Managing remote teams has become more essential to businesses than anyone could have predicted. Before the pandemic, around 6% of people worked from home. In 2020 this significantly increased to almost half the population. As we come out of the other side of restrictions it is predicted that many employees will retain at least an element of home-working in their role.
We ran a poll at the start of the forum which showed just how much attitudes have changed over the last year:
Before the pandemic:
- Of over 150 attendees 71% said that employees in their organisations did not work at home at all before the pandemic started, with another 22% saying staff worked just one day a week at home.
During the pandemic:
- By the start of 2021 during the third lockdown 76% said that staff were working fully remotely five days a week, with another 17% saying staff were in the office for one day each week. We asked the audience how levels of productivity had been affected by such high levels of remote working and 78% said it was either the same or higher.
Expectations for after the pandemic:
- Given the positive outcomes seen in the last few months it was unsurprising that few people expect to go back to the way things were before the pandemic. Only 2% said they expect staff will return to working in the office 5 days a week. However, not a single member of our 150 strong audience said they thought that fully remote working would stay with us. The consensus with 88% of the vote was for 2 or 3 days a week working at home.
This article shares highlights from the session where guest speakers, listed below, joined Gareth John to discuss how to effectively manage remote teams. As well as the new layer of challenges businesses are likely to face.
- C-J Green, Co-Founder of BraveGoose
- Louise Hazard, Senior R2R Manager at Greene King
- Simon Mader, Head of Technical Accounting Compliance & UK Reporting at AstraZeneca
- Carolyn Connery, Head of Employer and Provider Development at Chartered Management Institute
- Dennis Laudick, VP Marketing, AI/Machine Learning at Arm
You can watch the recording of the forum by clicking the button below.
Top tips for effectively managing remote teams
C-J Green from BraveGoose, the HR tech provider, shared her ten top tips for managing teams remotely. Here are some key points:
As hybrid working looks to become the new normal with 91% of forum attendees working from home at least a couple of days a week. New challenges for businesses will arise as employees will no longer all be in the office at the same time. C-J describes the importance of avoiding a two-tier system where employees feel as though they are missing out on important conversations, and generally out of the loop. All-staff meetings should therefore be delivered in a way that the experience is the same for all. This may mean continuing to deliver certain communications virtually to prevent an ‘us versus them’ rift between coworkers in the office and at home. Zoom meetings are great for levelling and connecting staff as the experience is the same for everyone. Virtual meetings can also help remove the professional facade and allow staff to seem more approachable and equal.
It is essential for staff motivation that employees feel their company value and care about them. Employees should be managed on a personal level and their individual skill sets recognised. The pandemic has particularly emphasised the importance of personal connection and the difference in individuals’ experiences. The one size fits all is no longer effective management and staff should be encouraged to level up based on their personal skill set. This can be done by speaking to employees individually on a regular basis to pinpoint strengths and struggles. Coaching conversations can also help motivate, where managers set up calls to catch-up and praise rather than to assign work.
Stronger sense of team
Teams can feel more motivated and connected when all staff members are included in creating new protocols. The pandemic has created a unique opportunity to make major changes to the way we work. Including all team members, even junior staff, in these decision-making processes will help create a stronger sense of team. Employees will also feel as though their voices are being heard and their best interests are in mind.
Employers should appreciate that staff have different responsibilities and commitments they have to juggle. It is not always possible for every staff member to join a meeting or event. Recording meetings and allowing access for everyone to watch them makes people feel more included and as though they are not missing out. This can help staff better manage their time and removes unnecessary pressure to be available. Equally, providing agendas before meetings helps people assess whether it is relevant to them to attend. This all helps employees better manage their time and workload, to work in a way most effective for them.
The Elephants Backpack
C-J describes how team discussions at the end of the week to share reflections can be beneficial. This environment should be a safe space for teams to offload any issues and chat through key achievements or areas to improve. This can help team members feel heard and allow managers to know how their team is feeling.
Advice from the panel
The panel of guest speakers shared their experiences of managing teams remotely.
“Manage people instead of things”
Dennis Laudick from Arm has found he has had to focus his time on rebalancing his team to get the best out of the group. When working from home and communicating virtually he noted that some team members are naturally thriving whilst others are shying away. Dennis now encourages group members who haven’t talked much to contribute rather than contributing himself. Ensuring all his team are included and heard and set up to complete work themselves. Managers need to listen to their teams and put in as much effort to communicate as possible.
Managing teams remotely is an opportunity to throw away the traditional roles and ways of working together. Dennis believes managers should be promoting we are all in it together. This not only benefits team members but helps managers better understand their team. He believes things should not go back to the way they were before and hopes that the new human level in the workplace doesn’t go once we return to the offices. The professional facade that has come down with Zoom should stay.
“Some roles are not getting their natural highs”
Louise Hazard from Greene King believes some teams in her organisation have suffered more than others. This is mostly decided by different teams’ roles and how they are reinforced. Sales teams for example are not getting the natural highs of their job roles whilst working at home. Managers, therefore, need to focus on motivating some teams more than others. This can be done by having honest conversations about what will make things better and shows interest in individuals’ future. Setting up team chats where no one talks about work Louise says is another good way to motivate staff.
Louise also notes that staff on furlough are likely to find it hard going back to work. Particularly if they are going straight back to the physical office. A ‘we are all in this together’ approach will be especially important here. Employers should start organising their going back to work policies now, taking into consideration different staff member’s wants and needs. The benefits of working from home that add to working life that office life might take away should be considered and kept in place where possible to keep staff members happy.
“People do not all need to be regimented”
Carolyn Connery from CMI agrees with C-J’s comments of working asynchronously. The pandemic has helped employers look at employee’s soft skills and acknowledge that people do not all need to be regimented to the same thing. Flexibility will be key moving into the post-pandemic workplace. Carolyn states that a lot of change is set to continue and with that, a lot of new skills are needed. Employers should think about levelling up their employees to ensure they keep up with ongoing changes to the workplace.
The pandemic has also highlighted the importance of managing peoples’ mental health and wellbeing. Junior managers may have had to make hard decisions over the past 12 months in terms of redundancies and furloughing staff. Equally, those who have been on furlough may feel disconnected. Managers should be re-educating themselves to be more aware of their team’s mental health. This can be done by paying more attention to changes in staff and setting up chats to ask how people are feeling. A lot of employers are training or hiring mental health first aiders to meet this challenge. Listening to staff and creating resources they can go to is going to be essential as the long-lasting effects of the pandemic continue.
“I have had the time to do things that were not possible before”
Simon Mader from AstraZeneca reports how the digitalisation of meetings has made certain aspects of work more accessible. Meetings which were once only possible by taking two days off for international travel are now easy to attend. More junior staff members who would have not joined trips can also now attend those meetings. Furthermore, tasks which once meant days of travel can now be completed easily in a day.
Not only has remote working allowed employees to connect with staff members they previously would not have been able to, but it has also helped to get in touch with people. People are now more available and easier to get hold of with the majority working from home. This has made some aspects of work easier and quicker. Simon agrees that catch-up chats that are only a click away are invaluable for building and managing work relationships.
Comments from the audience
The audience agreed that productivity has varied between team members due to their personal situations, such as homeschooling kids. Productivity has differed depending on the role/seniority of the staff, with less productivity at lower levels due to support not being as readily available. Overall, 49% of the audience felt they had the same level of productivity working from home than in the office. 22% felt they were less productive and 29% more. Where there are more distractions appear to largely determine productivity levels. One audience member said they have found using Zoom has actually enhanced training and productivity by having the ability to share screens and take control.
The audience felt that it was important going forward to ensure all employees feel equal and included. Techniques to do this include meeting consistency, where all meetings are either online or in the office. Effective communication is essential for staff to feel in the loop and included. Giving communications to everyone at the same time can help this, as can frequent Zoom meetings that engage all staff. Including daily/ weekly catch-up calls and face-to-face meetings once a month. But ultimately, staff should be able to choose what method of communication is best for them.
Everyone agreed that the past 12 months have highlighted the importance of recognising and responding to mental health. The audience recommended managers make sure they call their team to ask them what they need or if they want to talk. Furthermore, one-to-one catch-ups should not just be about giving more jobs to do but instead voicing praise and creating a safe environment to voice concerns. One-to-ones can also help managers understand their team’s needs and plan new working patterns as their working and personal lives change. Being available and willing to support staff is key.
One size does not fit all
The audience also felt that one size does not fit all staff members. Management and work, whether in the office or working remotely, should be tailored in line with individuals’ needs. Each team member is different and so is their circumstance. This is the same for new starters, do not use a one size fits all induction and instead design their introduction around what they need to feel part of the team. This can be helped by scheduling social ‘get to know you’ sessions for new starters to meet people they’ll be working closely with.