In March 2020, life came to a full stop. Suddenly, people and organizations across the globe were forced to figure out innovative ways of operating with whatever resources were available without knowing what lay ahead.
Thankfully, technology made it possible to instantly connect with others through virtual platforms such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams. Schools, organizations, and families everywhere turned to virtual options to access people and information. Not surprisingly, those who were thrust into working from home without any time to plan or prepare found themselves struggling to adjust. Early on in the pandemic, a group of Harvard researchers conducted a survey and found that 41% of leaders were unprepared for managing remotely and 40% of leaders struggled to engage remote team members.
Remote work teams have now become the norm, and employees have overwhelmingly expressed a desire to keep it that way. Although there are many pros to working remotely, including better work-life balance, no commute, and higher productivity for many, there are some built-in challenges that need to be addressed. As managers look for ways to improve relationships and build strong workplace cultures, it’s important to clarify goals, enhance communication strategies, and identify expectations so that all teams, including remote employees, are in sync.
Whether working remotely or not, the role of a manager is clear: to support and incentivize employees and effectively oversee the processes that help achieve organizational success. Managers are now faced with the additional task of figuring out how they will effectively lead and connect with their staff without being physically present.
Here are five steps leaders can take to improve their remote workplace culture:
One of the most important things you can do as a manager is to effectively communicate expectations across the board. Things such as work hours, project scheduling, and other process expectations should be clearly outlined so that employees can plan accordingly. In a remote setting, you can achieve this through video calls and written documentation. By providing employees with diverse ways to access information, you will avoid confusion and make it easier for them to reference resources as needed.
In addition to meeting with your staff as a team, it’s important to make time for ongoing check-ins with individual team members. This can be a small but critical way to build relationships with your employees and create opportunities for them to ask questions, address concerns, or request support if needed. Oftentimes, an employee may not feel comfortable asking a question or raising an issue in a group setting, and these more intimate meetings can provide a safe space for doing so.
As a manager, you’ll want to make these meetings brief and informal, as well as reasonably spaced out. If they become too frequent or demanding, they can have the opposite effect. You may also consider using tools other than video conferencing so that employees can access you more conveniently when needed. The important thing is that employees feel seen, heard, and understood.
The beautiful thing about working remotely is that, when given the freedom, employees can work at a pace and schedule that works best for them. No longer constrained by the standard 9-5 work hours, employees can choose times in their day when they are most available, energized, and productive.
Managers will want to focus more on the performance and final outcomes rather than enforcing rigid work hours or concerning themselves with the unconventional habits of employees. As long as it is not disruptive to the team, whether employees choose to work in the middle of the day or at midnight, the important thing is that they are accomplishing satisfactory work outcomes. The quality of their work should speak for itself.
While it’s true that employees seem to favor working from home, it can lead to blurred lines when it comes to setting clearly defined work boundaries, such as when it’s time to “log off.” Distractions such as children, pets, and the occasional nap are sometimes unavoidable and should be met with understanding and flexibility.
By acknowledging the existence of distractions and showing reasonable leniency around them, managers can foster a sense of trust and respect. Obviously, if the distractions begin to interfere with the quality of work, a conversation will need to take place.
In addition to the above suggestions, managers can find creative ways to humanize their remote team culture with small acts of kindness and gestures, such as publicly acknowledging successes, celebrating birthdays, sending handwritten thank you cards, scheduling time for team building, etc.
As the remote team workplace continues to evolve, the willingness to learn and grow in your own role, and trusting that you have the right people on board, will help you foster a healthy work relationship for all. By staying open, committed, and flexible, you can lead the way to building a welcoming and motivated remote team culture.