As an online coach and business consultant for 15+ years with expertise in telecommuting with clients, I am not as drastically impacted by our current global situation as others might be!  For many businesses, this change has meant a giant, forced upheaval of “the way they do things” :  a formidable challenge to the existing culture, management styles, and ways of working. As part of our leadership coaching series, I wanted to share some tips that can help leaders and managers adapt and thrive during this unusual time for businesses.

Managers accustomed to face-to-face contact and minute-by-minute updates may find it challenging adjusting to the new level of depersonalization that telecommuting is bringing currently. 

Leaders and managers have a special responsibility and unique challenge of giving direction during this uncertain time. Through my experience, here are some master tips in telecommuting and managing remote teams I have found especially helpful:

1- Utilize multiple communication channels. Telecommuting means making full use of what technology has to offer in terms of communication modes. E-mail can be limited as messages can often get missed or overlooked in employee inboxes that quickly get full. 

Phone calls can become overkill and an invasion of an employee’s boundaries if they become excessive. Becoming proficient in tools outside of just email and phone, such as Slack, Microsoft Teams, Zoom, and others may be essential to ensure important messages are being received and responded to in a timely manner.

Woman working from home - telecommuting employees

2- Gain agreement on expectations and boundaries. When transitioning to telecommuting, it is important to have an initial talk with team members and direct reports to set clear context and agreements on how work will be completed going forward. This conversation should include a discussion on individual work styles and preferences, expectations, as well as individual boundaries. 

For example, understanding how an employee prefers to be contacted and agreeing on a cadence for communication is essential (e.g. a daily morning check-in vs. phone calls as needed throughout the day). Ensuring that both sides are comfortable with the level and styles of communication is essential.

3- Establish clear milestones with dates. Since you won’t have the same level of in-person access to your team, you will want to be able to express clearly the results you expect within a certain span of time. Stop thinking in terms of employee hours and start thinking more in terms of output, results, and deliverables. Then, allow team members to self-organize themselves to be able to deliver, with your guidance and coaching as needed.

4- Don’t micro-manage. Along these lines, trust your team members and reports. Respect that the new situation calls for a hybrid of work and home life, so each employee’s circumstance may be slightly unique. 

Your best bet is to establish clear expectations from the beginning and trust your team members to deliver on them without constantly checking in. At the same time, you will want to have check-ins on some reasonable cadence (e.g. daily or weekly at the same time) to provide support and ensure progress is being made. Finding this balance is key.  

If you have a tendency to micromanage, it may be time to be honest with yourself and look into leadership coaching to help change your mindset and allow you to trust others more. 

5- Ensure cross-functional collaboration to minimize confusion. Most businesses already struggle with misunderstandings between individuals and functions. These problems can get exacerbated when

telecommuting employees. A video screen is no substitute for face to face contact. 

One way to alleviate this is by ensuring that meetings, whenever possible, involve the multiple parties concerned, so that everyone is on the same page with the same message. Using collaborative work tools like Google Docs can also prove to be invaluable, so that everyone works from the same document with the most recent updates and comments, minimizing confusion.

Coronavirus Has Sped Up Existing Workplace Trends for Telecommuting Employees

Home desktop with a cat - telecommuting employees

I believe there is no better indication that the world is in major flux and we are quickly ushering in the “Future of Work,” than looking at our global situation as it stands today.

Even before the current coronavirus disaster hit, we saw trends of how workplaces were slowly evolving to this moment. Some examples include: 

1- Employees demanding greater flexibility and autonomy, more work-life balance (e.g. telecommuting 1–2 days each week)

2- Cloud and mobile access of data and documents implemented at most workplaces

3- Work changing from hourly-based to more results-based

4- Use of live video meeting technology like Zoom, BlueJeans, and others

The current situation seems to have sped up these trends, possibly at an uncomfortable pace for some, who are used to more traditional ways of working. In order to thrive in this current environment and beyond, it is essential for a good leader/manager to change and adapt their mindset through leadership coaching and adopting new communication practices — because things will surely never go back to being the same. 

How has your business been affected by coronavirus? Do you have more employees telecommuting and are you experiencing one or more issues as a result? Call to discuss how leadership coaching can support the culture change your business needs to evolve in this uncertain climate.