Once a small percentage of America’s workforce, the COVID-19 pandemic has quickly accelerated the number of remote workers now logging in from home. These “work from home” arrangements present new challenges associated with managing distributed teams sight unseen. Now is the time to turn these new circumstances into strengths rather than weaknesses. Achieving this requires both management and employees focusing on making remote work successful. It takes both to turn remote workers into remote warriors.

Keys to managing a remote team effectively

  • Utilize collaborative tools - Microsoft Teams, Slack, Skype for Business, and a host of other videoconferencing and conference calling apps are available and can create the same level of collaboration as in-person interaction. Slack even has a free version with some minor limitations.
  • Host regular meetings and work sessions - Having frequent, short meetings (often called stand-up meetings) is a hallmark of project management methodologies such as Lean Six Sigma, Scrum, and Agile, and can help engage employees either in-office or remote.  Setting expectations and project milestones for the coming week, notifying your team of new projects or guidance, and updating your team on performance are all parts of an effective standing agenda for virtual meetings.  Setting aside time for teams to conference-in for longer, project-driven work sessions can also be an effective replacement for face-to-face meetings.
  • Set a clear escalation process - Employees of all skill levels will reach situations where they are unable to proceed without guidance.  Mentors and subject matter experts should be highlighted to the team so that those employees can be a crucial gatekeeper and bridge between management and staff.
  • Understand that full-time remote work might be temporary, but change will be permanent.

As a result of a shift to a virtual environment, star employees will emerge and process inefficiencies that were not visible in the office will be revealed. This represents an opportunity for standardization and process improvement, as well as implementation of new tactics that can be used whether in-office or remote.

Keys to being an effective remote employee

  • Replace your physical presence with your virtual presence - All employees have a virtual presence, whether it is simply using email and IMs within the office or collaborating as a full-time remote worker.  Videoconferencing and screen sharing can replicate the effect of face-to-face interaction.  Understanding the impact of your written communication is even more important since it now replaces your in-person conversations.
  • Be an active participant in the team’s discussions - Being at home doesn’t mean that you need to be quiet in team meetings.  Employees that opt not to speak up when given the chance can become invisible quickly in a remote environment.  Be concise, thoughtful, and focused when providing feedback or suggestions in virtual meetings and you will create value for your organization.
  • Understand when to seek help - If you are stuck on a project, reach out to a subject matter expert or mentor. If these individuals are too busy, it is time to move to the next project, but use a calendar appointment to set a time with a mentor and aggregate your questions for that meeting, if time allows.  If it is a quick question that can be resolved, a phone call can replace the quick “pop-in” meeting.
  • Rise to the occasion - Anxiety comes with any change, but any large-scale change in the business environment is an opportunity.  The organization will be looking for its newest rock stars during this time and being an effective and proactive communicator can help you build a strong personal brand with your peers and management.

Key for management and employees

  • Intentional time management - Remote work is not about work-life balance, rather, it is about work-life integration.  Set strict boundaries and guidelines for yourself and your time as you go about your day so you can manage life and work effectively.
  • The differences between a remote worker and a remote warrior is proactive communication, a positive attitude, and effective time management.  

These three things can help your business and employees come out of the COVID-19 pandemic even stronger.