As Covid-19 stay-at-home orders spread, you may be struggling to take your team remote for the first time. It's a high-stress situation, and unfortunately, your intense need to control the situation could be making it harder for everyone.
You can't do anything about what your government decides or what's happening to your customers, so it makes sense to focus on controlling what you can: your team. But some practices that seem logical when you're all in the office together don't work in a remote setting.
Here are four of the most common mistakes newly remote leaders make, and what you should do instead.
Mistake 1: Demanding high productivity.
Remote teams can be remarkably productive and even outperform their in-office counterparts, but not on day one or when they're distracted. By failing to acknowledge this, you're adding to that stress. You are making work harder.
Instead, identify the highest priority tasks right now and relax the rest.
Run a "Start, Stop, Continue" exercise with your team. Put everything you're doing on one of these lists. Challenge yourselves to get the Start and Continue lists as short as possible while still ensuring critical business operations.
Mistake 2: Assuming this is temporary.
"A manager told me we'll be back to the office in a few weeks, so there's no need for distributed team support," reported one employee.
It's possible your office may re-open soon, but Covid-19 may not be the only reason you'll ever need to go remote. It's more likely that crises like this will re-occur and permanently change how work gets done going forward.
That's why you should "Get good at working remotely" to your Start list, and treat this as an opportunity to build skills for the future.
Teams with solid remote work skills are proving more resilient now. Your competitors are figuring out remote work too. Next time, anyone without these skills won't make it.
Mistake 3: Disallowing use of any non-approved tools.
Software procurement processes are designed to control risk, but they're also expensive and time-consuming. That's not an expense leaders can afford now, so they've told teams to make do.
Unfortunately, technology tuned for the office might not suffice. Facebook is struggling with this right now, as employees use unapproved tools to meet demands.
"You can't have it both ways. Either give your teams the resources they need to be effective or decrease your expectations," says David Horowitz, the CEO of Retrium, a platform for running online retrospectives.
Create an expedited process for adopting new tools. Make it possible for employees to register the tools they're trying out (because they are very likely trying some new ones), to see what others tried, and to see risky tools they must avoid.
When your team finds something that increases productivity, buy it. Software costs pale when compared to the costs of lost opportunity.
Mistake 4: Dictating hours and response times.
Leaders keep asking, "How can I hold people accountable when I can't see them?"
In some companies, managers are demanding updates by email so often that they're flooding inboxes and making it impossible for people to see what they're supposed to reply to.
Others require an 8-to-5 online presence, leaving workers afraid to step away from the computer. These dictatorial, invasive practices pose a burden that's enormously stressful, counterproductive, and unnecessary, especially for employees with families.
You won't get the accountability you need by micro-managing. Theresa Sigillito Hollema, a global team expert and director of Interact Global, says, "Trust between leaders and team members starts with the leader. You must figure out how to monitor the work output, rather than the work activity."
The Start, Stop, Continue exercise can help you define those near-term outputs. Then, stop nagging people on email and chat.
Instead, meet with your team every day via phone or videoconference to discuss what they've accomplished (there's your accountability!), what they're planning to do that day, and where they need help.
You should also meet one-on-one with every individual. To increase performance, don't use this time to demand updates. Use it to find and bust through anything blocking your team as quickly as possible.
Finally, take a deep breath. Remote work may be new to you, but that doesn't make it unproven or risky. Stop trying to control the situation and focus instead on finding the new opportunities created. Remote work is different, so slow down and learn from many of the excellent resources out there.