Five tips for managing remote and virtual workers

05 May 2020 3 min. read

During the Covid-19 crisis, most employees are being forced to work remotely and virtually as businesses are shuttered while others need to adhere to social distancing rules. Anthony Mitchell, the chief potential officer of organisational consultancy Bendelta, shares five tips for managing remote and virtual workers.

Get the mechanics right

First, get the mechanics right. Choose technologies and tools that work for your organisation, context and objectives. Platforms such as Zoom and Teams are well regarded, but every business has different needs and constraints.

The platform, though, is just the start. You may wish to overlay other tools (which may not come with the platform), such as live polling and virtual whiteboards. For this to work, you’ll also need to equip your people to work and engage remotely by providing technology, home office essentials, work, health and safety support, and remote working training.

Five tips for managing remote and virtual workers

Change your mindset

You’ll then need to change your mindset and stop relying on physical proximity. You can check in remotely only every so often, so micromanagement (already a bad practice) becomes untenable. You have to move to managing based around outcomes and value creation. 

Employees have to change too. In the past, you might have joined a video conference or telephone conference and been barely engaged, as you focus more on your emails than the conversation. That’s no longer acceptable and, with visual connection being used much more, everyone must be mentally present, centred and listening well.

Consistently leverage strategies

This kind of team engagement won’t happen automatically, so you’ll need to consistently leverage strategies that grab and hold the attention of your team. Anchor challenges to real life, rather than theory, to not only improve attention but also increase the long-term retention of information.

Alternate modalities when presenting or hosting a team meeting (for example, moving between slides, video and discussion) to give everyone a chance to play to their strengths, increase the level of attention and engagement, and reduce the number of breaks required (because the mode change itself acts as a cognitive break). Finally, alternate sources of knowledge, for example, between the team leader, group discussion and a technical expert. In doing this, you get more commitment, improved decision-making and better team morale. 

Drive team spirit

Driving team spirit will also need to be prioritised. One of the ironies is that many teams become more cohesive when they work virtually, not less. This is because you are likelier to do a daily stand-up virtually and because you see more into someone’s life – you might see their kids, their pets and what’s on their wall. This in turn will drive more interest in each other as people. Leaders need to take full advantage of this to build trust and camaraderie. 

Promote action

Finally, promote action. The risk with virtual is that people become directionless, particularly if they aren’t busy. Virtual is great for creating and maintaining clear, disciplined cadences, but only if you stick to them. Make sure every meeting starts with accountability for previous commitments and ends with a strong call to action. That’s true for face-to-face meetings, but even more so when you may not see the person until the next event.

This article was originally published on The Australian.