Over the past few weeks, we've been thinking more about how to manage a team that’s been forced to work remotely on short notice. From years of experience running remote teams, we know there needs to be an emphasis on trust and transparency, as well as the value of strong asynchronous communication. We're also going to be sharing some tools that can help your remote team, whether you’re doing so on short notice or if it’s been part of the plan all along.
While all of these things are important from a management and operational standpoint, managers of remote teams must also prioritize the needs of each individual. Since it seems likely teams will be working remotely for a while, let’s discuss how to promote the well-being of your remote team and keep everyone at ease.
1. Encourage People to Create a Comfortable Home Office
Perhaps the most fundamental component of well-being at work is your physical workspace. It’s easy to assume that a comfortable set-up is a given when we work from home, but sharing living spaces can make it complicated. Whatever the obstacles, a comfortable home office has a huge bearing on productivity, and no less important, every team member’s overall peace of mind.
Encourage your team to create a workspace with limited distractions, ideally in a room different from the one where they sleep and where they can’t be distracted by family members or roommates. If that’s not possible, it’s still important to set parameters for uninterrupted work.
There are a few amenities that can make your home office set up more comfortable -- things like cushioned chairs, a second computer screen, a standing desk, and noise-cancelling headphones. At Microverse, we provide a home office stipend to everyone so they can create the physical work environment that best suits them. Shopify also recently announced that it is giving each employee $1,000 to furnish their home office in light of the coronavirus pandemic. Even on a limited budget, a few touches can make a work space more conducive to creativity and productivity.
2. Prioritize Mental and Physical Health
It can be hard to maintain a rhythm that promotes good mental and physical health while working from home. It’s even harder when a situation like a global pandemic completely undermines daily life.
Understand that flexibility will do a lot for the well-being of your team. Allow everyone to set their own schedule as much as possible. This probably means setting aside time during the day for things that have nothing to do with work, whether it’s exercising, spending time with a loved one, doing something creative, or just taking it easy.
In normal times, it’s advised to provide a gym stipend to your team members. Although many gyms are closed, there are still ways for your team to stay active at home. Many companies are offering free online workout classes in the wake of the coronavirus crisis. Share these resources with your team and encourage them to share their home workout routines with each other.
While regular exercise is important for the well-being of everyone on your remote team, it’s helpful to provide team members access to mental health resources like licensed therapists. We also encourage regular meditation. It’s proven to improve sleep, reduce anxiety and depression, and even to focus better. Headspace is an excellent app for guided meditation and mindfulness.
Regardless of circumstances, helping team members prioritize their mental and physical wellness is the responsibility of every manager, and is especially important for remote teams. Keep in mind that the more you promote well-being, the more effective your team is likely to be.
3. Incorporate Regular, Non-Work Related Socialization
Last week, I shared some of the tools we use at Microvere so that our remote team can stay in touch with each other and up to date on everything, big and small, happening within the company. We also make it a priority to structure our remote team so that they can socialize through work.
One example is that every Friday at Microverse, we have a meeting on Zoom called, ‘BBB’: Beverage, Brag, and Beg (with ‘Blunder’ being an optional fourth B). Everyone takes turns sharing each of the following:
- What are you drinking? This is a fun one especially when you have an international team in different time zones. Some people are cracking open a beer for happy hour while others are still on their first cup of coffee in the morning.
- What is something that you are really excited or proud about? This can really be anything.
- What is something you need help with? A project, some kind of recommendation, or whatever it is your teammates can help you with.
- Finally: a blunder. What is something that you goofed up or didn’t quite go exactly according to plan?
It’s a pretty simple premise, but we have a lot of fun with BBBs. We find that when people have the opportunity to make themselves vulnerable every once in a while, we grow closer as a team, and we end up working better together.
We also do ‘micro-meets’ once every two weeks: A tool called Donut helps us randomly pair team members who set aside thirty minutes to talk about things that have nothing to do with work. It gives people who don’t work directly together the chance to get to know each other, and is a simple way to help foster a healthy social balance on your remote team.
4. Foster Spontaneity and Serendipity
Our team is always remote, which means it can be harder to have the kinds of casual and spontaneous conversations that lead to major insights or breakthroughs. During normal times, we schedule a team retreat every nine months, where we can all meet in person, somewhere in the world, for a week.
Since our team retreat was planned for next week, we had to postpone our in-person retreat and have instead planned a fully remote retreat next week. We will share more about it and our learnings from it afterwards, stay tuned!
We also find other ways to foster the spontaneity and serendipity that keeps us inspired, motivated, and engaged with one another. While we use Twist for all work-related communication, we use Slack strictly for non-work discussions. We have channels related to many topics: from book and movie recommendations, to weekend adventures , and more. Lately, the team has been sharing different ways of staying busy and upbeat while restricted to the confines of home.
For now, this is how serendipity happens, and it’s important for maintaining normalcy while people are required to stay home all over the world. While everyone, without exception, has had to adjust to deal with the present circumstances, these simple practices will really help promote the free flow of creativity.
5. Don’t Micromanage, but Check in Often
The last way to keep your team at ease during an indefinite period of working remotely is to remember not to micromanage. As I stated last week, building a genuine culture of trust should be more about having faith in your team that they’ll do the right thing, more so than it is to constantly be observing and checking that this is the case.
That being said, it’s important to check in often -- especially at the beginning of this new arrangement. What are the biggest challenges? What ways can you and the rest of your team be more supportive? Give the people on your team the space to share how they feel about working remotely, and you’ll get a good sense of who will need more support.
6. Focus on Outputs, not Inputs
Finally, focus on output, and do what you can to ensure team members are still hitting their goals. When someone misses a deadline, ask what happened, but always lead with curiosity and empathy. And don’t be afraid to tell your team about the new challenges you’re facing as well. Remember that this is new for everyone. Transparency and vulnerability will go a long way.