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In the early days of lockdown, the focus for most companies was on two key things: can our staff work from home and if so, how can we best equip them in order to keep the business running effectively?

Those first few weeks or months were primarily about survival, in terms of trying to keep employees safe while meeting basic business needs. But now that we are three months into the coronavirus pandemic lockdown, the focus has begun to shift to the long-term view. It looks like Covid-19 and its immediate consequences will be with us for months to come, if not years, so businesses are having to consider what their ‘new normal’ will look like.

If your decision is to keep your team remote, rather than bringing them back into the physical workspace, you’ll need to consider moving from ‘survival mode’ to ‘maintenance mode.’

So, what happens now? Managers may be wondering how to help build a ‘new normal’ for their staff when the world around them is still far from normal.

Managing remote teams, even in more ordinary circumstances, does require slightly different skills than managing in-person. Communication is, of course, absolutely essential in every sense. Not only must your communication technology work efficiently, for everybody on the team, but managers must also pay more attention to the manner in which they communicate.

Regular scheduled catch-ups, either for the whole team or one-to-one, will help employees to retain a feeling of connection and visibility. The popularity of video calls tends to vary wildly, depending on the individuals involved and the occasion. But although email may be fine for delivering simple instructions or feedback, you’ll want to take it to the phone if you need to have a more nuanced conversation, such as addressing a performance issue.

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Which brings us to another key consideration: expectations. Even as we begin to contemplate a post-coronavirus world, life is a long way from returning to how it was.

So, setting realistic expectations around the productivity and availability of your staff at this time will be a key pillar in building effective remote teams. Managers should clearly communicate the achievements they expect to see, with deadlines if applicable and encourage employees to be honest if they are having problems. Stress that you are there to help manage this situation to the best outcome for everyone, not to chivvy, demand or punish. Providing feedback is also vital – don’t leave already-stressed people to guess whether they’re meeting your expectations.

If your staff member is facing the additional demands on their time and energy that are affecting millions of people – such as childcare or home schooling – accept that accommodations will need to be made for that. Knowing that their employer is not viewing the current situation as ‘business as usual’ will go a long way to easing stress and combating fears that their job may be on the line, on top of everything else!

Mark Fryer

23rd June 2020

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