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The COVID-19 pandemic has thrust the world into the largest ever work-from-home experiment.

Many businesses are finding out how to adapt to a work-from-home workforce.

Before the pandemic, around 25% of Americans worked from home at least some of the time. While some jobs simply do not translate to work-from-home options (like surgery, welding, construction, etc.), many companies are finding out just how many of their critical functions can be performed by remote teams.

If your team has gone remote overnight due to COVID-19, your leadership is as important as ever, but you will, of course, lead differently. Here’s how to continue leading effectively when you suddenly lead a remote team.

Potential Problems When Everyone Suddenly Works from Home

While the idea of working from home seems super convenient and almost luxurious, there can be real challenges. Social isolation is more difficult for some people than for others, and it can seriously affect some people’s morale and motivation.

While most people do just fine without face-to-face supervision, there may be some who struggle. Additionally, adequate access to information and institutional knowledge and distractions at home in the form of young children, pets, neighbors, and other comforts of home can affect productivity. With your leadership, however, your team can overcome these challenges.

Practical Steps for Leaders

The first thing leaders must do is to ensure that all team members have the technology and tools they need to work remotely. Your IT department and HR can help you with this task. Other ways leaders can ensure success of work-from-home teams include:

Scheduling brief, daily team check-ins in the form of a quick conference call or video conference. As your team gets used to working from home, you may cut back to once per week.

Brief, regular check-ins help people feel connected.

Setting and managing expectations. Each team member needs to know what to do, what the deadlines are, and the quality that you expect from their work.

Communicate frequently over multiple channels. You may use group chat (like Slack) for quick questions, emails for standard inquiries, and phone calls for more urgent help. Don’t be afraid to designate a “watercooler” channel on your group chat for socialization, because this can boost morale.

Focus on outcomes. Micromanaging doesn’t work well in person and it certainly doesn’t work with remote teams. Trust your teams to do their best and make it clear that they can come to you with questions or problems.

Helping Your Managers Trust Workers They Can’t See

If you lead a large group of people, you may supervise multiple managers. Not all managers are comfortable managing people they don’t see in person. You can help them by tailoring your leadership to each individual, knowing what each manager needs to work best and helping them achieve some version of that in a work-from-home environment.

You may find that you need to invest in special leadership development programs to help your managers make a successful transition. Give them your support and make sure they know you have their back.

Leadership development programs may not have prepared you for the COVID-19 crisis. It’s unprecedented and sudden, and the business world is in many ways writing the playbook as they go. Leadership development programs and leadership coaching can both be done remotely, and these are options you may want to explore – particularly if it looks like work-from-home will become the “new normal.”

If you want to invest in your fundamental leadership skills, I invite you to check out my books.

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