But managing a team in the office is different from having everyone working from their kitchen counters and spare bedrooms. Some managers will have trust issues; others may not realize the importance of maintaining the more human aspects of connecting with their people.
Here are five suggestions for helping managers more successfully lead employees working from home:
Teach them to coach
This might be a good time for leadership training that helps managers understand the difference in coaching and bossing. Micromanagement is never the best approach, but it’s particularly likely to backfire with remote employees. Help managers learn to build on their team’s strengths, to convey belief in their abilities and to inspire performance rather than exert control. The coaching habits your managers develop during the pandemic will continue to serve them and their teams well, even after many employees return to the office.
Permission to flex
For some employees, working at home is just a more relaxed version of the office. They can attend video meetings with no more prep than slipping on their Zoom shirts. But for others, there’s a whole lot going on in the background. They might have kids at home who need help with their online classes. They may be working in the same room as their partner, who may have Zoom calls of their own, sometimes simultaneously. They could have multiple people asking what’s for lunch. Encourage your managers to provide the flexibility their people need.
Turn video on
For many, it’s just easier to keep the camera off during video meetings. You don’t have to worry about how your hair looks, or even bother with that Zoom shirt. But people feel more connected when they can see each other’s faces, and we need employees to feel all the connection we can muster during this extended period of working from home. If you can encourage your managers to keep their video on during meetings, their employees are more likely to do the same. That helps replace a small fraction of the face-to-face interactions they’d have in the office.
Working remotely eliminates that spontaneous collaboration that might happen when employees bump into each other in the hallway or wait for their turn at the coffee machine. But the need for collaboration, both within teams and between them, remains. Help your managers consciously encourage collaboration in a more structured way. They can build in time in team meetings to share any challenges that could benefit from input from the whole team. And with issues that require the expertise of other teams, they can help steer their people to the right collaborators.
Build in social time
Work relationships grow stronger when employees can relate to each other in ways that go beyond the job. When we’re in the office, that sort of social interaction happens more organically. Managers of remote teams can support those human connections by starting or ending meetings with a little chit chat or a check-in with what’s going on personally for each team member. Or they could sanction social time during work hours by scheduling video coffee chats, happy hours, trivia contests or other friendly meet ups.