In the midst of COVID-19, a lot of managers are now asking themselves: “How do I manage people working remotely?”
First, don’t allow yourself to become so overwhelmed and distracted by the uncertainties—what you don’t know—that you lose sight of what you do know, and what you can control. Don’t become distracted and unavailable when your people need you most.
Second, you must establish a protocol for maintaining high-structure, high-substance 1:1 dialogues with the individuals on your team.
Coordinate times when you will both be working from a central location, such as the organization’s headquarters, so you can hold (appropriately distanced!) in-person, 1:1 time.
Integrated webcams and microphones may seem ubiquitous these days, but for some of your colleagues these technologies may not be readily available to them at home. Some of your direct reports may prefer to have a video chat via their smartphone or tablet than their laptop. Endeavor to find communication and remote meeting solutions that allow for multiple ways of connecting, but also keep things simple. You don’t want to create the added burden (for yourself or others) of managing multiple communication channels throughout the day.
Too often managers slip into management by interruption, and that’s no different for managers of remote teams. “Call me when you need me” can easily become an even more invasive and interruptive policy when everyone is working from home. Don’t allow your communication to become increasingly disorganized, incomplete, or random. Have the team agree on policies for using email, text, Slack, phone calls, and video chats. Decide when and how you will utilize each of the communication channels available to you. Establish ground rules and expectations for when and how people should respond to or monitor work-related communications.
Don’t allow your 1:1s to fall off the radar or down the priority list.
It is often a good idea to ask employees to prepare a written recap of highlights and key issues since your last 1:1, as well as open questions to discuss. Ensure any work product to be discussed is sent for review sufficiently in advance.
Immediately following each 1:1, ask the employee to send you an email recapping what was agreed on in your conversation: the actions they are expected to take, the steps they will follow, and the timeline; as well as the date and time of your next scheduled 1:1.
Our research shows that conducting face-to-face conversations—whenever possible—is much better than conducting your management conversations solely by text, phone and email. But email does have a built-in advantage: you and your direct reports create a paper trail. Save those emails and you’ll have record of your ongoing dialogues with each person. Structure your emails so employees can use them as checklists, or as the bases for crafting work plans, schedules, to-do lists, and other tools to help guide them in their work. For your part, you can use that paper trail as part of your ongoing tracking and documentation of each employee’s performance.