3 Mistakes to Avoid While Leading Remote Workers During the Age of COVID-19

“Leadership is a matter of having people look at you and gain confidence, seeing how you react. If you’re in control, they’re in control.” – Tom Landry

Leading through crisis requires composure, strategy, and great communication. Right now managers across the world are being asked to prepare for and execute on leading their teams remotely due to the impact of COVID-19. For those who have never led remote workers before, and even for those who have, this challenge can feel overwhelming and very stressful. There's definitely a learning curve involved when leading remote workers, and many managers are beginning to navigate this season without a clue about what to do first.

If this is you, you aren't alone. The good news is that there are practical and actionable strategies you can implement today that will help you successfully manage a remote team in the weeks or months to come.

Remote work is already very popular in the U.S. In fact, according to Gallup's most recent State of the American Workforce report, 42% of employees already work off-site or away from their team members at least some of the time. This means we know a lot about what remote workers need to thrive and flourish.

To help you succeed at leading remote teams, we've created a free downloadable PDF guide for you, titled "How to Keep Your Teams Engaged While They're Working Remotely."

It's our hope that this tool will equip you with some practical and actionable strategies based on research and best practices for leading remote workers.

In addition to the content you'll find in the guide, read on below to learn the 3 biggest mistakes you want to avoid while leading remote workers during the age of COVID-19. These mistakes are easy to make in a time of uncertainty, but with some strategy and intentionality, you'll be the leader your team members desperately needed during a time of crisis.

Mistake #1 - Not Creating a Game-Plan With Your Team

For many managers across the country, there wasn't near enough time to prepare themselves or their team members for the move to working from home. Ideally, transitioning a team to remote work takes time and strategy, neither of which most of us have had during the last few weeks.

The worst thing you can do is send your team members home without a preliminary game-plan. As a team, you should hold a remote-work planning session in which you establish crystal clear expectations about:

  • Goals and priorities to focus on while working remotely

  • What success will look like while working remotely

  • Who will be responsible for what and what are the deadlines

Don't assume they know what you're expecting. They probably don't. It will take intentional communication to set them up for success.

Your employees need to understand what is expected from them or they will lose the feeling of psychological safety that is so crucial to employee engagement. For many of them, their roles and responsibilities will have to shift, and this can cause increased uncertainty and anxiety for many, especially those who crave routine, structure, and predictability.

It's also important to consider how you and your team might leverage this season of remote work to learn and develop in your roles. Yes, you might lose momentum on some projects or initiatives, but you might have more time to devote to learning or development opportunities that you had on the back-burner while your to-do list was too long. Are there online courses you can take, new software you can research and pilot, or new skills you can develop? Get creative with your team and ask them if they have any ideas for ways they can use their time strategically during remote work.

If your company is anticipating sending everyone home soon, be proactive and schedule a planning session today so that you're ahead of schedule if and when it happens. If your team has already made the move to remote work, it's not too late to schedule a video conference and reset expectations. It will be worth it.

Mistake #2 - Expecting the Same Levels of Productivity and Efficiency as Before

I recently spoke with an individual who has had to move to remote work and she expressed a lot of doubt and anxiety about her ability to keep up with her workload while working from home. She has three kids who aren't able to attend school right now and who will be at home with her for the foreseeable future. She was worried and felt very incapable.

I encouraged her to give herself permission to be less productive. In general, that is an incredibly hard thing for us to do, but it will be an important piece of the puzzle if we are to navigate remote work well as a team.

As leaders, we can't assume that our team members will be able to accomplish "business as usual" during this season. It's unrealistic at best and will set our team members up for disappointment and failure. It's up to us to communicate that we realize there are unique challenges to working from home, especially when children are in the picture.

The best thing you can do as a leader to avoid this mistake is to communicate a mindset shift to your employees. Yes, talk about your strategic goals and your timelines. Yes, do your best to replicate rhythms you're all used to from the office. But don't put pressure on them to immediately transition into high-capacity remote workers, especially since many of them have had no practice. Getting good at remote work takes time.

Instead of expecting them to keep their stride at home, be the kind of leader who gives them permission to slow down, make some mistakes, prioritize a few things over the many, and enjoy the time at home as much as they can, especially if it means they will have more time to spend with their families. This COVID-19 season won't last forever. Don't run the risk of burning out your employees because you placed unrealistic expectations on them.

Mistake #3 - Ignoring the Social and Relational Needs of Your Team Members

We are social and relational beings, and when we feel isolated from one another, we might begin to develop feelings of loneliness or hopelessness. In fact, the Gallup Organization found that 21% of remote workers say "loneliness" is the biggest struggle they face.

As leaders, it's our responsibility to do our best to create community while we're working remotely. If we send our employees out into a relational abyss, we shouldn't be surprised when some of them lose interest in their work and experience a decrease in motivation.

That being said, our efforts to meet the social and relational needs of our team members should never be motivated out of selfish desire to maintain productivity levels. It's just the right thing to do for those who've been entrusted to us in a time of crisis and change.

So take some time to think about ways you and your team can stay connected to and engaged with each other during this season of remote work. Each team is different, so stay curious and keep experimenting, but here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Schedule a 10-minute 'coffee-break" video conference each day and don't talk about work. If at all possible, get on video together. This will reduce what we call "virtual distance" and everyone will benefit from seeing one another. Try to have some fun together, even if it's just for a few minutes.

  • If your team uses a communication tool like Slack, create a new channel for all things COVID-19 remote work. You can express your thoughts and feelings about working remotely, ask questions of each other to see what's working for others and what's not. Oh, don't forget to send memes and gifs to each other to keep humor alive.

  • Be intentional about the team members who thrive and flourish when working closely with others. This season might be particularly challenging for them if they aren't able to exercise their social and relational muscles. But don't assume they need 20 check-in calls a day, because this can communicate you don't trust them to get the work done. Instead, ask each team member what they think they need from you during the remote work to stay connected and energized. Then act on those conversations.

If you'll avoid the mistakes outlined above, you'll be well on your way to leading a successfully engaged remote team. And while we have you here, we just want to say thanks so much for engaging with us! We hope you find our blog posts helpful and we'd love for you to shoot us a message and tell us about the biggest communication and/or workplace challenges you're facing right now. We want to write about the things that matter most to you.

We're rooting for you!

-LeAnne & Joy, ROI Talent Development

How do you lead teams in the age of social distancing?

Download our free guide by clicking here, and you'll be equipped to:

1. understand current research on remote work and the preferences of remote workers.

2. implement best practices for leading remote employees.

3. grow in confidence about your ability to create a highly engaged remote team.

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