There is no question that, in the last three months, COVID-19 has infiltrated nearly every aspect of our daily lives. It has altered the way we interact with our world and those we love most.
And it has taken a wrecking ball to a once record-breaking economy. In a matter of weeks, it generated unemployment levels not seen since the Great Depression.
In the face of a shattered job market, those employees who have the option of transitioning to telework are the fortunate ones. But that by no means suggests the move is easy or error-proof.
If you are one of the millions who has found yourself leading your employees through the transition to remote work, you may be facing difficulties you had never considered.
You may be wondering what you can do to help your employees feel more comfortable or be more productive. You may even be thinking about making the move a more permanent one, particularly if a second wave occurs.
The benefits of working remotely for employees
The fact is that working remotely involves an entirely distinct working culture.
The change in the work environment also involves a significant shift in the way that work is understood and practiced.
And that means a significant shift in leadership strategies as well. But for all of the challenges involved in making this transition, there are also immense opportunities.
Studies show, for example, that remote workers tend to be happier, more engaged, more productive, and more collaborative than traditional on-campus employees.
And that means that, with the right leadership through this transitional phase, you are not only going to end up with higher-performing employees but also with a more effective team.
Have a plan
Unfortunately, the eruption of the pandemic really didn’t give leaders the luxury of time in preparing for the shift to remote work.
That means that managers and decision-makers have had to make enormous changes pretty much on the fly if they hope to keep the company afloat and the staff employed.
But that doesn’t mean you can, or should even try to, make this migration without a strategy in place.
As you and your team settle into working remotely, you are going to need to be quick and decisive. And that may well involve a little bit of play-acting.
You might need to convince your team, as well as yourself, that you know what you are doing when, really, there is no playbook for a situation like this.
But demonstrating the confident and competent leadership your team desperately needs right now will start with getting your team the resources they need to do their jobs well from home.
Even if your team is already working remotely, that doesn’t mean your team’s tech couldn’t benefit from an upgrade, especially if things aren’t going well or if you are considering making telework a more permanent option.
Make sure, for instance, that you have great communication tools set up, with accounts ready for each member of your team.
You are also going to need to have your remote work policies already set out and clearly communicated to your team.
Uncertainty about what is needed and expected may be causing your team anxiety, not to mention undermining their performance.
Outline your expectations and your team’s goals and responsibilities.
Specify, for example, whether you expect your team to be online and working during regular business hours, or whether your team will work on the honor code, setting their own hours and reporting the daily productivity of their own accord.
Above all, it’s imperative that your team understands precisely when and how to reach you and each other.
Your team needs to feel secure that you have their backs, that they are not alone, and that the team still endures, even when you’re working from home.
Doing your very best to set your team up for success, even if you have to do it quickly and imperfectly, is precisely the way you promote trust, confidence, cooperation, and communication as you and your team make this migration.
Keep it real
Feigning a self-assurance you might not always feel doesn’t mean you need to deny the stark realities of the current crisis.
In fact, if you want to keep your employees’ trust, that is the last thing you should do.
There’s no getting around that fact this is a scary moment in history.
We are all facing uncertainty and a great many of us are contending with significant, maybe even crippling, anxiety.
The odds are very high that your team members will be worried not only about their jobs and this transition to remote work, but also about their families, their own health, and the loss of their “normal” daily lives.
So, even though it might feel like it’s above your paygrade, helping your team is almost inevitably going to mean helping them manage their anxieties.
Encourage them to get adequate sleep and regular exercise, and model this for them as well. Support them in striking an effective work/life balance, even when working from home.
Above all, learn to recognize signs that your staff may be struggling and may need mental health counseling to make it through these troubled times. Your support in getting them the help they need can make all the difference in the world.
Amid so much doubt and uncertainty, your team is going to need you to ramp up your communication game. It may not feel like this is the time for employee evaluations and assessments but, actually, this may be exactly what your staff needs at this moment.
We are all in uncharted waters. Your staff may feel like they’re floundering. They may be questioning themselves, not only about whether or not they are meeting your expectations in the present but about whether they’ll be able to succeed in a remote environment for however long need be.
Providing them with robust and frequent feedback can give them the assurance they need to lean into this transition and will equip them with actionable strategies to smooth the way.
They’ll believe in their own ability to make the migration and that will inspire them to keep up the effort. Because they’ll have the faith to know the effort won’t be in vain.
Determine your priorities
When you are migrating to remote work in conditions like these, there is no doubt about it, you are going to need to be flexible.
This is no longer business as usual, and some things are going to have to fall by the wayside so that you and your team can focus on what really matters.
So now is the ideal moment for you, in partnership with your team, to take a moment to take stock and establish your goals and priorities. And this should take into consideration not only your pandemic goals but also your post-pandemic priorities.
Your team might decide, for instance, to shift your focus temporarily from sales and customer acquisition to upskilling your team because, right now, upskilling may be the best use of time, effort, and resources.
In a down economy, sales are going to dip and new customers may be hard to come by for the moment.
A business may not be booming again for a while, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make use of this time, preparing your team to return to the beast mode when life returns to something like normal again.
This is also a time when you’re going to want to make the well-being of your team a top priority. That might include ensuring that their working conditions are safe, even when they are working from home.
The stress your employees are under might tempt them into habits that could put their health at risk.
Exposure to various chemicals in the home, even those that seem harmless, can become dangerous, even fatal. For instance, excessive exposure to the fumes used to flavor microwave buttered popcorn or some of the additives in flavored e-cigarettes might expose your team to potentially fatal lung diseases.
On the other hand, fear of exposure to the virus might lead your workers to be more sedentary, increasing both their physical and mental health risks.
Because of this, you may well find yourself in the position of a health coach and mental health counselor as you help your staff transition to remote work while ensuring their health remains a top priority in this difficult time.
Living under lockdown is not something anyone wanted or expected. But that is our new reality and, as a leader, it’s your responsibility to help your team cope with today’s “normal abnormal.”
As you work with your team to make the transition to remote work, the key, above all, will be trust, confidence, communication, and support.
Above all, it is about determining what matters and what, in the end, doesn’t. And it is about both you and your team learning not to sweat the small stuff.
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Ainsley Lawrence is a writer who loves to talk about good health, balanced life, and better living through technology. She is frequently lost in a good book.