This week we’ve received so many calls like this from managers faced with implementing new work from home policies.
“I get the safety issues, I really do. But my team is used to being together in the same office. We collaborate all day long. That’s what makes us so successful. I’m concerned that this work from home policy is going to tank engagement, stifle communication and reduce productivity. What can I do?”
“I love sitting out on the floor with my team. That’s how I know what’s going on. How can I stay connected if everyone is working from home?”
“The timing couldn’t be worse. We’re in the middle of a huge project. How can I ensure my team stays focused when they’re working from home and distracted by fear?”
5 Ways to Keep Your Team Productive and Engaged While They Work From Home
These are all very real and legitimate concerns. Not everyone is cut out to work from home.
And it’s tricky to lead a remote team, particularly if you never have before.
So how do you keep your team focused and engaged when working from home is the only option?
1. Require video for your meetings and one-on-ones.
Your team may resist. Be clear from the beginning this is not optional. Being able to look one another in the eye leads to better listening (body language matters) and prevents multi-tasking.
This human connection is even more vital now that we’re all afraid to shake hands and see every human we interact with as a potential threat to disinfect.
2. Formalize informal communication.
When you’re in an office it’s natural to connect first before jumping into work. “How was your weekend?” When everyone is working remotely, it’s tempting to skip the small talk. Be deliberate about finding ways to communicate at a human level.
Last week, we sat in on a remote team meeting where they started with a virtual chorus of happy birthday. Not the best rendition we’ve ever heard. But, it was a brilliant minute well spent as everyone laughed before jumping into the stressful topic of coronavirus contingency planning.
Here’s a list of meaningful icebreaker conversation starters to keep your team connecting.
3. Over-communicate your most important priorities.
Your team is likely stressed and distracted about their health and the health of the vulnerable people they love, tanking stock prices, and what’s going to happen next. On top of all that, now they have a new routine at work. In times of uncertainty and change, you’ve got to overcommunicate more than you think is necessary.
Mix it up with as many techniques as possible For example, you can start the day with a quick team huddle (over video of course). Then follow-up with a recap email. Up your frequency of one-on-one check-ins. And be sure you’re deliberately asking your team for their best thinking for ways to work effectively in this new environment Or look for more creative ways to reinforce key messages such as starting an internal podcast.
4. Encourage people to work together (without you.)
When everyone is remote, it’s easy to become the hub for all communication. Which of course is a huge time suck for you and a missed opportunity for them. Assign people to work on projects together (over video). Encourage brainstorming and best practice sharing (over video). Consider assigning collaborative homework in advance of your team meeting or huddles.
Take time to establish new norms for your remote meetings. How will you ensure everyone participates? What’s the rule on multi-tasking? See How to Take Charge of Your Remote Meetings, for a quick primer you can share with your team.
Just like any other change, a shift to a work-at-home policy will take some adjusting for you and your team. Be sure you’re checking in with your team to see what’s working and what more they need from you and from one another.