COVID-19: How to Lead a Home Based Team and Create a “New Normal”
03/23/2020

Corry
Robertson

woman working from home office

COVID-19 has sent us all into a state of ‘new normal’ and many of us are struggling to figure out how to reinvent the workday when working from home becomes necessary.  

If your team is transitioning from office work to home office you might be concerned about how to balance the need for productivity with the need to be realistic about what can be accomplished during these unprecedented times.

How do you make sure your employees are working and not procrastinating? How do you communicate effectively with them?  How can you keep everyone motivated and on target when you aren’t physically there?

We all understand it’s not a paid vacation, but the worry persists – you need to continue to achieve results with your team but your systems and normal workday are completely different.

 

Working From Home Can Work

There are many built in benefits from working at home and the biggest one is productivity. 

Many people find they get more done at home by lunch on Monday than they can get done during an entire workweek at the office because of less interruptions and distractions. 

Think of how many times a day one of your employees interrupts one of their teammates. Do you know how long it takes a person to get back on task if their thought process is interrupted?  

According to Gloria Mark, Professor of Informatics at the University of California, it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to the task. 

Interruptions are a productivity BLACK HOLE which is greatly reduced when people are working from home.

Constant interruptions force a person to multitask as the brain switches from one thing to another. This has been proven to cause chronic stress, depression and anxiety. 

 

Saving the commute time adds up

Working remotely saves people the commute time and aggravation so that they can catch up on sleep, get a morning workout in, eat a healthy breakfast AND be at their desks by 9. 

The same goes for the end of the day. Without the commute they can relax, cook a healthy meal or take part in other positive activities.

Lunch breaks are also more effective for the same reasons. Workers can eat peacefully, go for a walk, meditate, or get a few personal errands done in a one hour period and then come back to work refreshed and refuelled.

 

Running a remote team gives you a rare vantage point into the weak links

Naturally, Some of your employees are more productive than others.

Working from home will give you great insight into which ones overly rely on their colleagues to get things done.

I think back to a time in my career when a colleague overly relied on me to get their work done. They constantly interrupted me with the classic “Gotta Minute?” because they needed to ‘bounce ideas around’ and ‘collaborate’ on projects.

They often wanted me to highlight how ‘our’ work aligned with strategy… which really meant that they didn’t understand the strategy very well and needed constant reassurance that their input was correct.  

You know that employee. They’re the one in meetings who have no ideas of their own so to look like they’re engaged they just parrot the thoughts of others by saying things like “To echo Jane, I would like to say….”  or “Just to reiterate the importance of John’s comment, I want to stress that…”

With employees like them, others do the heavy lifting while they take the credit for ‘teamwork’.  

Running a team from home can help you to identify who is able to get the work done, and who is less productive in ways you might not have been able to identify previously.

 

How To Make Home Time Work – Keep Calm and Work On

 

woman working from home with child

Be patient, realistic, calm and positive

Remember, this is happening to all companies, all over the world, not just your company. Every leader, employee and family member on the planet is coping with the exact same things you are. Do what you can, be patient, be realistic, be calm, be positive.

Keep your core values intact

Make sure you have your core values intact. The health and well being of your employees, their families, you and your family are at the top of the list of priorities. All of your choices and decisions need to center around that fact.  Loopback to the point above and remember that many people have their kids at home with no child care. Be realistic. 

Align your choices with your performance expectations

How do your core values show up in your leadership choices and your performance expectations? Have a conversation with yourself, your coach or your mentor and flush out what it will look like when you are putting health and safety first. How will you show up in that space? What challenges do you anticipate? How will you align the direction you give with your values?

Work needs to get done, productivity still matters

Communicate this to your team and explicitly state what results you are expecting during this time and how you expect the workflow to be carried out. A daily, virtual “Stand Up” is a good way to stay connected. 

Need some ideas? Here’s some instructions on how to run a stand up which you can easily adapt to a video call..

From IBM https://youtu.be/GzQjGhD5tSU

From 1-800 Got Junk: https://youtu.be/U1Do6tyffE0

Creating a “New Normal”

An outside perspective can help everyone to adjust. Hire a coach or a trusted professional to facilitate a virtual call with you and your team members either in a group or one on one setting to co-create a ‘new normal’. 

Give your employees permission not to be perfectly polished while on video and phone calls. They are at home, where people live and their humanness will show. No need to cause added stress by expecting them to pretend that they are still at the office.

Set up boundaries

Designate an official workplace at home and ask your employees to do the same. This can be almost any room in the house where a temporary desk can be set up. Avoid the bedroom or high traffic areas in the house if possible.

Be prepared for the social phone calls to come in. Many people think that when you work from home, you’re suddenly available for personal calls during the day. Ask your family members who don’t live with you to only call during the workday if they have an emergency. 

Communication skills are the key to success

You’ll be communicating by e-mail, voice mail and virtual meetings so lay down a few ground rules for etiquette. You need to lead the way and manners go a long way to prevent miscommunication, misunderstanding, mistakes and conflict.

Use the “5 C’s” concept to make sure everyone feels included, informed, and has what they need to perform the work.

Complete – Convey relevant facts and links to the necessary data and reports, even if you have already sent it in the past. 

Concise – Use clear language to state what you want, not what you don’t want.  For example – “Please send me the first draft by email tonight by 5 pm” VS “Don’t be late with the first draft”

Correct – Check spelling, grammar and punctuation to ensure that your written correspondence is fast and easy to read.

Considerate – Tone is everything! Do your best to use a polite tone for both e-mail and voice mail.

Conscious – ensure that your message is in line with the company image and values for internal and external communications 

How do we navigate this new world?

No one knows how many weeks or months it will take before we get back to ‘normal’ in the world, and much of our experience depends on us.  As leaders, it is possible to motivate a remote team and achieve results even when the world seems upside down.  

Creating a new normal can be a rewarding experience that might lead you to insights and strengthen your team relationships.  It can even lead to improved performance, when tackled correctly.

I’d love to hear your thoughts – what are your favourite tips on how to lead a productive team during times of uncertainty?

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Author:  Corry Robertson

Sought-after tech industry culture expert, Corry Robertson has been helping leaders turbocharge employee retention and performance for over 20 years.

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