In these ambiguous times, keeping clear communication channels open between you and your team is critical. You may not realise it, but when you are in the office you are always communicating, both verbally and non-verbally. You can usually tell how team members are doing not just from what they say, but how they are acting. These small cues of non-verbal communication provide most of the information that we require to know what is going on.
Now most of us are working remotely, we’re blocked from receiving the very information we relied on to know if everything is OK or not. Unless you formalise online how you will communicate with your team informally offline, you’ll be shut off from understanding how your team is doing. This risks you missing important issues before the they become problems, or alternatively, imagining that things are going wrong when everything is just fine, just because you are not getting the feedback you are used to (and need).
Your people will be feeling the same: without clear direction from you they’re at risk of becoming incredibly lonely and de-energised, or putting lots of work into a task that doesn’t contribute to the team’s purpose. They may have increased anxiety about their work, just because they don’t have the small informal bits of feedback that let them know they are on the right lines. That surly ‘u-ha’, nod or half smile that you used to take for granted turn out to be important communication touch points; you were letting them know that you know that they had got this, without having to do hugs and party poppers!
The question is, then, how do you formalise the informal day-to-day interactions we’re all so used to? The answer is, on paper at least, fairly simple: by making a regular, rhythmic schedule for team communication.
First, have daily check-ins with the group on the same call. Use this time, around 15 minutes (keep it short), to align the team and ensure that everybody’s on the same page. Whether this call is in the morning or afternoon depends on your business, but schedule it for the same time each day. This starts a regular routine for everyone and is an important time in which plans can be shared to keep everyone on track.
Also, decide on one day each week in which you’ll replace the daily check-in with a weekly organising call. If in each daily check-in you decide what you want done by the next call, then here you decide what’ll be done in the next week. This is really helpful in making sure everybody in the team is working on something in line with the team purpose: following this meeting, the tasks decided on in the daily ones have an end goal at which people can aim.
Turning from group meetings to one-to-ones, as a manager you have a responsibility to each person under you, to help them adjust to working from home. Hold individual meetings with each team member every two or three days to address their issues and concerns, and also to share their successes. You may find that when you first start doing these you are getting some moans and groans as people get used to the sudden change in working style. While this might feel personal at times, remember, this is not about you, you are just the only person in the company that they get to let off steam to. Learn to let it go.
These are conversations you would be having regularly with them in the office anyway, so scheduling what would have been impromptu chats helps bring some normality back to the new remote workspace. Do remember you can bring these forward too if you sense something is not quite right in the daily check-in: as everyone adjusts to home working, some will struggle more than others, and will need extra support.
Finally, at least once a week hold a team social, where there is no agenda whatsoever. Let your team drive the conversation on anything, primarily as a means to unwind with other people (a rare opportunity in our current lockdown!), but also as a way for you to pick up on possible problem areas you may need to discuss separately later on. There are many ideas on-line for how to do this, from eating lunch together, to Friday night drinks. You don’t need to do anything special, but it is important to allow everyone a chance to speak, and to stop people turning it into yet another project meeting.
As we get used to the pressures of remote working, make good communication a priority for your team. Keep communication channels open to assist at all times and make a clear schedule for check-ins and catch-ups, to formalise the informal conversations that are so common in the office.