).
- Be willing to toss some rules. Based on employee feedback, it may make sense to bend or change established rules to address tangible health requirements or to simply convey support for people’s emotional needs. Communicate your willingness to work with your employees and their needs during this stressful pandemic. They will remember this long after the crisis has ended.
- Make allowances for parents working from home. Says Gallup, “How you manage and support these working parents — many of whom are acting as teachers as well — over the coming days, weeks and potentially months may determine their productivity, engagement and retention with your organization for the long haul. And more importantly, when this crisis passes, your people will remember how their leaders responded at a time when they needed you the most.”
- Read 2 more tips in free eBook: How to manage remote workers when everyone’s working from home
7 tech & tool tips for your remote team
“Thank goodness for modern technology that allows us to remain connected, bridging the lack of physical interaction,” Curcio said. “Although we’re working remotely, we’re still able to stay in touch with each other via so many avenues not available just a few years ago.”
He went on to list the tools your employees may need to be at their best while teleworking:
- High-speed Internet at home.
- A dedicated workspace away from the TV and the kitchen (where everyone seems to gather).
- Office phones are transferred to mobiles, to seamlessly receive client and company calls.
- If your agency has a VPN (virtual private network), ensure there’s sufficient bandwidth for access. (And remind employees to use robust passwords, because hackers are more active than usual, targeting teleworkers and their companies.)
- Headphones or earbuds with built-in microphone for greater clarity and less outside noise during calls.
- Video-conferencing tools such as Zoom, Join.me, Microsoft Teams, FaceTime, Skype or even Google Hangouts.
- Document-sharing platforms such as Google Drive, DropBox, Sync.com or Box.com. (Eliminate sending files back and forth via email; instead, store and manage all your assets in one place without version control issues.)
- Project management tools such as Monday.com, Slack, G-Suite, Trello or Asana for assigning tasks, building workflows for repeated jobs and tracking project progress.
3 tips for effective communication in a remote team
- To better accommodate families and work in general during these times, have frequent team check-ins to understand your team’s needs and be sensitive to their well-being.
- Schedule a regular update meeting (at least once weekly) so you can share top priorities and what’s happening in the company, and your group can share what they’re working on, roadblocks they may need help with and their accomplishments.
- Minimize pointless meetings. Always have an agenda; after the meeting, email out a list of actionable items and responsibilities.
“Without exception, every member of your remote team should be self-motivated and independently proactive individuals,” says Hubspot. “Without these qualities, productivity will suffer to great measure, and your agency’s growth will be stunted.”
“It’s not only about providing your staff with the right communication and collaboration technology and tools to get the work done, but also about instilling new work practices designed for remote work,” said Neilson Marketing in their white paper, How to make remote work work.
4 tips for ensuring productivity in individual workers
- Understand their different personalities. Determine what drives each team member to achieve. Some may require more encouragement and assurance than others. Some work alone just fine, needing no special oversight; others need more guidance and, let’s face it, more of your time. Introverts will thrive during this time; extroverts, particularly if they live alone, will need more interaction.
- Be flexible. We’ve discussed this in two earlier blogposts: Depending on their Circadian rhythm, different people have different productivity peaks. When possible, allow staff to work at their peak hours, whether they’re early birds or late-night owls.
- Read 2 more tips in free eBook: How to manage remote workers when everyone’s working from home
4 tips for keeping your team on course
Unless your group uses project management software, it’s difficult to know who has been exposed to project knowledge and updates. That makes communication doubly important, whether in writing, during one-on-ones or team meetings.
At the same time, it’s important not to try to micromanage. Says Sharon Emek, president of Work at Home Vintage Experts in a recent Insurance Journal article, “Employees need to establish their own schedules and routines that work for them, especially since they may be at home with spouses and children and have to keep different hours during this time. If you feel the need to micromanage, that means you don’t trust your people, and that means maybe you don’t have the right person working for you.
“It’s better if you let them know how you appreciate how hard they’re working from home and [how they make] your operation work, because without them you would have nothing,” she said. “And to respect that they’re doing the work – they will appreciate that you respect that they’re doing it.”
“Encourage your teams to create and stick to a routine,” Curcio added. “They need to have a beginning and an end to their workday. Close your door at the end of the day or cover up your computer if you need to.”
- Over-communicate. Set up clear communication procedures and regular calls, to keep team members in alignment on tasks and objectives. All those mini-conversations that kept your team updated when you all worked in the office are gone. Remedy this gap by communicating regularly in group meetings. Use video conferencing to help mitigate feelings of isolation. Help them to vocalize their concerns about the company, working at home and even the status of the virus.
- Set clear objectives. Each team member’s objectives should contribute directly to your business goals. Ensure team members understand the relevance of their task list in achieving these milestones. “Set clear expectations and a sense of individual accountability while respecting your staff’s time. Convey confidence in your messaging that as a team and individually the work will get done. Avoid micromanaging and understand that not every ping, email, and phone call is urgent and requires an immediate response,” said Neilson Marketing in their eBook.
- Monitor progress. Is each team member performing as expected? Here’s where one-on-ones may be vital. If an employee is underperforming, check in with them early and often (NOT micromanaging). They may have issues of kids at home that won’t leave them alone, which means you need to be open to letting them work into the night. If you have a tool in place such as Harvest or ProWorkFlow to track time spent on various projects, this will be a great help to manage remote workers. Take advantage of your agency management system as well, to track agents’ activities and their sales.
- Manage shifting priorities. When people from different teams email you with ad-hoc requests, it can be difficult to manage shifting priorities and maintain team alignment. Just emailing these updates can get lost. You need a method of keeping track of projects and priorities – even if it’s just a spreadsheet on Google Docs that you update several times a day, that your entire team can view and edit as well.
3 cyber safety tips for your remote team
Data security is hugely important right now, primarily because many employees are doing their daily work on their personal computers that may have less-than-adequate security measures. Issues you’ve probably already encountered: Should employees use their home computers, or should the company buy everyone laptops? What if other people in the household want to use the employee’s computer? You’ll want to establish very clear protocols and rules.
“The key here is security,” explained Curcio. “You need to make sure every single teleworker is on a secure WiFi, they have the latest virus software, their passwords are robust and updated regularly, they don’t leave their passwords somewhere where they may be found, and that they shut down their computer daily. Using two-factor authentication is a very good idea for accessing your VPN or other critical data.”
Is surveillance software necessary, allowing you to “spy” on your workers, to make sure they’re working and not watching TV, playing with the kids or cooking up a storm during work hours? That’s your call. If you’d like to explore that option further, Claims Journal has a good article on the topic.
As time goes on
Depending on the length of stay for our unwelcome coronavirus guest, there may be additional issues you may need to address with employees. If the stay-at-home orders continue for several more months, you may need to take a second look at these potential issues. (Read 5 potential issues and how to solve them in free eBook: How to manage remote workers when everyone’s working from home.)
Hopefully COVID-19 and our stay-at-home orders will be completely in our rearview mirror by later this summer. In the meantime, review our tips and share these with your commercial clients, to help you manage remote workers.
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