Due to the recent outbreak of the global pandemic known as COVID-19, organizations have been thrust into a work arrangement that many have been slow to embrace: working remotely. As you manage a virtual team of remote workers, it is important to be intentional about all of your interactions and planned outcomes. Within this toolkit, are some helpful topics for supervisors to consider.
Before exploring the best practice tips within this guide, it's important to understand the benefits and drawbacks of a remote working arrangement, so you can balance both in your management practices.
The Benefits of Remote Working
- Increase in operational savings
- Increase in productivity
- Increase in collaboration
- Higher retention rate of employees
- A bigger pool of candidates from which to recruit
- You’re able to continue operating amidst COVID-19
The Drawbacks of Remote Working
- Minimal face-to-face interaction impacts connectedness & trust
- Team priorities & goals can get lost
- Communication can be tricky when technology issues arise
- Misunderstandings/misinterpretations are more likely
- Most business owners & managers don’t know how to effectively manage a remote workforce
BEST PRACTICE TIP #1
How to maintain communication with your virtual employees.
Establish a clear plan for communicating with each member of your team.
- Determine the best mode. (Phone, email, Skype, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, etc.)
- Make sure everyone knows how to use the selected communication platform.
- Set a schedule for regular communication that works for your team’s needs. (Every morning, twice a day, several times a week, etc.)
Establish a clear plan for your team’s communication with key stakeholders.
- Make a list of who needs to be updated and what those communications will be.
- Communicate within your team about the status of those communications.
- Reach out to stakeholders, providing updates as needed.
BEST PRACTICE TIP #2
What to consider as you assess and determine the technology needs for your team.
Do an equipment and capability inventory.
- Do your team members need company-issued equipment to work remotely, or can they use a personal computer?
- Do they have a strong, secure home internet connection?
- Do they have the necessary hardware, software, and access to shared drives?
- Do they have proper security systems installed on their systems?
- Do they have a physical space to work uninterrupted?
- Do they have contact information for remote IT support?
- Set your employees up for success while working from home. Give them the tools they need to do their job well and remain connected. Look into cloud-based technology such as Google Drive, Slack, Workplace by Facebook, and the Microsoft Workplace Analytics tool.
- Always remember to stick to no more than three technology platforms
Determine other options when necessary.
- For employees who do not have the technology available or whose work is not usually carried out over the computer, what projects or professional development activities might be possible during this time? (Review suggestions on professional development activities below.)
Prepare employees for basic technology etiquette during remote meetings. Provide guidelines, for example:
- Log on at least 10 minutes ahead of set schedule to resolve tech issues and start on time, without interruptions.
- Mute the microphone when you are not talking. Deactivate the video setting if you don’t want to be viewed during the meeting while using videoconference technology such as Zoom.
- Consider using earbuds to reduce echo if you experience feedback during the call.
- If you have to step away during the call, notify the group in the chat window.
- Make sure you dress for the occasion; even when participating in videoconference meetings. Make sure you’re clear on the attire expectations so your team doesn’t have any awkward mishaps.
- Be sensitive to your employee’s at-home situation. Do they always need their video camera on for every meeting? Make it known to them when they need to have the guarantee of no background noise (such as pets, children or a ringing doorbell), versus when the meeting is more casual.
- Make sure your employee handbook and policies have clear and updated guidelines for the acceptable use of technology, to reflect remote working arrangements.
BEST PRACTICE TIP #3
Put a workflow plan in place; think through what work can be performed by your team remotely.
Review job descriptions and identify tasks that can be performed remotely.
- Prioritize critical and high impact tasks.
- Discuss which critical tasks cannot be performed remotely and generate alternative plans.
Identify long-term projects or tasks best accomplished when dedicated time is available.
- If possible, ask employees about “wish list” or “pet” projects they have been wanting to pursue.
- Make the most of this time to engage in these projects, which may be valuable in the long term but may not have otherwise been given the time to complete pre COVID-19.
BEST PRACTICE TIP #4
Put a plan in place to ensure your employees are staying productive.
Like any other project, establish and clearly communicate a plan and goals for each task identified.
- Clearly communicate priorities and expectations to hold employees accountable.
- Set appropriate deadlines.
- Maintain communication around the status of projects.
- Ask employees for feedback on areas where they need support.
- If projects are extended, are there deadlines along the way that can be established to help to keep everyone on pace?
- Don’t micromanage but set check-in milestones regularly.
- Consider using technology such as Microsoft Workplace Analytics to track individual productivity.
Identify standard methods for communicating required tasks and obtaining status updates on projects.
- Be clear about what you need to know and discuss with your employees, the ways to communicate information that works for both you and them.
- Is there a folder or shared drive your team can use to maintain a schedule and post completed project components? Is email the easiest approach?
Establish time tracking methods to ensure accurate timekeeping.
- What kinds of check-ins would work best for your team?
- What method is the most effective for everyone?
- *Review the section about managing non-exempt employees for specifics on FLSA compliance.
Take necessary steps if you do have suspicions that an employee is abusing remote work.
- Reiterate or clarify productivity expectations.
- Request that the employee send work in progress at set milestones.
- If improvement is not seen, discuss your concerns with the employee.
- If necessary, reach out to your HR Department for guidance on how to handle this. If you don’t have an HR department, please feel free to contact Decision Associates Executive Consultant, Elizabeth Cipolla, SPHR, SHRM-SCP at 716-490-2889 or firstname.lastname@example.org for some general guidance.
BEST PRACTICE TIP #5
Educate yourself about compliance considerations when managing non-exempt employees remotely.
Make sure your non-exempt staff are provided a clear and specific expectation of working hours.
- It should be clear to non-exempt employees that they should not work outside of their normal working hours unless they have received prior approval.
- Non-exempt employees’ hours worked are calculated based upon the time when they actually start work until the time when they actually end work. For example, work starts when they sit down and start their computer.
Ensure your non-exempt employee understands the expectations associated with tracking time and discuss whether there are any modifications needed to track time while they are working remotely.
- It is critical for your non-exempt employees to understand the length of time and frequency permitted for breaks. Break time must be properly tracked while working remotely.
- Employees need to understand that when taking unpaid meal breaks (usually 30 minutes or more) that they must not perform any work during that time.
- Check with your HR Department for further FLSA requirements pertaining to meal breaks, break times, and tracking hours for non-exempt employees.
- Please also refer to this FLSA fact sheet from the United States Department of Labor.
BEST PRACTICE TIP #6
Think about how to keep your employees engaged and motivated.
Build trust by communicating with transparency.
- Be honest about expectations for productivity while your team is working remotely.
- Share your intentions of being available to support their work.
- Be sure that employees know what your goals are, too. It will give them a sense of direction.
- Touch base on whether expectations are realistic. Be aware that some employees may unintentionally work longer hours when not confined to a typical work schedule. Try to stay on top of the hours your team members are working so you can address excessive hours; especially for non-exempt employees. Remember, it is important to promote a healthy work/life balance.
Stay a team. Have fun!
- Encourage employees to share their concerns with you, and be forthcoming about your own concerns, when appropriate.
- Convey a sense of positivity that any concerns you or your team may have can be addressed.
- Consider how your team can still enjoy each other’s company. What fun can you build into your virtual meetings or communications? Get creative. Ask team members for suggestions. This can help to relieve feelings of isolation that can occur when employees work remotely.
Always remember the importance of professional development as an area of focus.
- Work on your employees’ development plans. Have you received feedback on technical or interpersonal skills that need improvement? Target these areas.
- Read! Catch up on those books, journals, and papers that you have wanted your team to read that can help you all in your particular roles. What can you provide or share digitally?
- Tackle long-term tasks or projects that bring value to your organization. What is a program you have wanted to develop? What are some trends you would like to explore that might bring value to your organization?
- Consider reinventing your systems of organization. Would you be more effective in your role if your files were better organized, or if you had a better way to follow up with your key stakeholders?
- If you could create a virtual learning “playlist” for your staff, what would you include?
- Have a topic area you’d like to engage your team in? TED Talks on a variety of topics can be viewed remotely and then discussed virtually.
- Stay connected. Now is a great time to reach out to your professional contacts to have richer conversations, brainstorm and problem solve.
BEST PRACTICE TIP #7
Practice self-care. Keep yourself engaged and informed, too.
- Check in with yourself. What do you need to get a better handle on? What do you need to know from your own manager that would help you to better manage your team?
- Check in with your colleagues. What are other supervisors doing that is working well for their teams? Can you create a regular meeting with others working in similar roles?
- Give yourself a break. You deserve it