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How to manage your team remotely during a crisis

Frequent and regular contact keeps employees ‘in the loop’

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The amount of change happening at once with the COVID-19 pandemic is challenging entrepreneurs across the country—forcing them to manage their teams remotely and adopt new ways of collaborating to help people work productively from home.

BDC Director of Innovation and Technology Jean-Philippe Senneville says that by adjusting expectations and doubling down on communication, entrepreneurs can lead their teams to success in these difficult conditions.

“Your people management approach needs to shift when your team is working remotely,” says Senneville.

“But there are steps you can take to ensure success, and opportunities to establish practices that will serve your business even after things begin to recover.”

Provide the right tools

Senneville says businesses should be prepared to invest in equipment and infrastructure so their teams can work successfully from home. That can include supplying company laptops, headsets for conferencing or software subscriptions.

Some business owners may also want to subsidize employees’ Internet or mobile data plans to ensure they have sufficient bandwidth and speed.

Senneville also stresses the importance of having everyone on the team use the same applications. His two “must-haves” are video conferencing software and some kind of collaboration platform for group file sharing.

For video, Senneville suggests Skype for Business, or Google Hangouts Meet. For collaboration, Slack and Microsoft Teams are common choices. Trello or Basecamp are popular options when project management is needed.

Choose software tools that are easy to install and use, he says, to avoid the need for time-intensive training and technical support.

Communicate regularly and often

According to Senneville, if there’s a golden rule for managing remote teams, it’s communicate, communicate, communicate.

Frequent, regular contact not only keeps people “in the loop” but also helps maintain morale and makes up for the loss of everyday water cooler talk at the office.

“If your team usually meets once a month or every two weeks, bump that up to at least once a week. Two to three times a week is even better. Keep them short, but frequency matters.”

Weekly one-on-one check-ins with team members allow leaders to track how people are doing. Some employees may need support but aren’t comfortable sharing their worries or concerns in a group setting. Senneville advises watching for changes in people’s behaviour.

“Some people will need extra caring and support,” Senneville says. “Others will rise to the occasion in a crisis. It’s important to enable those people so you can tap their full potential. And remember to celebrate the little victories your team achieves while working in adverse circumstances. It boosts morale to call those out.”

If your team usually meets once a month or every two weeks, bump that up to at least once a week. Two to three times a week is even better. Keep them short, but frequency matters.

Shift your expectations

Because leaders have less direct control over remote teams, Senneville says some entrepreneurs may need to adopt a new management style—one that gives staff more autonomy.

“Trust your team,” he suggests. “Frame what needs to be done and give them the room to come up with their own solutions. Be directive where it’s needed—about changes to products or services, for example—but don’t micromanage the execution. It will save you many headaches.”

He also notes it’s important to accept that, in some cases, full productivity simply won’t be possible because of the circumstances.

Take care of yourself

While team care can be a full-time concern, it’s also important for entrepreneurs to take care of themselves.

“Find people around you who can give you moral support,” Senneville says. “And don’t isolate. If you need advice, reach out to people you trust.”

He encourages every entrepreneur to take advantage of the support governments are making available and to consult the many resources at BDC.ca.

Learn for the future

While COVID-19 has forced many businesses to start working remotely that hadn’t before, remote work was already a growing trend. Senneville believes it will become more common in the post-COVID-19 era.

“This is a good opportunity to adapt to that coming reality,” he says. “Businesses are going to discover new ways of being productive and reducing costs that will be important when the recovery kicks in. This crisis is like a big, tough experiment, but ultimately one that can make your business even stronger.”

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