manny pantoja image for unsplash - remote work management tips for managers in the age of coronavirus by jo friedman

Are You Ready to Manage Your Team Remotely?

Your team has started working from home – how do you help them adjust and keep everyone happy and productive? Guest post by Jo Friedman

Five years ago, I was offered a job managing a product development team in a fully remote company. This would be my first time working outside a traditional office setting. I quickly read some books on the topic (e.g. Scott Berkun’s “The Year Without Pants”) and tried to get my head around how this was going to work. Over the past five years I have been responsible for hiring, employee development, compensation, work plans and daily management of employees across a dozen countries, and it’s been exciting, challenging and awesome every day.

Five years on, not only is remote work my normal, but suddenly in the current Coronavirus crisis, tech workers around the world are finding themselves setting up a desk and moving their daily work to home pretty much overnight.

So how do senior management and HR professionals make this work, especially when they themselves may have no experience with, or concept of how to manage a remote team?

Here’s a few places I suggest to start.

1. Take the Challenge!

Don’t be afraid that suddenly productivity is going to plummet, and that no work is going to get done. There are many successful fully remote companies out there that do this every day and have done so for a long time.
Most importantly, don’t forget that the same awesome, talented people are on your team that were on it yesterday; today they will even be more relaxed and productive as they won’t be wasting any time on getting to the office and they’ll be able to sleep a bit later. There’s no need to panic. This mindset change is critical to making a successful transition to remote work.

2. Socializing with no water cooler / coffee station

One of the most obvious impacts of working from home is that we won’t be chatting casually over coffee with our team members about the sport results and what your kids have been up to lately. We must NOT let this be the case.

It is absolutely critical to make time to socialize with our employees. I open every meeting, whether it’s a small management meeting, a larger development standup, or really any type of meeting to ask people how their weekend was, how their family are doing, how their recent vacation was. I also touch base often with many people across the team to chat about personal stuff. This will quite possibly feel a bit artificial at first, but is a key way to ensure a successful, happy and productive team. Encourage team members to socialize amongst themselves.

3. Regular check-ins

One of the very first things you need to do is establish structure and cultural norms for the new reality. Here’s some concrete suggestions to implement immediately.

G’morning/G’night: Encourage people to check in as they get online and start their work day. Replacing the morning banter at the coffee machine, this can really give a feeling of presence, of knowing who is in, who is out, who is on vacation. We have a specific Slack channel company-wide for people to say good morning, or let everyone know if they are going to an appointment, errand, or walk the dog. Likewise, people often say good night as they finish their work day. We also have our vacation tracking system post in that channel to give a further sense of transparency. I personally find that it gives a very real feeling of who is “in the office”.

Daily standups: Quick standup check-in meetings work just as well in a remote environment and provide structure to the day. Establish a time every day where each team can have a brief check in for 10-15 mins. If this can be at the start of the day that’s an ideal way to frame the day, at the end of the day works too. If you’re not already familiar with standup meetings, the idea is for each team member to say what they are working on today, what they worked on yesterday, and whether there is any issue that is blocking them from moving forward.

Regular team meetings (don’t cancel!): Any regular weekly/monthly/one on one meetings should go ahead as usual. As you get into the groove of managing a remote team you will get used to the lack of interruptions and it will often be a temptation to cancel these meetings if nothing specific is up for discussion. My advice is not to cancel. Keep these meetings on the agenda as a way to mark progress, check in with team members. If there’s nothing specific to discuss, just check in with everyone and then let them get back to work.

Milestones & Checkpoints: Consider additional ways to mark time and progress. One of the ways I like to do this is to establish quarterly goals, introduce them ahead of time with a video, and wrap up the quarter at the end. Establishing a team cadence like this can further add structure to remote working, keep everyone involved and committed to common goals and KPIs, so figure out what timeline works for your team, and give it some markers and content.

4. Trust is the key

One of the things I’ve most noticed about moving from managing a team in a traditional office environment to managing a fully remote team is that everything that is important about management is the exactly the same! I just read a blog post that pointed out that you should only hire remote workers that you really trust to get their work done. In my opinion, this is rubbish! – You should hire workers that you trust no matter where you work.

If you trusted the people on your team to get their jobs done yesterday when they were in the office with you, then you must put your trust in them absolutely in a work from home environment too. Did anyone really do a better job because they knew you could approach their desk and look over their shoulder? You’ll soon know if your trust was misplaced.

To wrap up, none of us know how long this situation is going to last, and whether current restrictions will be in place for days, weeks, months or indefinitely. We don’t know how our employees will be impacted, and whether this impact will be on their own and their family’s health, their financial situation, their quality of life.

It’s really important for HR & senior management to send frequent, honest and open messages to the team letting them know that the company is OK and that we understand their concerns, and that we will work with them to ensure everyone is successful in this new reality.


Jo Friedman is Chief Product Officer at DI.FM and Strategic Advisor at Emerj

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