I get it: remote working and managing are scary things, and no more so than in times like this. There’s an overarching feeling of uncertainty about the world – it feels as if your work situation changes as often as the news headlines do!
When you’re so used to having direct access to information about how everyone is doing, losing that can give you a sense of being out of control that’s hard to come back from. You can no longer mobilise people into instant meetings, have mini one-on-ones over a coffee, or even catch up at the water cooler.
Despite this, as a manager, it’s important to make sure you have the right mindset for working at home, for the sake of leading your team effectively. You need to be comfortable with the uncertainty around you (or at least appear like you are) as, for the most part, you can’t change that. However, what you can do is create certainty, as much as possible, within the team.
Think to yourself, “What can I control in this situation?” and you’ll find it comes down to two main things: what you need to achieve in the immediate future, and how best you can support the team.
Reduce the usual timeframes you workaround. While three months may have been a reasonable length of time to look ahead previously, we can hardly predict what will be happening in three days now. If you limit your plans to the next day or so, you can have a much more decisive say in how it will turn out, which helps keep your staff focused on getting their jobs done. Focusing on the time frame that you can control will help the team members regain their sense that they are in control of the situation.
One thing to note, though: be prepared to balance the control you have over your team’s work, and the control they have. It’s great to give tasks out, as that helps focus the team and provide direction for the day. But you’ve got to let individuals have a say in what they do and, particularly for remote workers, how they do it. Every time you take control of something that you did not need to, you weaken their sense of control; and that risks increasing their feelings of uncertainty and anxiety.
Everybody’s going to have a different schedule when working from home, and having an overbearing boss demanding they send the finished product to his or her inbox every hour is going to cause unnecessary stress. Trust in your team to get the job done, to help them create their own sense of control.
Take on a mindset that assumes the best of your people. When things go wrong, understand that it is because everybody is feeling a little stressed right now, and this was just a mistake. Do not personalise mistakes, or assume that they are happening because people are not as focused as they would have been in the office. Just because you cannot see the work being done anymore does not mean that they are not working. Let’s face it, the team has managed to carry on working when you were in a meeting or popped to the loo; they will also be working even though they are not at their usual desk.
Be curious about your team. Use this time to get to know them a little better, so that if things do go wrong or off-schedule, you can identify if they’re struggling with working remotely. Previously they will have relied on close colleagues for support, so now’s the time to reach out for yourself. There’s probably something you could be doing to make their lives and work easier! Even if there isn’t, they will appreciate knowing that you care.
Having the right the mindset about how we work together is an essential key for success as a remote manager. If you can bring control back to your immediate surroundings, and make a conscious effort to see the best in your people, you’ll be one step closer to nailing working from home.