5 Tips for Managing Remote Teams

April 15, 2020

Construction is the industry responsible for keeping our world moving. We don’t often think about the role of construction in keeping public transportation running, electricity on, water running, and many other essential services available.

But it does. Many construction projects not only affect the availability of these services to the general public, but to many health care services, public institutions, government buildings, and safety institutions like police and fire departments. 

This is one of the main reasons why construction as an entire industry hasn’t been shut down during COVID-19. Construction cannot just stop.

Image borrowed from UN News

The DOZR team, like thousands of others around the world, have taken to working from home in the time of social distancing during the COVID-19 global pandemic. Our business revolves around the construction industry so, if they are working through this pandemic then we will, too.

Some of the DOZR team on a group video call. 

We have shifted, however, from working 100% in the office to 100% from home and virtually. It’s been a new working model for us. Not only have we been making it work, but I’ve witnessed the team thrive under these unfortunate circumstances. 

Working from home is a big transition for anyone, but it doesn’t have to be a difficult one. If working from home is new for you or your team, here are five things to consider when managing remote teams during COVID-19 and beyond.

1. Use technology to your advantage

Technology is the key factor to how remote working is even possible. The internet builds the door, but it is the technology created that throws it open.

It’s the use of video calling, shared documents and live chatting that makes remote work really possible. We can screen share to ask specific questions much the same way you would in person. Instant messaging creates real-time conversations that don’t risk being lost in an inbox. It eliminates possible roadblocks that could be created by this “virtual work” practice because communication doesn’t have to suffer. 

Ten years ago, we simply couldn’t work from home in the same capacity as we can now.

Embrace All The Tech

Technology is the key to all the tips that will follow. The ability to not only work remotely but for leaders to keep communication flowing, to maintain personal relationships, to provide support to team members and to be patient and empathetic in this time of uncertainty is all possible because of technology.

Don’t be afraid to use it to your full advantage. Look for new tools that allow you to connect with team members. It may be the time to upgrade to a new type of project or team management platform in order to keep everyone on the same page.

In the construction industry in particular, COVID-19 not only highlights the possibilities that are made possible because of technology but has forced adoption and pushed tech into the forefront of our daily lives. The industry as a whole may see a big push towards autonomous or remote-operable equipment because of the pandemic. 

For me and my team, technology has completely transformed how we work as a company. It’s here to stay. Coming out of COVID-19, the technology used to make workplaces effective and efficient will continue to be used. It’s one way we will not be going back.

2. Keep lines of communication open

One of the biggest challenges for remote-working teams is keeping balls rolling and roads unblocked. Communication can be subject to the biggest adjustment when the team is used to popping by a desk or scheduling a quick touch-base in the office. 

Provide direction to your team about what lines of communication are available and set priorities for them. At DOZR, for example, we prefer video chatting over phone calls. Text or instant messaging is a final option for quick communications and notes.

The choice to prioritize video chatting first is because of the value that can have on communication. Seeing body language, facial expression and even the attention given when you are looking at a person is key in reducing miscommunication issues.

Image borrowed from Lifesize.

Along with setting clear communication expectations, touch base with your team often. It can be easy to get into – and to stay in – an isolation bubble while working from home. Getting face time (even if it’s just virtual) is important. 

For us at DOZR we hold a video group “standup” every morning to kick off our day. It’s something that is done by every department company-wide. Not only does it let us touch base on projects but it’s a good way for us to stay connected as a team. Regular 1:1 (one-on-one’s) between managers and employees as well as scheduled project team meetings can be held over a group video call to keep everyone aligned.

Teams have also settled into using additional tools and tech to keep project teams on the same page. A simple Google Sheets document can be used to track progress and timelines. Having to work from home has renewed the focus on clear communication has almost forced the team into adopting these habits. The outcome of it has been increased communication, clearer project timelines and more efficient workdays. 

Let your team know that your phones and screen are open the same way your door would be in the office. Just because we aren’t physically near each other doesn’t mean that the support leaders have for their teams need to suffer.

3. Maintain personal relationships

One of the best things about working in an office is the relationships that form. This is especially true when the team is small like at DOZR. It can be easy to disconnect yourself from your team members and lose that personal side to work. 

While regular remote work situations could allow for after-work meetups, the social distancing and isolation requirements during COVID-19 stop that from happening. Technology can be leaned on here to help keep team members in touch and to maintain personal relationships.

At DOZR we’ve held virtual hangouts after work for the team to reconnect and see each other. We even did a virtual St. Patricks Day work party! 

Keep Celebrating the Little Wins

Another way to keep things personal in the remote working world is to continue to celebrate the wins of the team. Working in isolation can mean that project completions or company milestones get sidebar or missed entirely. Make an effort to bring these accomplishments forward in a way that the entire team can celebrate. It is a great reminder that although we’re working from home, we still remain a team.

We have been keeping up with our internal monthly e-newsletter while working from home. This month, the e-newsletter featured some online resources for our team members as well as some pictures and stories about how people are staying healthy and active while practicing social isolation. It’s a great way to balance company updates with some more personal tidbits and highlighting accomplishments. It really does help us feel connected to the company and each other. 

“Water cooler conversations” are key to the culture and personality of your company. The personal relationships and culture feel of a workplace have a direct impact on productivity, workplace happiness and employee motivation. While working from home, these conversations cannot happen organically. This is why it’s important to create “virtual” spaces for these non-work-related interactions. 

As a leader I always try to check in with my employees on a personal level at the beginning or end of a video call. Since these remote working changes have been brought on by a global pandemic, checking in with the care of your team is important. Everyone is feeling especially isolated and on edge. Reaching out just to check in or to simply chat about your day can mean a lot. 

4. Set clear work boundaries

Working from home can result in more work than rest. It’s easy to work on projects long after the workday is done when your work is just sitting there. During times of high stress and uncertainty like we are experiencing now, working long hours can be a way to stay distracted and keep yourself occupied. This is why it’s so important to set clear work boundaries for teams that work from home. It’s important to put the work down at the end of the day and enjoy your “you” time. 

It’s even more important right now as mental health and stress are heightened by a global situation that is completely out of our control. 

As many people have their families at home with them now they need to make sure that those relationships are being nurtured too. It’s a great opportunity to use extra time at home to build these relationships and try things you haven’t had time to do before. For Kevin and I, we have gained two hours in a day that we would normally use commuting to and from work. This is a substantial amount of time that we can now use to spend time together as a family.

A great way to support your team members is to encourage them to enjoy their personal time and to do something fun to relax. We have a shared group chat channel in our DOZR team where team members have been sharing virtual classes, online games and resources to help keep us all happy and healthy during this time.

5. Be patient during transition times 

Adjusting to working from home can take time. Our team has had many learnings in the past few weeks about how we can improve communication and efficiency. It has been a learning curve but ultimately I believe it is strengthening our team and empowering us to work together more effectively. 

The transition from office work to working from home is even more difficult right now because of the stress and uncertainty created by COVID-19. There’s a personal toll of the current pandemic that is affecting every single one of us.

Everyone’s reality is changing. Those with small children or elderly relatives to look after may need to adjust their work habits and schedules to work in our new world. Every single one of these situations needs to be approached with kindness, understanding and patience. 

There are also a lot more distractions at home and not everyone has the setup to have a quiet workspace. Members of our team have children or live in one-bedroom apartments with a partner. We have to be patient as people make the transition themselves and take some time to adjust their behaviour to be more effective in our new working situations.

At the end of the day the role of every leader is to support their team. This is more important now than ever as every one of us is living through a global pandemic that has changed our daily lives. If you have patience and understanding for your team, you will see an ROI over time in employee morale, loyalty and productivity.

Image borrowed from Forbes.

People around the world are adjusting to this new “normal” that we seem to be living in right now. Remote work for those who are able to do so is a big part of it. For teams like ours it’s a new experience for us that has required some adjustment.

These five tips for managing remote teams during COVID-19 are ones that both myself and other leaders are leaning on to keep everyone in the DOZR team feeling connected with each other. 

Leaders all over the world can work to make remote working as satisfying, effective and simple as possible. Take advantage of technology and maintain a virtual “open door” policy to keep connected to your team. Encouraging personal connections while out of the office and make sure that all employees are maintaining a clear line between work time and personal time.

Most importantly, be extra patient and empathetic during this pandemic. After all, we’re all human and we’re all in this together.

Comment below and let us know what your team is doing to make working remotely effective.

Erin Stephenson

Erin Stephenson is COO and co-founder of DOZR. Prior to starting DOZR, Erin helped leaders across technology and construction build and execute their strategic plans, with a focus on talent, leadership, and change management. Erin has been breaking down barriers in the construction industry to revolutionize equipment rentals. Working to bridge the chasm between construction and technology, Erin is most like a Bridge Builder Machine. She is driven to move the industry forward and believes that technology is the key to building a more efficient industry.

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