How to lead your team when everyone's working from home, according to a president who's managed more than 350 remote workers for over a decade

Jay Friedman

Courtesy Jay Friedman

Jay Friedman.

  • Jay Friedman is the president and partner of Goodway Group, and a nationally recognized and accomplished digital media expert, speaker, and author.
  • Friedman has led a team of more than 350 remote workers since 2008.
  • With many teams turning to remote work during the novel coronavirus pandemic, he recommends managers maximize flexibility for "work-life integration."
  • He also writes that you should save all documents and meeting minutes, offer extra support for those who are struggling with the transition to working from home, and monitor your employees' anxiety.
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Corporate leaders are currently finding themselves in a unique situation of not only managing their workforce remotely, but also helping employees work while adhering to quarantine measures.

But this time of physical distancing doesn't mean we need to be socially distant as well. How do leaders deal with a situation where kids are showing up on video calls, some employees don't turn on the camera at all, and the hallway conversation in passing is no longer possible?Advertisement

As someone who manages more than 350 people remotely - and has done so since 2008 - I can tell you that to get through this work-from-home quarantine onset by the COVID-19 pandemic, your mindset has to shift to flexibility, overcommunication, and compassion. Take everyone's situation into consideration and adopt accordingly.

Maximize flexibility and establish 'work-life integration'

For those who are at home with kids and facing the prospect of having to home-school, flexibility is paramount. Establish parameters for a "work-life integration" plan for employees to adopt.

We don't use "work-life balance": We use "work-life integration." Moving to this mindset helps set the expectation that employees may need to work at odd hours to get their jobs done and gives employees some slight flexibility during the day.

Work with your teams on establishing new routines and shifting responsibilities with others who are not finding themselves with additional responsibilities. Many will likely still be able to adhere to the traditional 9-to-5 work day.

To avoid miscommunication, encourage employees to be open on their calendars by blocking out "family" time; encourage those without such responsibilities to carve out "personal time" before and after their work day to facilitate healthy work-life harmony.

Save documents and recordings for internal review

One area that sets a remote company apart from a physical one is the emphasis on documentation. In a company where people are meeting with one another in person, there is often the (wrong) impression that messages are getting through and people know what to do after a meeting. But are files being kept in the appropriate folders? Is account history being recorded accurately? Advertisement

Even with the shift to cloud and various online project management and marketing platforms, the concept of documentation falls short in most organizations, and not saving records is a big hindrance to productivity and collaboration. This also includes recording your video calls - both for later reference and for those who missed the meeting to catch up without having to rely on an interpretation from a note taker.

When navigating the waters remotely now and into the future, clear documentation will set all companies up for success. At my company, we use Zoom for all video meetings, have experimented with for transcription, and post the recordings, notes, and action steps to our internal wiki: Atlassian Confluence.

Offer extra support, especially if working from home is a big transition

Remote working isn't universal. Some people don't thrive in this environment. During this pandemic, it's important to offer extra support to those who operate better face to face. The best way to ensure people are engaged is to over-communicate. You can do daily check-ins and virtual hangouts like morning coffee or lunch. If the method you're trying isn't working, change and adapt quickly.Advertisement

And remember, many people do thrive working remotely! You may even discover that they're more efficient and productive at home than in the office - a finding that many studies support, including this very large study from the Oxford Academic.

Monitor employees for stress and anxiety

While some may not thrive working remotely, you can assume across the board that very few thrive being under quarantine. Tensions are high. During this time, it is critical to lead with purpose, positivity, and proactivity - while also being compassionate and empathetic.

When speaking with teams and individuals one on one, make sure to acknowledge their situation. Ask them how they're doing. Be flexible on deadlines when possible and offer to help them get the resources they need to get their jobs done. But then, remind them of your purpose. Your company likely has a "big why" around what it does for the world. Integrate that, remind the employee of how valuable their contributions are, and their tank will be full - for a time anyway!Advertisement

Above all, remember that it's results - not hours - that matter. Especially during times like these, look at the team's achievements and celebrate what they've done. The ongoing support and celebration of wins - both large and small - will be a huge motivator.