Checking in – how are you getting on? How managers can keep remote teams together in the Coronavirus crisis

Five pointers for how managers can use digital communications to keep their team together when they’re spread apart in the Coronavirus lockdown. From Marc Fullman (PhD Student researching digital incivility) and Dr Emma Russell (Senior Lecturer in Occupational and Organizational Psychology) University of Sussex.

1. Check in with staff – but not too often
Keep in touch with staff and show them that you care about the difficult situation many of them will find themselves in working from home – potentially with other family members milling about, and potentially without the workspace or equipment to get things done as efficiently as usual. Endless email and zoom meetings will overwhelm people, but managers can check in occasionally to see if there is anything staff need (e.g. how about a monitor if the laptop screen is too small, or some clear instructions about how to access online resources and corporate networks)?

2. Respect the need for work-home boundaries
Suggest staff create physical boundaries between work and home (even if that’s just putting things in a box at the end of the day), as this can be important for workers to appropriately unwind and switch back to ‘home’ mode. Managers should avoid the temptation to expect workers to be contactable at any time, just because they know they are at home. Staff need down time to detach from work, especially at these potentially stressful and uncertain times.

3. Before clicking ‘send’, double-check digital communications
Before clicking send on a message, double check that the content is clear, concise and understandable. With an exponential increase in digital messages at the moment, it is too easy to hastily wing off an email which has the potential to be rude, abrupt, pestering or otherwise inappropriate. In times of uncertainty, people are more anxious, and therefore more susceptible to misinterpret communications that are not couched in any of the usual social niceties. Be vigilant, be focused, only message people when you need to and avoid excessive cc-ing.

4. Turn down the volume
With geographically dispersed teams, digital becomes the default means of communication. If not coordinated well, this can become a significant cause of stress and workload pressure for team members if the volume of exchanges come through in overwhelming numbers.
Whilst it is important to be mindful of the volume of messages sent within the organisation, employees should be encouraged to stay in touch via Slack or other group forums, to help with feelings of isolation that employees may currently be experiencing.

5. Show kindness, compassion, and tolerance
As staff are not in the office there is not the same visibility of the efforts that are being made and the work that is being achieved. Managers should still be encouraged to acknowledge good work. At the same time, managers should be mindful of the fact that people will make mistakes as they move to different ways of working. They can encourage the team (as well modelling this themselves) to adopt a compassionate and tolerant attitude when things go wrong.