While working remotely may not be new to your organization, doing so as the COVID-19 public health crisis spreads certainly is. The added stress of what’s going on in not only in our communities but all over the world, coupled with even more isolation than remote contractors may be used to, will inevitably change the way we manage ourselves and our teams. 

Since the new requirement of “social distancing” has required us all to stay indoors, away from family and friends and anyone else we don’t live with, many who previously thrived in a remote culture due to an ability to work from wherever they please, or who structure their daily lives in a way that allows for some social activity, now have to shift from what worked for them individually to what now has to work for them regardless. 

Being understanding of how this “new normal” can affect everyone is a must right now, and knowing how to keep your remote team members amped during a time when mental health is on the line is key to ensuring success. 

Here are five important ways to keep your remote team engaged and successful during the COVID-19 crisis. 

1. Understand that this adjustment takes time. 

It’s likely most of your team is already used to working remotely, but this new change in everyone’s daily lives may require an adjustment period. Some of your contractors might have their entire family at home with them now, children who need to be homeschooled or at the very least, looked after during the day, as well as other stressors that can impact their turnaround time. 

Now is the time to open up a line of dialogue with your remote team – both as a whole and on an individual basis to get a better understanding of what’s working and what needs to shift. Do you need to adjust meeting schedules? Will certain timelines need to be adjusted? This will take time, some patience, and a lot of understanding of what it means to have your team members’ daily lives change in a way that’s outside of anyone’s control. 

2. Be sure to engage your remote team members every day – or as often as possible. 

Harvard Business Review Analytic Services conducted a survey of business leaders that found that just 24% of respondents say employees in their organizations are highly engaged, yet 71% rank employee engagement as very important to achieving overall organizational success. Since the COVID-19 pandemic can and likely will affect your team’s ability to stay on the same page every day, ensuring you keep each member engaged is key to holding it all together. 

Take time to reach out to remote employees and check in with how they’re doing (without micromanaging, of course). A simple daily check-in email or a quick message via Slack can do the trick. Since your workday may not overlap with every member of your team now, that doesn’t mean there aren’t opportunities for engagement that keeps everyone on the same page, even if that page looks vastly different from day-to-day than what you were all previously used to. 

3. Figure out ways you can support your remote team so they can be fully present. 

Do you have a budget to help reimburse team members who now have to pay for at-home childcare (yes, childcare providers are deemed essential employees, although extreme precautions have to be taken to ensure one’s family stays safe and healthy)? Can you provide some sort of way to ensure your team members stay physically active from home now that gyms and fitness studios are closed? 

Or perhaps one person on your team needs an entire overhaul in what their schedule looks like so they can accommodate caring for a family member who suddenly had to move in. How can you support each member so that they can continue to thrive during this time? Checking in daily is great, but making sure each member’s new lifestyle changes are supported can make a huge difference in productivity and morale. 

4. Prepare for increased support and customer service needs. 

Depending on what your company does, you may see a huge increase in support needs. Everyone’s daily lives have been affected, and your staff may become extremely overwhelmed as calls and emails come in at an unmanageable rate. Do you need to hire more team members? Will you need to tweak schedules or find new software to ensure your customers and clients are able to still use your services? 

5. And perhaps, most importantly, now is the time to make sure you communicate as clearly as possible. 

This may be a great time to prepare and send employees FAQs, tips, and best practices to help them during this transition that everyone is coping with. Communicate any and all changes, be sure to give each team member the time to review and have any questions or concerns addressed, and find a way to host all the information so your team can access it at any time. 

You should also recognize that it can be overwhelming for people to adjust to these changes as quickly as possible. While humans certainly adapt to changes, as mentioned above, there are several added stressors that may affect someone’s ability to “take it all in.”

Communicate changes clearly, and make sure you are able to understand how each individual is impacted. 

While sudden, anxiety-inducing change is undeniably challenging for any organization, people are learning quickly how to cope. What sets apart this pandemic from any other is that we now have the technology to connect with and support our teams. 

As the COVID-19 situation evolves, we will see many companies shift how they previously conducted themselves and quickly adjust to what is now our new normal. It may not be perfect at first, and there will be hurdles to jump along the way. But as long as you can understand that this is challenging (yet doable), you can ensure your remote teams can still thrive.

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