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Managing your team while they work from home

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Independent retail advisor Henri Davis shares tips on long-distance team management.


So here we are in week 3 of working from home and it is a short week, too! For all those working in new ways, if you are lucky enough to get the whole long weekend off, you will need it, even though you are not able to leave the house for any length of time. Regardless, it is a chance to stop, relax and review where we are 3 weeks into this ‘new world.’


Last week I shared some thoughts, ideas and practical tips on ‘wfh’ (working from home), organising your day and how different it might need to be compared to a day in the office. This week I thought I would share some thoughts on issues some managers might be facing as they get used to managing their teams remotely.


While huge numbers of companies have decided the most effective thing to do for the moment is to furlough some or all of their team, other businesses are actually very busy and for some of those managers feeling comfortable with their team, wfh may be a challenge.


I am not in that situation currently, but over the last 17 years I have managed many teams remotely and indeed been managed remotely too, so I thought I would share some tips which I hope will help. As always what works for one may not work for another, but I hope these ideas spark a chain of thought that might be helpful for you.


The first thing is that if this is new to you then you are lucky to have worked with your team in an office environment before now, which means you will all know each other to a degree and should have the basis of a working relationship. You should all know what each other likes and dislikes, their strengths and weaknesses.


The team will want to be supporting the business to ensure it succeeds and is still viable as we come out of this virus lockdown; they will do their best to make sure this happens, as they want to have a job at the end of this.


I always found the most important thing about managing a team remotely was that you have to trust them to do the work required. If you are clear about the task, know they have the skills to do it and the deadline is realistic, then you have to trust that it will happen - ‘when’ can be more flexible than if you are in an office. In honesty if they do it at 10am or 10pm it doesn’t matter, as long as it is done to the standard required by the deadline.


You need to manage the team workload as you did before; a lot of what you did will still work now so keep as much of it as is viable - familiarity will help everyone feel at ease and in control.


Things may have to change a bit; a number of your team may have children at home. You may need to use different processes, or there maybe IT limitations so the whole team may need more time to get things done. If so, you will need to replan what can be achieved by when, in which case arrange a team call to discuss this and explain so everyone understands.


If you are resetting expectations of what can be achieved, agree the detail with each individual - they will appreciate your support and understanding and it will take a lot of pressure off them. Make sure they understand you don’t think they are being lazy or a failure, for many it is just not possible to work at full capacity at the moment.


Checking in with individuals is important, some may be feeling very lonely and isolated so you need to ensure they are coping OK and be supportive and help them get used to it. But it doesn’t need to be a formal call or email. Depending on how you relate to one another in the office, it might be that having a group Whatsapp could work for you, in which case a morning greeting or thumbs up and a joke across the group is enough to see everyone is involved.


Or a ‘buddying up’ of various team members who get on well, particularly if there is a new team member who needs additional direction as they are still training and learning and they may not feel part of the team yet either.


And then there is the wider team - they need to keep a bond, feeling part of something bigger. Is there someone in the team who is good at organising events in the office? Could they be responsible for organising a weekly coffee chat or Friday afternoon catch ups before the weekend? And what about birthdays, if you normally have team cake in the office you need to find a way of doing this on a team video, maybe Zoom or similar, and keep it light and fun.


All of this takes time and you still have your work to do and you may have children at home too. You can’t do everything either, so if you have people in your team you can rely on to share some of this responsibility then you should do that. Many will be pleased to be asked to take on a wider role and make a difference for you.


However busy you are, you need to take breaks, eat properly, stop at the end of a day and relax at the weekend too. Remember no one should expect it to be perfect and it will certainly take a while for it to become something we are comfortable with, so don’t beat yourself up if it takes a while to sort out, and things may need to change. As this progresses the most important thing is that we all stay safe and well physically and mentally, so be kind to yourself and one another.

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