Coping During Coronavirus: 13 Lessons About Managing Remote Workers

Keeping up business continuity during the coronavirus outbreak has required millions of workers to begin working remotely.  Some companies are ready for it; for others, it’s unfamiliar territory.

At Mitratech, we’ve had people working remotely since the early 2000s, and have had the ability to have the entire company work remotely since 2015. We’ve developed processes and best practices over the years to ensure there’s no business impact to clients from leveraging remote workers.

But even with a lot of experience and preparation, there have been surprises to deal with during the COVID-19 crisis.   One of them was how the pandemic coincided with spring break, and how a number of school systems announced that the kids may be home for the remainder of the school year. So even our seasoned WFH team had to adjust to new challenges.

Remote workforce management tips, proven in practice

Some of the insights and best practices we’ve picked up over the years about implementing a remote workforce?

Proactive communication has been absolutely critical within our team. In the case of COVID-19 and school shutdowns, for instance, work-from-home parents have needed to work different hours to share childcare responsibilities, and being able to ask for assistance or flexibility from others has been essential.

Having the agility to adapt to new developments like the one just mentioned is important. The world’s response to this pandemic is forcing companies to adopt a new kind of workforce, and what’s evolving right now may – or may not – become the new, permanent way of doing things for many. Don’t plan for just this single situation; ensure you’re agile enough to maintain business continuity for any future changes to how we do work.

It’s important to keep up a very proactive outreach to clients in understanding their possible disruptions and helping them (and your own team) keep everything on as much of a business-as-usual footing as possible. Put solutions and processes in place that can help your clients work effectively with your team.

Get ahead of IT requests – from VOIP phones to VPN connections, does your team have what they need to work remotely? Do you have request and fulfillment processes to help that along?

Be sure webcams, collaboration platforms, and other tools are used from the top on down in order to keep the organization connected. If the leaders of your organization are shying away from using webcams, it sends a negative message and will delay adoption. Using them regularly, on the other hand, reinforces a sense of teamwork that’s important when everyone is physically scattered.

Schedule virtual standups or other agile ways of getting real-time updates out to the team and answering their questions. How frequent should these be?  We do one every day for certain units; they don’t have to be lengthy, just relevant.

Create virtual “walkovers to someone’s desk” or “hallway conversations” enabled by collaboration tools so managers or teammates can touch base whenever necessary. These should include one-on-ones between managers and employees, not just team chats, so employee development and strong internal connections keep flourishing.

Train people in these tools. Have those with expertise in using collaboration solutions share their insights on how to make video chats and other sessions into more engaging and effective experiences, or even bring in a trainer or other third-party expert. You may, for the very first time, have to conduct video chats and use screen-sharing tools with clients, when you’ve previously only used them internally. If that’s the case, make sure everyone knows key best practices – like how to disable pop-up notifications to avoid a disruptive experience for your clients.

Adjust your management style to the new reality of remote working. Is your current management style helping or hurting the current situation? If you manage a results-oriented team, you’ll naturally be unable to micromanage or physically check up on staff, so you have to set clear expectations, goals, and processes that are designed around remote work and collaboration, and expect and even encourage a certain amount of independence on the part of your team.

Consider your content delivery methods. If replacing an in-person conference or event with a virtual one, make sure the content is delivered in shorter sessions, not an all-day or several-hours-long one. It’s also important you’re virtually checking for feedback and understanding; silence from attendees may mean they’re multitasking, not that they’re agreeing with you or won’t have questions.

Have centralized resources for business continuity during crises or just for ongoing remote work and collaboration that are available and accessible, whether those are your intranet, policies and procedures updates, emails, chat platforms, etc. Right now is the time to create that single-source-of-truth content and asset repository everyone will need to ensure they’re (literally) all on the same page when it comes to key data and documents. One good idea? Survey your employees after they’ve been working remotely for a few days and ask what shared resources they find they need most.

Add regular online social gatherings and even dedicated social channels so the team can unwind and de-stress together. Not only does a “virtual happy hour” buoy the spirits of your employees, it shows the company is aware of how everyone is in this together.

Make sure people retain work-life balance. There may be a temptation to work longer hours simply because we’re doing it from home, and it helps us avoid looking at the news. But make sure people take time to step away from work, whether by taking breaks during the day or keeping to reasonable work hours. That’s particularly important to prevent burnout during stressful times like a societal crisis.