How to Manage Teams Remotely During the Pandemic

Conor Cawley

The coronavirus pandemic has changed the business world, with many companies transitioning to a remote work policy for the first time. This has left managers worldwide trying to figure out how best to keep their teams productive.

The adoption of work-from-home policies has been substantial so far, with even the biggest tech companies such as Google, Apple, and Facebook insisting their employees stay out of the office. Some estimates insist that the percentage of people working from home by the end of the year could reach has high as 25-30%, which means understanding the best practices is more important than ever.

We spoke to Justin Gallagher, the Head of Product at Trello, to get some tips on how to manage a remote team during the coronavirus pandemic. Take a look at what he had to say about team management in this new normal.

Practice Good Communication

Communication isn't just the best way to have a successful personal relationship; it also helps a lot in business, particularly when it comes to remote work. Keeping in touch with your employees professionally, digitally, and even socially can have a huge impact on productivity, if you do it right.

Professionally

Communicating professionally doesn't mean you have to send all messages on the company letterhead. Rather, professional communication comes in the form of clear guidelines, reasonable deadlines, and mutual transparency about how work gets done and when.

“Be transparent, and make it ok to be transparent during this strange time when everyone is juggling kids, work and co-located partners who are also working from home,” said Gallagher.

Transparency really is the key in this troubled times. In addition to being honest and clear with employees about how work is getting done, giving a bit of honest flexibility can go a long way. Whether parents are attempting to home-school their children or simply having a bad mental health day, the more understanding you are will pay off in the long run.

Digitally

The best way to maintain a professional line of communication is through digital tools. While email used to suffice when it came to communicating in an office, maintaining a level of organization and productivity is pretty hard without a digital infrastructure to start from. And, with dozens of project management tools out there, you'll need to find what works for you. As Gallagher put it:

“Different people can have different expectations, so it's important to define which communication tools you'll use as a team and how.”

As for some of the specifics, Trello is certainly a great option for project management, Slack is equally great for internal messaging, and Zoom is a viable option for video meetings (even with the occasional Zoom privacy hiccup). Make sure to dig deep on what these software offer though, because each one provides something your company might need.

See our guide to the Best Video Conferencing Apps for Business

Socially

You might not realize it until you're stuck working from home, but an office setting has a pretty notable social element. This can be great for mental health, but also for productivity. Recreating some of the social aspects of your office, or creating new ones in their absence, can do a lot to make your team feel like they're still in this together.

“Don’t skip the social rituals that bond a team just because everyone is sitting in different places,” said Gallagher. “It is important to create digital versions of those analog experiences. And if they don’t translate, find new ones!”

Studies have shown that sociable workplaces are happier and more productive, and that's doubly true for remote workplaces. With mental health concerns sweeping the world, giving your employees some social opportunities, like virtual trivia, can go a long way in improving productivity and keeping everyone sane.

Maintain a Productive Environment

Work-from-home policies during the pandemic mean that you're almost exclusively working, well, in your home. Given the many distractions around your house, it's important to maintain a productive environment to stay on task, and that goes for your mental well-being as well as your physical surroundings.

Physical changes

Simply put, working on your couch in your underwear isn't going to fly. To truly commit to productivity while working remotely, you need to set yourself up for success by building yourself an environment that plays to your specific needs when it comes to working at home effectively.

“Your environment affects your productivity,” said Gallagher. “Some people can work indoors under fluorescent lights with no problems, while others need their desks to be near natural light in order to feel alert. Having a proper desk and chair setup can also greatly impact how tired or sore you feel during and after work. Take the time to customize your setup.”

Lighting, furniture, music, room choice, and a wide range of other important factors can hinder or contribute to your productivity when working remotely. Make sure you, first, figure out your own needs and second, actually take action and stay in that productive environment until your day is done.

Mental health considerations

Working from home can stress your mental health, particularly when it's combined with understandable worries about the coronavirus pandemic. Not going to the office, seeing your coworkers, or leaving the house in general doesn't bode well for maintaining a usual level of sanity. However, if you can make sure to keep work and home life separate, you still have a chance. As Gallagher told us:

“Avoid blurring the lines between work and personal time, and don't ignore your internal rhythms of energy.”

If at all possible, don't work in the same place you have fun. Stay on schedule, and keep away from distracting subjects. Avoid social media when possible. All of these tips will help you to keep the work part of your life and the home part of your life in different areas of your brain, and that's good for everyone.

See more of our Best Tips for Working from Home Effectively

Trust Your Team

If you're managing a remote team for the first time during the coronavirus pandemic, it's easy to get in your head about whether or not your employees are actually getting any work done. After all, they're at home, with their TVs and their smartphones, with no way to prove to you that they are heads-down at their desk for eight hours a day.

They're probably slacking off, right?

This type of thinking is neither productive to you or to your employees. By trusting your team – rather than assuming the worst, or being overly paternalistic – you can build the productive workforce you need to get through the pandemic. Gallagher puts it well:

“A mindset of trust and transparency is crucial for any company that wants to be successful in remote working for the long term.”

The world is a different place right now, and working differently is part of that equation. Trust, as opposed to skepticism, can help you maintain your mental health and the mental health of your team, which is the best way to ensure that productivity won't suffer.

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Conor is the Senior Writer for Tech.co. For the last four years, he’s written about everything from Kickstarter campaigns and budding startups to tech titans and innovative technologies. His extensive background in stand-up comedy made him the perfect person to host tech-centric events like Startup Night at SXSW and the Timmy Awards for Tech in Motion. You can email Conor at conor@tech.co.

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