In the wake of the coronavirus and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendation for businesses to consider “social containment” strategies, more and more companies are shifting to telework (i.e., work from home). Here are six tips to consider as you shift to a remote-first work culture.

TIP #1: Get 3 Agreements

The most important thing you need to do as a remote team leader is to get agreement (i.e., set expectations) on three things. People feel far away from each not because of the number of physical miles, but rather by the amount of time—the delay—it takes to get answer from someone. People feel “close” when communication is predictable—not necessarily fast, just predictable.

So the three agreements are:

  • What are the normal working hours for the team? When will the workday begin, and when will it end?
  • How long will it take to get back to each other? If we reach out with a question, should I expect an answer immediately? Within an hour? By the end of the day? And will this change based on communication channel? Is it OK to respond to internal emails by the end of the day, but if I call you it means it’s urgent and you should pick or call me back as soon as possible?
  • How will we notify each other when will be unavailable and unable to meet these expectations (e.g., out at a doctor’s appointment)? Will we just let the boss know? Or do we send a team email? Or use a shared calendar?

TIP #2: Establish a Cadence of Communication

As goes communication, goes the team. This is true on all teams, but is especially important when leading a remote team. A cadence we use at LEADx—and one that has worked for my previous companies over the years—has three components:

  • Weekly one-on-one meetings. On my calendar “Mondays Are For Meetings” and every direct report has 30-minutes with me to build our relationship, ask questions, give ideas, and to review priorities.
  • WAR meeting. A Weekly Action Review (WAR) with your direct reports should take no longer than 30-50 minutes. It’s an opportunity for everyone to share sync up on their weekly priorities, problems, and data.
  • End-of-Day Check-in. At the end of each day, every team member shares a list of things they completed that day. At LEADx we happen to use the software Basecamp to help us manage our projects and teams, and it automatically sends a daily reminder to report it on our completed tasks. This however could just as easily be done via email.

TIP #3: Establish a Video-First Culture

“Video-first” is an organizational communication strategy that places priority on video conferencing tools, as opposed to audio-only conference calls. Whether having a one-on-one meeting or a team meeting, the benefits of video-first practice include:

  • Ability to use and observe non-verbal communication
  • Encourages people to participate in meetings from a professional, quiet location (as opposed to just dialing-in-and-muting while driving in the car)
  • Encourages people to get dressed in the morning!

TIP #4: Keep It Personal

Relationships at work are critical to a high performing team. The classic Gallup Q12 survey item, “I have a best friend at work” illustrates the power of workplace friendships on employee engagement. And personal relationships go a long way to building trust and reducing unproductive conflict. In a traditional office, water cooler chitchat and lunch time conversation happens naturally. Here are some practical tips for keeping remote teams fun and personal:

  • Use the first few minutes of your one-on-one meetings to ask about their weekend, or similar personal interest.
  • At the beginning of your weekly WAR meeting have everyone spend 20-30 seconds sharing, “what was the best part of your weekend?” Or, “what’s going on good in your world these days?”
  • Create an online area (e.g., Slack channel, Basecamp chat, etc.) to discuss things like sports, movies, or even a monthly online book club.
  • Create an online area, or group email, where people can share photos of their pets, or from recent vacations, holidays, or other events
  • Don’t forget to recognize team members for their effort and achievements. Share to the whole team positive feedback from customers, or internal customers.

TIP #5: Invest (a Little) In Tools & Tech

Any workplace can survive a one or two-week work-from-home experiment; it’s not much different than an employee taking a vacation or sick time. But if you expect your team members to work for several months and keep their normal productivity, then you should be prepared to make at least a minimal investment in hardware and software. Consider:

  • The basics: high speed WiFi, good ergonomic chair, external keyboard, mouse, and monitor for their laptop or tablet.
  • For video-conferencing software consider many free or low-cost options to start: ZoomSkypeMicrosoft Teams.
  • For teaming and project management software consider: BasecampAsanaWrikeMonday.

TIP #6: Consider Personalities

Great leaders individualize their approach to leadership and take the time to truly understand what motivates and challenges each team member. Using any of the popular behavioral assessments you can understand who on your team might have an easier or harder time with a work from home situation.

  • Everything DiSC—your team members who have primarily an Influence or Steadiness style are more social than others and may miss the daily interpersonal connections that happen in an office. Your Dominant team members, while needing less social interaction, might struggle with productivity without the structure of the office. Your Conscientious types will make the transition most easily.
  • EQ-I 2.0—Using the Emotional Quotient Inventory you may want to provide extra assistance to those who are lower on the scales of impulse control, flexibility, and stress tolerance.
  • CliftonStrengths (formerly Clifton StrengthsFinder)—those on your team who have strengths from the Relationship Building domain (e.g., connectedness, developer, includer, relator) may need extra support while working alone remotely. Your team members who have strengths primarily from the Executing domain (e.g., discipline, focus, responsibility, achiever) will likely make the transition with little trouble.

Advantages of Adapting to Remote Management

The good news about adapting to the remote workforce? You’re adopting a trend employees already favor. In an International Workplace Group survey, 74 percent of respondents described flexible working as “the new normal.” Further, “80 percent of workers in the U.S. would choose a job which offered flexible working over a job that didn’t.”

So, while you can and should hope that the coronavirus is curtailed, remote workers are a new reality. No matter the health crisis, you can be sure that in the long-term you’re going to need to know how to effectively lead remote employees.