Lead From Home: Being a Strong Leader for Remote Workers

According to Zapier, half of the U.S. workforce is now working from home — and for the most part, they’re liking it. 80 percent of people say they can manage distractions better and 65 percent feel that their productivity has increased, but 66 percent prefer working in the office.

Why? Because they miss each other! Your team is exactly that — a team — and they’ve built a sense of camaraderie. They have little conversations on the side, they eat lunch together, they crack jokes, and they miss all that.

Of course, you can’t just snap your fingers and make everything go back to normal. Even if you bring employees back to the workplace, they won’t be able to sit near each other, have meetings in closed rooms, shake hands, hug, or work without masks. The fact is, with COVID-19 cases back on the rise, a lot of us are probably stuck working from home for a while still. 

While you can’t replicate all the little water cooler talks that your employees are missing, there’s plenty that you can do to keep your staff happy, efficient, and productive during their time working from home.

Be Flexible to the Individual

When you’re in the office, it’s easy to hold everyone to the same rules. Everyone shows up at the same time, leaves at the same time, and works in roughly the same place. But when everyone is at home, those rules change.

Some people have kids at home with them, since they can’t send their kids to school, camp, or friends’ houses. Some are sharing their workspace with a spouse who’s also working from home. Some have dogs to walk, since daycares are closed.

It’s also the case that not everyone is bright-eyed and ready to go at 9:00 a.m. after a cup of coffee. Some people want to jump right in at 6 in the morning before the day gets busy, some would rather work late into the night. 

If you want your team to be as productive as possible, you should be open to these variations in how people work. It’s fine to enforce certain times that people have to be available — lots of companies enforce “core hours” like 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. during which everyone has to be at their desk and responding to messages — but keep in mind that one of the benefits of working remotely is that your team can maximize their potential on an individual basis.

Prioritize Communication

When you’re at your desk, you can just shout over to the person next to you, “did you finish that project I asked for?” You can’t do that at home. Sure, you can send an email or an instant message, but you don’t know that it’ll be answered quickly. It can be hard to make sure that everyone is staying in contact about the things they need to talk about.

One good solution is to start enforcing an “availability” policy. Set up a communications tool like Google Hangouts, Microsoft Teams, Slack, Discord, or something similar so that your team can be in touch during the workday, even when they’re not at their desks. Ideally, you’ll be able to share links, images, documents, and tasks, too. The better your team can talk to each other (and to you), the better.

Establish Daily Check-ins

We call them “huddles.” Some just call them “meetings.” Whatever you want to call them, it’s a good idea to check in with the team on a daily basis, just to keep track of how everyone’s doing. That morning huddle can be structured however works for your company, but it should include some combination of:

  • Something social to get people talking. Ice-breaker questions or even talking about what they did last weekend is a good start.
  • A chance for everyone to get what they need in order to get their work done that day. They might need help from a teammate, certain resources, or they might be waiting on client feedback or the completion of another project. Whatever it is, the morning meeting is their chance to get it.
  • Company news. Everyone’s eager for updates in a time like this — does the company have enough business? Are you still taking on new clients? What changes are being made? Keeping your employees in the loop will keep them confident that management knows what they’re doing.

Keep Everyone Accountable

Project management software is your best friend at a time like this. You need to be able to keep track of what everyone’s doing, how they’re spending their time, and whether key deliverables are getting, well, delivered.

Of course, being overbearing isn’t helping any more than just leaning over people’s shoulders at the office. You need to strike a balance between control and trust, where you trust people to get their work done and check in on them when they don’t.

Relax

The fact is, everyone’s stressed right now. No one knows how much worse this crisis will get before it ends, when it will end, and what it will look like when it does. They’re worried about their jobs, their families, and their futures. They can’t be expected to be locked in and focused all the time, and you need to roll with that.

But it’s worth letting your employees know that you’re human, too. You’re worried about your family and your business just like they are, and your livelihood is their livelihood. That’s why it’s so important to stay calm, stay focused, and stay focused on what’s important — keeping your people sane and safe and keeping the lights on.

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