I recently caught up with an old client of mine, Rosie. When I first met her four years ago, she was an ambitious college graduate looking to kick her career off on the right foot. From our conversations, it didn’t take long to discover her core skills: she was a complete math wiz, and shortly after connecting, she landed a job as a junior financial analyst at a medium-sized firm.
Really, it’s journeys like Rosie’s that make being a career coach so unbelievably gratifying. Your zone of genius can often be so obvious to others— but not you, which is why I was so glad to see her pursue a path in her natural gifts.
Rosie quickly climbed the ranks in finance, and before long, she was in charge of a huge portfolio and her own team. What she didn’t ask me about, or prepare for, was how to manage a team remotely— and she was struggling. But, it’s important to note that Rosie’s struggle isn’t unique; so many people are not entirely sure how to manage a team, especially when it’s a part of their job they didn’t necessarily foresee.
And while COVID-19 and the subsequent shift to remote work has been a difficult transition for everyone, in December of 2020, a survey found that middle managers were 91% more likely to report that they were struggling with remote work as compared to executives and individual employees. Another study found that 40% of managers were not confident that they had the skills to lead a team through remote work.
These are some pretty striking numbers— and yet, it seems totally understandable given our new circumstances that people may be doubting their leadership in unknown waters. So, what are some ways you can still be a good manager while leading your team remotely? What is the key to managing remote employees?
Step 1: Find ways to break up the monotony of endless video meetings
All over the world of work, we’re seeing signs that all this accrued screen time is draining employees. Remote workers are spending up to one third of their workdays on camera, causing what is known as “video call fatigue” in around 38% of people. This phenomenon shouldn’t be surprising given that 24% of people find video calls to be “inefficient.” Of course a level of perceived inefficiency is going to leave employees wanting to communicate with their colleagues in other ways, so it’s up to you as a manager to leave people with the impression that these meetings are useful.
That takes us to the million dollar question: How? Well, you may have to get creative. Given the data, you might want to limit the mandatory hours that employees have to be engaged in virtual meets, or you might need to find a way to make video meetings more engaging, interesting, and most importantly, genuinely productive. If your employees don’t see results being yielded by video calls, then they’re not wrong to question their necessity.
Everyone’s workplace is a little different, but here are a few general strategies that may help limit the amount of time a staff needs to be staring into their webcam.
- Implement “Zoom-free days.” If you leave employees with a day free of video conferencing, they’re more likely to be more energized when it is in fact time to get in front of a webcam. Quality over quantity, right?
- Utilize the technology. If there are meetings that a staff member may not have to actively contribute to, but still contains relevant information to their role, consider recording the meeting and making it available to them when it first best fits into their work schedule.
- Zoom’s audio transcription feature. This feature can give you the opportunity to give an executive assistant a break so that they can re-engage with the material and contribute above and beyond their pay grade once they’re refocused.
- Consider the good, old-fashioned conference call. Turn back the clock a few years and schedule a good old-fashioned conference call, or encourage employees to take a break from video and discuss projects on the phone. Sometimes video adds pressure or distractions, so when you’re scheduling a conference, ask yourself: does it have to be a Zoom or Google Meet?
- Remind yourself of the 80/20 rule for productivity. When you’re clicking from one Zoom link to another, it can begin to feel really monotonous. The ratio of 80% structured work time to 20% unstructured time can actually contribute to individual creativity and productivity which is beneficial to the team as a collective. You just need to give your team the room to accomplish their own goals in their own way!
With all that being said, some workplaces are extremely collaborative, making it more difficult to limit the amount and/or time of video meetings. If this sounds like your team, then consider a few ways to mix it up.
- Try an alternative platform. You may find that trying a new video-conferencing platform offers your team a more engaging and organic experience. Take Minglr for example. The goal of this app is to restore “watercooler banter” that is often missing from the formal space and encourage the kind of out-of-the-box ideas that often arise when employees have the opportunity to chat amongst themselves before and after meetings.
- Integrate Mmhmm, an exciting new startup that enhances the Zoom experience to create dynamic visuals from your favorite TV news show. The Mmhmm add-on allows people to create compelling presentations that appear on screen along with your video feed.
- Zoom costume party. Ok, if this is completely outside of your company culture, then feel free to read on. But if this piques your interest at all, then you should know that this can be a really great way to switch things up and bring some harmless fun into the workplace that will hopefully motivate people for the day! This doesn’t necessarily mean people will enter a Zoom call in their full-blown Halloween costumes, but it can be as simple as asking staff to wear their favorite T-shirt and share the story behind it.
Step 2: Make sure that you are providing resources for employees’ mental health
In reality, this has always been a crucial element to managing a team— Covid-19 and remote work aside— but this has become especially true in the wake of the pandemic. To paint a picture, 41% of Americans have reported experiencing anxiety and depression, a figure that is up considerably from just 11% in 2019. Another survey found that in the U.S. and U.K, workers had a 27% drop in overall mental wellness.
It’s no surprise that a decline in mental health so drastic translates directly into the workplace. An October 2020 study of leaders in business believed that team morale was declining due to ongoing mental health challenges of Covid-19.
So, how can you as a manager provide the necessary resources and support systems for your employees and staff members who may be dealing with challenges in their own mental health?
- Conduct an audit of mental health resources in the company health coverage
Start by gathering as much info as you can about what resources are currently available to your staff. As a manager, it’s key to know this information because it really serves them to feel supported by your awareness!
If you dig and do some research and you find that your company’s insurance policies are not sufficient, this is a great opportunity to speak on behalf of your team. Consider addressing the issue with HR, or whoever is in charge of employee benefits so that every one of your employees feels supported in their self-care initiatives.
- Make sure that you are encouraging strong work-life boundaries
Remote work means no commuting, and in many ways this has had a positive effect on employees’ quality of life. For one, the lack of a commute can mean as much as two hours can be spent running errands, relaxing, taking up a hobby, etc.
However, without the normalcy of a commute, the lines between work and home can get blurry. There’s no clear, physical separation between your work-life and your home-life, which means that it’s harder to make a mental distinction, too.
Overall, remote workers are logging more hours…. a lot more hours. When workers transitioned to remote work, they found themselves putting in an average of 48 more minutes per day. That adds up!
So, it’s absolutely crucial to encourage your staff to set good boundaries— bonus points if you can actively notice when someone seems to be burning out. If you’re constantly receiving emails from a certain employee at all hours of the day and night, pay attention and shamelessly encourage them to set boundaries around their hours!
The best way you can motivate your team to set boundaries, however, isn’t by telling your team to do so— it’s by setting the example yourself! If you’re not consciously setting aside time for yourself outside of work, then your team might feel second-hand, implicit pressure to work as much as you do. You don’t want to invoke these feelings in your team! Take your own personal days and consider implementing a group day off to normalize self-care breaks.
- Provide mental health screening and seminars
If you are comfortable, make yourself available, or alternatively, make sure that there is another safe space for members of your staff to open and seek help for any mental or behavioral health concerns.
A great start is as simple as making them aware of resources like HelpYourselfHelpOthers, an anonymous mental health screening tool.
Step 3: Do something to boost morale
When it comes to day-to-day or regular Monday blues, you can try to boost team morale by simply creating some fun. 63% of employees spent less time socializing with their co-workers after going to remote work.
The fact is that having friendships at work can be an integral part of team culture and productivity. For instance, did you know that workers with friends at work are less likely to leave their job? It’s true, and it makes sense: we spend almost all-day everyday with our co-workers, so if your team genuinely enjoys each other’s company, they’re less likely to leave their current role.
Here are a few ideas that will get your team excited for a chance to reconnect outside of work, even if it means they have to do it from behind their computer screens.
- Virtual Happy Hour.
- Virtual wine or beer tasting. Send them all a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon and a nice dry Riesling for everyone to share their opinions on.
- Host a viewing party. Teleparty is a super fun way to watch Netflix in a group.
- Create a sports or TV bracket. Yes, I’m talking about everything from March Madness to the Bachelor.
It takes a great leader to navigate the past year and a half, but it’s not rocket science. Being a great manager during these weird times requires a pulse of the technology available to you, a good support system, and perhaps the occasional help from a bottle of wine.