Will the Coronavirus Test Your Remote Team Leadership?

I remember when the H1N1 outbreak was happening in 2009. I was traveling frequently all over the U.S. As H1N1 picked up steam and more people contracted it, we were asked to temporarily limit or cancel travel all together. Getting on a plane posed a risk.

However, to my boss at the time, an H1N1 outbreak and reduced travel didn’t excuse us from showing up at our desks everyday. Sure, I had the ability to work remote. Yes, I had high-speed internet at home and could perform my job functions.

But alas, I still showed up every day. That is, until my boss suddenly got a fever and half of his team also got sick. Funny how we were all allowed to work from home for two weeks after that!

Image result for remote team

The Coronavirus is a terrible sickness that continues to spread at an alarming rate. As it continues to spread, more and more companies will either let, or encourage, employees to work from home.

If you’re a project leader and are used to having your team co-located every day, there is a very real chance that soon you’ll be managing them in a remote capacity. We’re already seeing this with multi-national companies and it’s picking up steam in the US.

If you’re new to managing remote teams, here are some tips I have for remote team management.

Be ultra-available. Your team will want to know they can contact you at any time and you’ll get back to them quickly. Be available via instant message, phone, text, email, carrier pigeon, or whatever it takes. Respond quickly so they don’t go offline or switch gears and start to work on something else. If they ask a question you don’t know the answer to, it’s OK to tell them you don’t know but will find someone who does.

Regular check-ins. First, check in 1:1 with team members on a frequent basis. Make sure they have the information and tools to keep moving forward on their tasks. Also, let them know what else is going on. If people are used to working in an office and suddenly find themselves isolated at home, they may feel lonely. Most importantly, don’t cancel 1:1 meetings with them! Cancelling can send a message they’re not that important.

Second, have regular team meetings. If you get together once a week in the office, make it twice a week over the phone. Daily stand-ups can continue as normal. There are a host of applications that allow for voice and video conferencing (though I’ve never been a fan of turning my camera on at home). Keep your team connected to one another and engaged. In these virtual calls, I allow time for “small talk” so personal connections among team members are made.

Image result for remote team meeting

Beware of the grape vine. That damn vine! It’s always there. If you hear someone saying “Well I heard…”, get facts and share them with the whole team at the same time. This way, everyone hears the same message. Messages get skewed as its passed from one person to the next, so be sure to get accurate information out.

Be flexible in your schedule. I once had a developer who wouldn’t roll into the office until 10 AM. He’d then work to 7 PM. At the end of my day, I’d ask if he was good and had what he needed. If yes, I left. If no, I helped get an answer. Managing remote teams means you also need to be flexible in working hours. If you’re used to being done at 3:30, you may need to check in at 4:45 to make sure those still working have what they need.

Use a virtual white board. I love white boards. Writing, drawing, or sometimes random squiggles can bring about clarity when coming up with ideas, refining processes or solving issues. Though it’s not the same, find an online white board, or mind-mapping application, that allows you to draw on it and get feedback from your team.

With a little luck, time and smart scientists perfecting drugs to combat it, the Coronavirus will soon be contained. In the meantime, the remote team model will be tested as more companies allow employees to work from home. Be prepared to manage your projects and keep your teams on schedule.

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