Suddenly managing from home?

Electric sign reading "You got this" in black letters on a desk with a phone and computerYou’ve been told to work from home.

On the one hand, yay: you’re at less risk for infection.

But you’re used to being in the office with your team. And now you can’t walk over to someone’s desk to ask a question or get a status report, and they can’t come to your office to check in or brainstorm problems.

Everyone’s unsettled and feeling isolated. You need to manage the people and the work, as always. And managing the people means you need to help manage their anxiety and stress.

Let’s start with one simple reality: productivity is likely to go down, for two reasons.

Reason one: that anxiety and stress. People are worried about what’s happening, what might happen, and the potential for high-risk loved ones to get sick.

Reason two: working from home is unfamiliar. For a team used to being in the office, everything is out of whack. They can’t communicate in the same easy ways, they don’t know where their stuff is, and it’s generally just plain unsettling.

And you, of course, are facing the same issues.

Like everyone else, you don’t know what’s going to happen. But as the leader, you can stay sensible. You can keep yourself informed from reputable, reliable sources – and pass those sources of information on to your team. And you can be a compassionate manager if and when someone on your team gets sick, or has a sick family member.

Here are some basic guidelines for managing your team from home. You’ve probably already seen some of them (it seems like everyone and their cousin is writing about how to work from home), but since I’ve not seen anything on managing from home, some of these will be new to you.

Stick to routine

Everyone loves to talk about “yay – work from home in your PJs!”, but that’s really not the way to go about it. The human brain works best within the familiarity of habit. And in unsettled times, habit and familiarity are not just important; they’re comforting.

Stick to your regular morning routine, whatever that might be. Do not try to work in your PJs (I highly doubt you go to the office in your PJs, or in sweats, for that matter). If you don’t have an official office, or even a desk, at home, find a table where you can set up a temporary office.

Encourage your team to follow their usual routines as well. If you have regular team meetings, keep them on the schedule. Use Zoom or Skype or whatever your company’s preferred video-conferencing platform might be. It’s important to see everyone’s face; it really makes a difference.

Set standards for communication

When you all work in the same office, flexibility in communication is fine.

But now you need more structure to keep things on track.

Consider adding a daily or every-other-day check-in meeting (always on video!). It can be just 15 minutes – or less – to go around and see how everyone’s doing and where they are in their tasks. It’s not just about getting stuff done; it’s also about supporting each other.

Set up a shared file space, if you don’t already have one, where your team can post regular status updates – and define what “regular” means!

The key in any distributed team is to stay in touch, and that’s even more crucial right now when everyone is stressed and anxious.

Stay informed – and stay busy

A lot of people are getting hung up keeping track of every little bit of news and information.

It’s understandable, but it’s not the best choice; it only amps up the anxiety, and it definitely destroys productivity.

Staying busy is a great antidote to the worry monster.

You’re the manager and leader. Your team looks to you for clues. If you stay positive, focused, and busy, and expect them to do the same, they’ll follow along.

And since people want and need to know what’s happening, do your best to keep the lid on rumors and conspiracy theories by sharing reputable sources of information, such the World Health Organization site, this dashboard map from Johns Hopkins University that provides worldwide details (you can drill down by locale), and any reliable local sources. Help them be sensible in what they choose to do, without panicking.

Be sensitive and responsive

Someone on your team is almost certain to get sick and/or have family members who get sick.

Ask if they need support or help, especially if they have family members who are high-risk.

Know ahead of time what your company will do for employees. What are the basic policies already in place, and what, if anything, is being added? Is there financial support available if an employee is ill for an extended period, or needs to take time to care for a family member?

(For some more ideas on managing with empathy, watch this video on the Empathetic Manager.)

(For more on managing a remote team, watch this video on … yep, you guessed it … managing a remote team!)

Control and uncertainty

Humans don’t do uncertainty well. It’s natural for you and everyone else to feel anxious.

The reality is, though, that there are three things in this world:

  1. Things we can control
  2. Things we can’t control
  3. And things we have some influence over

What can we control?

There are people out there who maintain that we can control our emotions and thoughts – but when everything is in turmoil, that’s not realistic. So don’t beat yourself up if you’re feeling scared, uncertain, or even panicky, and don’t expect your team to be able to stay 100% on track with their work.

But you and your team can control your actions. You can control when and how you go out, who you see, and how far back you stand from people you meet. Elbow-bumps are the new handshake … or simply place a hand on your heart and give a slight bow.

You can control whether or not you touch your face. You can control how often you wash your hands.

What can we influence?

You can influence your team to follow smart safety procedures.

I’ll leave it to you to choose what other influence-related actions you wish to take relative to public policy – but remember that you do have influence there as well.

Stay safe. Stay well. Keep breathing.

We will get through this, just as we have gotten through everything else that’s happened to us over the years.

There is a future you who knows what happened. One day at a time, you’re getting closer to that future you.

And please. Wash your hands.

More on this in this video on my YouTube channel.

Want help? I’ve got it – no cost during this time

If you’re a newly-remote manager and want some help with this, I’m waiving my usual fee for the duration of this situation. Just click here to schedule time. Happy to help!