Managing Remote Teams Amid a Health Crisis
At this point, the entire world is on the same page, reading the same news, and suffering the same worries. The fear, unease, and concern we share resonates across every conscience, and in that vein we have found unity. In the face of an invisible menace, humanity has managed to bind itself closer under the eyes of a common threat. Our communal crisis has created just as many visions of hope, determination, and compassion as it has uncertainty.
These are interesting times we live in. This is a reminder how life is unexpected and chaotic, and with the health and well-being of the working populace being the first priority for any company, sometimes the decision needs to be made to establish remote work as a temporary or semi permanent solution amid a health crisis. The current situation with COVID-19 has forced many companies to probably do the unprecedented and send their workers home.
Numbers and statistics change day by day, but the good news is that now in 2020 we have the resources, the technology, and the tools to keep working and innovating if we’re required to stay quarantined. This, combined with our incredible advancements and modern understanding of how contagions work, ensure that any organization can continue to press onward despite obstacles that might have been our undoing a century ago.
Remote work may seem like a tough challenge to overcome or at least manage. However, there are ways to turn it from a seemingly business operations risk to a creative opportunity and deliver great innovation anyway. There’s more than one way to practice responsible social distancing without hamstringing your business practices.
If you don’t have a great deal of experience managing teams remotely, here’s a few tips that will help you.
Tips for Managing Remote Teams in Times of Crisis
COVID-19 is only the most topical crisis at the moment, but it comes as one in a long history of crises we’ve faced across the globe. As always, we’ve persevered. What’s important to know is how to function in the wake of one of these situations. As such, we have a few valuable tips to help you manage remote teams during an unexpected crisis, such as the current one with coronavirus.
1. Over-Communication (and Listening) Is Everything
The first and obvious disruption to the average work routine is communication between team members and supervisors. Without being able to discuss projects face-to-face, the entire organizational hierarchy holding your teams together comes under fire if not addressed properly. Maintaining accurate, lucid communication is only the start. With the sudden challenge presented by remote work, you must be prepared to go the extra mile to keep your ducks in a line.
You can’t walk up to your colleagues desk and ask them a question here. When you’re no longer granted the luxury of a face-to-face work environment, the importance of being very communicative cannot be undersold. Communication is always a top priority in any team environment, but it becomes even more so when your teammates are in different parts of the world.
Considering you’re no longer a short walk away from your coworkers to coordinate responsibilities and progress, you need to make sure you’re covering for margins of communicative error. You need to make sure you’re being assertive, clear, and spot on when it comes to making requests or managing situations. Maintain 1:1 meetings if needed, rely on video calls, do at least weekly check-ins, and keep as much of a paper trail as you can.
Above all else, don’t forget to do the very important part of listening to what your team has to say: their worries, troubles, suggestions, comments. Effective communication is a two way street, and keeping your team functioning at optimal capacity is as much a mental health game as it is one based on teamwork. We’re social creatures, and as such we need to be heard as much as we need to listen. We’re not in this alone, after all.
2. Allow for Remote Innovation: Be a Virtual Design-Thinker
Social interaction may be limited at the moment (for good reason), but that shouldn’t stop you from taking the opportunity to innovate from the homefront. In these times, design thinking methodologies still reign supreme in ensuring you’re catering to the right people with the right intentions.
The design thinking methodologies come from taking a designer’s mindset and practices to think outside of the box. This is done by establishing a continuous cycle of testing, feedback, and change. Across any project, in order to innovate during any step of the way, you must find the sweet spot between these three concepts: feasibility, desirability, and viability. Essentially, you’re looking for how possible it is to attain, how much is it needed or desired, and how viable it is to produce.
The design thinking process can be broken down into five steps:
We’re going to break these concepts down into their most simplified explanations, but if you want an in-depth examination on the design thinking process, our article at iTexico has all the info you could need.
Empathize: Empathize with your target audience; understanding them helps you gather potential ideas, notice unforeseen issues and unfilled niches, and obtain as much information as possible for the development of your product.
Define: Once you’ve gathered sufficient enough information from your audience, you will need to draw conclusions from the data and detail the users’ needs, their problems, and your insights. It’s the “hypothesis” portion of the process.
Ideate: Brainstorm. Challenge pre-existing assumptions to innovate new ideas to solve your customers’ needs, developing creative solutions to help outline your product.
Prototype: Once everything starts coming together, you will need to actually construct a minimal viable product to test. Building a prototype comprises the core workload of the project.
Test: With your prototype prepared, you need to see how it performs under scrutiny. The test phase provides you with the necessary information to inform how you approach your product. Did it deliver on it’s solution? What were its weaknesses? What can be done to improve it?
The design thinking mentality is a cycle, going through the steps as often as necessary before the fully realized vision is received. Following the design thinking methodologies will help you realize first if you’re focusing on the right problem, then if you’re focusing on the right solution, and finally if you’re doing it the right way.
3. Invest in Reliable Tech
An electrician wouldn’t show up at work with a half-empty toolbox. A surgeon wouldn’t put a patient under if they didn’t have a scalpel. Every work environment has their own unique set of tools. Without these, they could not function, and their work would stall, crash, and fail. The same is true for your employees working from home. You need to make sure your team members have all the needed tools in place, otherwise remote work will flop.
Start off by making a checklist of the most relevant tech needs for your team that will facilitate them to do their job and deliver accordingly. Besides a stable wi-fi connection, what is needed for them to be productive and maintain goal accomplishments? Extra screens? Noise-cancelling headphones? Consider each teammate’s individual situation and work from there.
Keep in mind that, while your workers are stationed remotely for the time being, their home is their office and these necessities should be treated as such. As little as possible should be taken out of their pocket, since everything is dedicated towards work. Working from home is a unique environment, separate from being stationed in a cubicle. Take the time to communicate with your team and collaborate on everything they will need to keep their performance up.
4. Stress the Importance of Having a Dedicated Workspace
Propping your workstation up in your living room certainly sounds comfortable, but it won’t be ideal. Working in a personal, intimate environment has an impact on how you’re able to work, and as such it’s important to separate a specific space to perform work duties.
Setting up a physical space specifically for performing job duties will help you stay focused and organized, thus keeping your productivity in check. Although convenient, working from home can even take its toll on people’s emotions and overall mood. Maintaining your space of work and being ready for any impromptu situation, like an urgent video call, will reduce unnecessary stress.
Maintaining your space is more than just carving out a niche in your home environment for professional reasons. It’s as much caring for yourself and putting your mentality in the correct place to keep yourself on task for the workday. Sure, you can get away with wearing pajamas all day, but the collateral from blending private and professional environments takes its toll on your productivity and focus.
5. Be Transparent
You can’t afford to bury the lead in any conversation you have with your team. The goal isn’t to cloud your team’s vision going forward but to effectively ensure everyone remains fully cognizant of your organization’s situation and performance. Be very clear about your expectations of your team, the company’s expectations of your specific project or area, and how the overall crisis situation keeps improving or moving forward.
Uncertainty can be hard to handle for some people, and as a team leader, you must try to keep your team’s morale up and running. While you may be tempted to occlude certain pieces of information with the intention of keeping your team focused, you’ll end up doing yourself and your team members a disservice. Working remotely runs on communication, collaboration, and trust. Transparency incentivizes honesty and builds trust within the team for long-term success.
6. Take the Time to Bring Your Team Together
Working remotely conveys a sense of solo work. Your team members will not have any personal contact with each other, making divisions within the team structure easy to develop. Everyone feels a little isolated at the moment. Crisis situations are tough, scary, and unpredictable. When your team feels scattered to the wind, your chances at keeping an effective productive schedule going drops.
It’s in times like this that it’s important to acknowledge your workers’ feelings. At the moment, they are legitimately and quite understandably concerned about the safety of their loved ones and their own. Separate some time as needed where the team can vent, share their concerns, comfort each other, and be heard. Let everyone know you’re all in the same boat, that their work and efforts and appreciated, and their health is a priority for your organization.
7. Want Your Team to Stay Productive? Walk the Talk!
People grow the most in the face of adversity. This is as much a time for your own self-improvement as it is for ensuring your teams continue to work at their best capacity. Take these difficult times as an opportunity to focus again on what matters most and re-center your workforce around the values of your business.
Doing this means your need to serve as your own example. You need to represent the optimal image to live up to, not just bark standards you aren’t following yourself. Walk the talk, care for your people, prioritize their well-being, and allow for this new way of work to blossom as one new norm. Your efforts need to be genuine to be effective. When people feel valued and appreciated, they thrive.
Things outside the bedroom window look a little scary right now. However, that doesn’t mean we are incapable of overcoming these challenges. Hopefully in a few months this crisis will blow over, and while the hysteria may pass in a short time, we should take the experience we’ve gained from this event to rally behind a stronger goal.
The cornerstones of ensuring that your remote teams function properly fall under seven values we’ve outlined in this article: over-communicate, allow for remote innovation, invest in reliable tech, stress the importance of dedicated workspaces, transparency, bring your teams together, and walk the talk. Even after we all return to our normal routines, these lessons can continue to benefit us in the future when all is said and done.
iTexico is an expert in remote innovation through the management of remote teams based in Mexico for clients in the USA, under a Nearshore+ model. We know exactly how to ensure your business can continue to function optimally even in these trying times. Explore How We Deliver Agile software development teams to learn more about our services, or drop us a line and we'll be more than glad to discuss your next project.