As parts of the world contemplate a return-to-work, HR leaders are recognizing that whilst much of their workforce will eventually be back in the office, at least some will continue to work remotely for an extended period of time.
Mostly this is due to staffers that have sick or vulnerable family members to care for, or who are experiencing COVID symptoms themselves. But for some, it's because they are simply too fearful to return just yet.
So, in these cases, how do you manage a partially remote team?
The reality is that managing a partially remote team is actually more complex than managing a fully-remote one. Why? Because you have to contend with inherent inequality of information, varying levels of tech comprehension, social disconnect, and slower lines of communication.
But remote working opens up a world of possibilities for both employees and employers. It allows for more work/life balance, increased flexibility, and in many cases, significantly greater productivity.
Here's what you can do to successfully manage your partially remote team:
1. Equalize information inequality
When you're in the office, you receive information in hundreds of small microtransactions, every day. You overhear conversations, chit-chat with your colleagues over lunch & in the hallway, shoulder-tap your resident tech expert, etc.
Remote workers miss out on all of this - and it can leave them in the dark.
As a manager, you can balance the inequality with three tactics:
Call it out and loop them in If you hear your team having discussions that you know your remote worker/s would be interested in, call it out 'Hey, Jane is on that project right? Can someone send her an email with a quick update?'.
Facilitate informal chats Encourage your team to join meetings 5 mins early and have an informal chat before getting down to business. Or try setting up an informal channel on your inter-office messaging system, where your team can shoot-the-breeze about whatever they like when they like.
Check-in early & often Connect with your remote workers more than you would an in-office employee, even if it's just for a quick 5 minute chat about their day. These check-ins will help you gauge their emotional state and allow an opportunity for them to raise any concerns one-on-one.
2. Rethink standard modes of communication
As an in-office worker, you can shoulder tap anyone in the office if you need a favor or want to draw on their expertise. As a remote worker, these resources aren't so readily available, and often by the time the expert gets back to you, the problem has been solved, or the damage done.
So you need to rethink the way your teams interact.
If you're not already using an internal messaging system like Slack, now is the time to invest.
Internal messaging systems like Slack facilitate a much faster flow of information, and they indicate when a co-worker is 'live' so you know who is available to connect with. They allow you to segment information, ensuring people only see what is relevant to them. And most support in-app calling too - for a one-stop connection hub!
Internal messaging can also eliminate that awful feeling of forgetting to CC one of your colleagues into an email chain 😉
3. Level-up your tech game
When you have teams connecting predominantly online, it's imperative that you've got good gear in place, but more importantly, you need a robust guide on how to USE that gear to best effect. It's hard to feel connected with your team when you can't properly see or hear them.
There are three things both your in-office and remote workers need to consider:
Natural light Be sure to set your camera up somewhere where the light is hitting you front-on, not from behind. This will maximize visibility and ensure your colleagues can ACTUALLY see your face.
Sound quality Always use headphones with a built-in mic or an external USB mic, and try to keep background noise to a minimum. If someone else is giving a presentation, it's good practice to mute your mic unless you have a question.
Camera set-up Set your camera to frame the center of your face (not your chin) and be aware of what’s behind you!
4. Make social connection your trump card
Social connection is the cornerstone of good working relationships, and this can be a challenge for remote workers.
If your in-office team went out for drinks after work on a whim, they're bonding. If someone brings a cake for Kevin's birthday and it turns into an impromptu celebratory morning tea, they're bonding.
So how can you bring your remote workers into the fold and ensure they have the opportunity to connect?
Remote drinks Have your Friday drinks online every second week. Everyone brings a favorite beverage and sets themselves up at their desk for a video call with the whole team. If you use Microsoft Teamsyou can even set ridiculous background too, for a bit of extra fun.
Monthly morning tea Remote workers always miss out on office goodies. So try having a monthly morning tea where you UberEats something tasty right to their front door! Have them dial in via video chat so they feel like part of the celebrations.
Team newsletter Have your team create a short newsletter each month detailing what you're all up to. Pair up one in-office worker and one remote worker each month to make it happen, and watch those connections blossom.
As with everything, empathy is key here, so put yourself in the shoes of your remote workers. How would you feel in their position?
Don't be afraid to simply ask the question: What can I do to make this easier for you?
Contemplating a return-to-work strategy?
Watch our free on-demand webinar ‘Reboarding: Back to business after COVID-19’ and put yourself in the driver’s seat of a second-to-none reboarding process.