Managing telecommuters in a pandemic? Here are 8 management tips

ZDNet has operated under a remote work model for nearly two decades. Here are a few best practices we've learned since you're highly likely to be getting a crash course in remote work management.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

Managers around the world are getting a crash course in managing a remote workforce due to the novel coronavirus and you can expect some growing pains ahead.

But like any crisis there are opportunities and new ways of doing things that will emerge. If anything the novel coronavirus may have simply accelerated trends in the workplace that were already happening.

At ZDNet, we've had a remote team for nearly two decades. We are globally dispersed with hubs in London as well as Sydney with contributors around the world. In the US, we're also scattered throughout the country. We also have a blend of editors as well as contributors. Add it up and we've been operating under a work model that many of you will have in the not-too-distant future as multiple enterprises are telling employees to work from home to minimize the spread of COVID-19.

Last week, we offered a series of tips on working from home from the employee perspective. Here's a follow-up to offer a few management tips as your workers go remote.

1. Quantify and watch your KPIs.

We're blessed in that we operate in a business with deliverables and deadlines. Simply put, it's fairly obvious if someone isn't available or meeting standards. Managing a remote team means you need to be more focused on your deliverables and performance metrics. If you're not quantifying work, then it's hard to hit your objectives remotely. Metrics free you with a remote team (more on that later). 

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2. Don't micromanage.

With a remote workforce you're forced to let go of any micromanagement tendencies. You simply can't track your people as well. That reality is good for both the manager and the workforce, but many supervisors won't see it that way at first. If you're the type of manager that has to know where a worker is every second of the day, you are going to stumble out of the gate. Remote work means you have to trust your people, let them run and get their work done. Your job as a manager is to clear the way so they can complete their missions.

If you're a micromanager what can you do? The first thing you need to do is know what your metrics are and why they matter. We're not talking metrics like time on Slack or keystrokes. We're talking about what really matters to the business (productivity, revenue, collaboration etc.). This rush to remote work can be game changing and can crystallize what really matters. As long as an employee is delivering the goods and hitting targets you shouldn't be concerned about how, when and where the task is completed.

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3. Flexibility is your new competitive advantage.

A remote workforce buys you a lot of flexibility. The downside for remote workers is that the day may never seem to end if they don't follow healthy work habits. The upside is your teams can scale up based on workflow not a schedule that's dictated by commutes and operating hours. You can use this flexibility to win in the field vs. less nimble competitors. Effective strategies for remote work during a pandemic

4. Communicate well and often.

The knock on remote work is that you don't get those chats over coffee and cohesive culture. To replicate that you need to make sure you're visible on Slack, have an open door (messaging) strategy and make use of video conferencing. This communication theme is easier said than done but it needs to be emphasized. Open office hours via video conferencing may be worth a try so your remote team can get adjusted. Also keep in mind that you're never going to be able to communicate enough so aim for continuous improvement. Work from home: Essential gadgets and gear for productivity and good health  

5. Use voice, video and then written follow-ups.

Face-to-face meetings should usually have a written follow-up so there's a record and less confusion. With a remote team, this best practice is even more important. You have to work harder to make sure people are on the same page. Best video conferencing software for business in 2020: Zoom, WebEx, AnyMeeting, Slack, and more 

6. Trust your people.

Remote work also means that you have to trust your team. Trust is earned via deliverables and performance, but managers shouldn't start from a position of distrust. Trust your people until proven otherwise. How coronavirus may accelerate the future of work | 13 takeaways on the future of work

This trust will be critical due to the distractions that are involved with COVID-19. Schools are closed. Supermarket shelves may be empty. Some workers will be in cities with shelter-in-place restrictions. Falling 401(k) balances. There will be distractions. Perhaps the biggest distraction will be a never-ending stream of bad headlines and news chatter. You'll have to trust your people to work through the distractions and deliver.

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7. Use all the tools at your disposal but remember quality not quantity.

Most enterprises have a handful of video conferencing tools, team management platforms and chat apps. Pick the ones that work and go with them. YAT (yet another tool) is a curse for remote workforces. It is best to use the collaboration tools that folks are using already. Collaboration doesn't have to be fancy.

8. Think through how this experience will change your work practices in the future.

After some growing pains, it's likely that you'll find your team happier and more productive. Pay attention and think through how the future of work for your team needs to evolve. Enterprises are likely to use this novel coronavirus crisis as a big A/B test for expenses ranging from sales and marketing to travel to commercial real estate holdings. The old way of doing things may not make sense in the future.

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