8 remote work lessons: Stay agile and expect surprises

Are you suddenly managing a remote team? Set your team – and yourself – up for success with these real-life lessons learned
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how to lead remote teams

For some companies, having employees work from home is a new concept. For others, it’s standard operating procedure. But even for the latter, the disruptions and challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic have presented a whole new degree of difficulty because it’s no longer only a relative few who are working from home – it’s now the entire enterprise.

At my company, remote workers have been a fact of life for nearly 20 years already, and we’ve had the ability to transition the entire company to working remotely since 2015. But even with the processes and best practices we’ve put in place over the years to protect against any adverse impact on our business or our clients, there have been a few surprises.

Here are some lessons we’ve learned on how to successfully manage a remote workforce.

1. Make sure your employees are properly set up

Start by ensuring that your employees are properly equipped with VOIP phones, VPN connections, and any other tools they need to do their jobs remotely. Streamline your requisition processes so people can easily get the gear they need. Without it, responsiveness to customer needs and team collaboration might take a hit at critical junctures or even hamstring your entire business.

[ For more advice on leading remote teams, read Remote teams: How to build a culture of accountability. ]

2. Centralize required resources

Have a single-source-of-truth repository for important documents as well as a scrupulously updated intranet that provides access to policies and procedures, FAQs, and more. Better yet, after they’ve been working remotely for a few days, ask your team what shared resources they need most. Avoid unfortunate surprises: Discovering multiple versions of a contract or key project document will create headaches for everyone, including customers.

3. Maintain close contact

Do regular “virtual walkarounds” to touch base with employees on a one-on-one basis, hold regular webchats with the team, and consider hosting an online happy hour every Friday to maintain team morale and foster a sense of community. Set a positive example by ensuring that everyone, including senior leadership, is using webcams and collaboration tools. If employees feel that management is disengaged while they’re working remotely, it could lead to attrition later.

4. Communicate proactively

There are plenty of tools available to help teams collaborate internally and enable communication between clients and prospects. It’s important to be proactive, especially with those clients: Instead of waiting for them to contact you, reach out and ask if they’re anticipating a problem or a need so you can address it first.

Also, remember that some clients may be accustomed to in-person service and are unsure of how to connect with a work-from-home account or support teams. Get out in front by providing contact info and setting up collaboration channels before they ask.

5. Adjust your management style

If you’re prone to micromanaging or “management by walking around,” you’ll need to learn to invest more trust in your team. Design goals, processes, and responsibilities around the notion that employees will think and act for themselves and stay productive and focused even when there’s no one looking over their shoulder.

For example, you might delegate more and limit your involvement in a project that might otherwise require tight, in-person control, so make sure your team has the training and guidelines it needs to act with more independence.

If you're prone to micromanaging or "management by walking around," learn to invest more trust in your team.

6. Stay agile

Where we’ll be in six months is anybody’s guess. Even if the pandemic has diminished, there will likely be lasting effects on your company’s bottom line, operations, and industry, and the economy may still be fluid. There may also be factors that require permanent adjustments. For these reasons, it’s important to stay agile and flexible so you’re able to maintain business continuity.

For instance, your business may plan on a decline in the outbreak, but a sudden spike could throw plans off-track, or a new threat might arise that demands another shift in your company’s remote workforce strategy.

7. Focus on balance

For some employees, working remotely means work takes over their life. And while it may feel good to be productive and removed from outside problems during stressful times, it’s not healthy to lose sight of work/life balance. Life may be different while the world battles the pandemic, but it’s important to give our families, friends, and ourselves attention as well. Your employees will do a better job when they’re able to refresh and recharge themselves, and by recognizing this and supporting your team members’ work/life balance, you can help prevent burnouts that can affect the entire team’s performance.

8. Expect surprises

Finally, unexpected challenges will happen – even if you adhere to the advice above. Count on surprises, and stay flexible. This is one of the most important lessons to keep in mind when you’re transitioning your operations to work-from-home.

[ Want to build your leadership EQ? See 10 emotional intelligence must-reads for leaders. ]

Judith Tigner is Senior Vice President, Client Success at Mitratech, where she focuses on improving the client experience from implementation and beyond. Judith was formerly Director of Global Consulting and Training at SirsiDynix.