How to help your team work effectively during the COVID-19 lockdown
Most office employees can be just as efficient at home as at work – provided you communicate well as a leader.
As Australia enters lockdown in response to COVID-19, organisations are rushing to embrace new ways of working together virtually.
Melbourne Business School Associate Professor of Organisational Behaviour Carol Gill says there are several guidelines leaders can follow to help their teams keep performing effectively while physically separated.
Manage outcomes, not activities
One of the most important tips is to set clear and tangible goals that are easily understood, without getting hung up on the process.
"Set tangible deliverables and manage outcomes – rather than activities – where possible," Professor Gill says.
"Don't set descriptive goals like 'this has to be a high-quality outcome done quickly'. Try to be much clearer, with tangible instructions like 'this document has to be consistent with these guidelines, and be delivered by 5pm today'.
"You can negotiate the deadline with your team members by asking how long they think it will take, and then get them to come back to you if it takes a longer or shorter amount of time.
"The most important things are to be very clear about the work that needs to be delivered and remember to set deadlines."
Hold regular meetings with visuals
Professor Gill says you should meet with your team regularly using a visual format like Zoom, Skype or FaceTime rather than by phone call. Depending on the nature of the work, this can start with a team check-in each morning.
"The morning meeting only needs to go for 15 minutes. The focus of it should be for everyone to share what they are working on and what they need to be successful – for example, who they need to contact and what inputs are required, and from whom," she says.
"You can also do a check-in at the end of the day or at the end of each task, with individuals or the whole team. Keep these brief and intentional."
In between scheduled meetings, it's important to make yourself available to provide support or answer questions as they arise through applications like Teams or Slack as well as your mobile.
If being available on demand becomes too distracting or gets in the way of other priorities, you could consider setting up regular returns to chat or a virtual "drop-in" period.
"Set a time to check the messages that have come in each day. For example, you could say 'I will be checking Slack chat at 9am, midday and 4pm to answer your questions," Professor Gill says.
"You could also set up virtual drop-in times where you will be available for anyone who needs it, for example from 11am to midday each day. This can be done on Zoom, and you can even set up a virtual waiting room."
Remember your team's emotional needs
The emotional and social needs of your team won't go on pause during the lockdown – in fact, they're almost certain to increase.
"It's a scary time at the moment – people are worried about their jobs, their health and their loved ones. Supporting your colleagues may be very helpful and ensure they don't feel too isolated," Professor Gill says.
"It may be a good approach to set up a regular meeting that focuses on wellbeing, rather than work. Something like a morning coffee break or virtual drinks once a week, where everyone brings their coffee or a drink and shares about how they're feeling on Zoom.
"Another idea is to have an ongoing discussion on Teams that everyone agrees to check once, or twice or even three times a day."
Leaders who are able to communicate across the organisation can help prioritise wellbeing by encouraging staff to set up this sort of initiative and providing information or guidelines about the best ways to work from home.
"Send out an email on how to do things like negotiate space and quiet time with family while you're working at home, how to get into a routine and so on. There's plenty of information available on the internet about how to do this."
While the shift to working remotely may require a concentrated effort at first, Professor Gill says managers should be able to loosen the reins over time as their team gets into a new rhythm.
"Managing people remotely means you may need to be more specific and intentional than usual, but the fundamentals of good supervision are similar," she says.
"Make sure you communicate clearly and often, in both directions."
Carol Gill is an Associate Professor of Organisational Behaviour who teaches People Management and Leadership on our MBA programs. Visit her faculty profile for more information.