In the past month, working from home has become the norm for PAs, EAs and other office support professionals across the UK and around the world. What was, just a few weeks ago, a benefit offered to 53% of our audience is now a necessity in order to halt the spread of Coronavirus.
For managers, team leaders and supervisors, working from home provides its own set of challenges to overcome. How do you foster collaboration when each member of your team is working alone? How do you ensure that communication channels stay open and effective?
For those unfamiliar with managing a remote team and who were given limited time to prepare for this current situation, we have put together a list of 11 top tips for being a manager while working from home.
How to manage a remote team
- Celebrate accomplishments, not activity
- Have regular team meetings
- Utilise video
- Communicate non-verbally
- Trust your team
- Manage expectations
- Be flexible
- Provide for your team
- Increase communication
- Encourage small talk
- Have longer one to one meetings
Celebrate accomplishments, not activity
As a remote manager - and an office based manager for that matter - your focus should be on the achievements of your team, rather than every single detail of how they are spending their days. Provided your team are reaching their goals and delivering good work, try not to concern yourself with keeping tabs on their every move. This will free up your time to focus on the things that, as a manager, only you can do, while providing your team with the independence they need to grow.
Have regular team meetings
Regular team meetings via telephone or video can help you to keep your team members engaged, productive and happy. You should know your team well enough to decide how frequent these check-ins need to be - Admin Assistants and Secretaries may require more regular contact than senior EAs, for example - but we suggest no less often than once per week. Consider also the dynamics, size and set up of your department to determine whether these calls should be done as a whole team or in smaller groups.
Speaking of meetings, whenever possible you should be using a video platform like Zoom, Microsoft Teams or Skype for Business to conduct them. In a time when the majority of office support professionals and the people they support are confined to their homes, video meetings are essential in boosting team productivity and positivity. This is especially true for those whose mental health may be suffering due to this extended period of isolation. Video allows you to gauge the attitude, thoughts and feelings of your team in ways that a phone call never could, given that nonverbal communication methods like eye contact, hand gestures and facial expressions are thought to make up the majority of human communication.
With the idea of non-verbal communication in mind, think about how else you could be reaching out to your team or celebrating the delivery of good work. In our recent interview with Virtual Assistant Ellena Ingles, she told us that “you can be a bit more informal and fun outside the office environment, so use it to your advantage.” Perhaps an emoji or appropriate GIF could be used in an email to reinforce good behaviour in a casual, playful way, while a funny, topical meme might be what your team needs to start the week off with a laugh.
Trust your team
It’s normal for managers working from home for the first time to be worried about whether work will be completed at the same level or pace as in the office. However, given the inflexibility of the current circumstances, you have little choice but to trust that your team will deliver the quality and quantity of work that you have come to expect. If necessary, you can build guidelines - around responding to emails in a certain time frame, the frequency of meetings and how feedback is given - that can be relaxed as trust grows. You may find that this remote working experience helps to grow trust in your team and has a positive impact on work upon returning to the office.
As it would be at any other time in your role as a manager or team leader, it is your responsibility to set the expectations you have of your team during this period. It’s also important for you to manage the expectations that your team have of themselves and each other. As you and those you manage adjust to remote working, priorities and expectations may shift and change. Reassure your team that this is to be expected and that achievements may look or come about differently while working from home, but they have no less value.
During this unprecedented period of remote working, the routines and schedules of your team members are going to change, but especially so for those caring for children or vulnerable family members. You should not expect everyone to be able to work exactly as they would in the office, so make time early on to ask each member of your team about their home situation and provide appropriate flexibility.
Provide for your team
As a manager, you are responsible for making sure that your staff have the resources they need to get the job done in the office, and this is even more of an important duty while your team works at home. One of the first things you should do is ask each member of your team if they have the technology and materials they need. Bear in mind that for some, laptops, monitors, desk chairs and high bandwidth internet connection are not a given.
Feelings of isolation and disconnection caused by remote working can be avoided by increasing and encouraging the number of video calls, phone calls, emails and messages exchanged within your team. Not only should you encourage the communication you’re directly involved with, but you should also nurture communication spaces, platforms and channels where your team can talk privately. The goal is to make sure your team still feels as connected as possible while they are physically miles apart.
Encourage small talk
While it’s easy to jump onto a Zoom call and talk business straightaway, it’s vital that you encourage and take part in the small talk which, in the office, wouldn’t be given a second thought. It is important to show the members of your team that you care about them as people and their lives outside of the office, not just the work that they do, and small talk goes a long way in the maintaining the rapport and relationships you have with your staff.
Have longer one to one meetings
In the office, it’s easy to have unplanned meetings and quick chats. Your team can come over to your desk when they have an issue, and you can go to them when a task needs completing or priorities change. Working from home doesn’t afford opportunities like these, so it’s important to have regular one to one meetings with each member of your team. These meetings should be held over video and last as long as necessary. Not only will you find out in more detail about the progress your staff have made on their work, but you’ll be giving your staff the chance to ask any questions or express any concerns they may have - and while we all come to terms with this new way of working, you can expect your team to have many questions and concerns for you to address.
Are you a manager in the office support profession currently working remotely? Whether this is due to the current Coronavirus pandemic or a standard part of your role, we would like to hear about your experiences. Get in touch on firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more.