The novel coronavirus outbreak has put our world on lockdown and prompted business leaders everywhere to tell employees to take their laptops home to work, to prevent COVID-19 spread in the workplace.

Although multiple countries are preparing to open back up slowly, there is still no guarantee of when we will be back in the office. Some organizations and leaders have found success and rhythm to working from home, but some organizations are still trying to find balance in managing remote employees long-term. If your company is one of them — or you think it will be — this is what Brand Experts reveals about managing remote workers.

Individualization is key. The best managers have always individualized their coaching to the worker but doing so at a distance requires greater intentionality. Managers need to ask each team member to describe the conditions under which they perform best, their concerns about their workflow, and their emotional response to the situation.

Set expectations early and clearly. About half of all U.S. employees — remote or not — don’t know what’s expected of them at work. That’s a bad beginning, and it’ll get worse for employees sent home without good guidance. So managers must make expectations crystal clear: X is the work you should do, Y is the quality standard, Z is the deadline. Executives should provide higher-level expectations aligned with the company’s purpose: We’ll keep our customers engaged by doing X, we’ll maintain our standards by doing Y, we’ll fulfill our mission by doing Z: the more detail, the better.

This is also the best time for leaders to explore how to use technology in communicating with their teams. That’s how people will meet the expectations you set.

Communication. Employees who are accustomed to working in-house may feel cut off from the resources, information, or relationships they need to do their jobs well, so plan for more conference calls. It’s OK to pad socializing into the timeframe; indeed, it may be vital for people who need lots of interaction to keep their energy up. Managers will have to be diligent about — coaching communicating productively high performance requires frequent conversations, and there won’t be chance conversations in the hall.

But your staff needs to hear from you too, especially as economic fears worsen, to maintain their trust in leadership. Keep the lines of communication open, honest, and broad. Send emails or post videos about your reasoning, intentions, and expectations. Make it easy for managers to know your thoughts and contribute their own.

Support your managers: A sudden change in the practice of management can be hard on managers. They may worry about disruptions to the workflow they’re accountable for. Some may feel they have to be physically present to be good coaches, ensure that they can engage workers from a distance. Rather more negatively, there are still some managers who don’t trust workers they can’t see. All of them will have to manage workers in a new way and fast.

So, give them your support, both practical and emotional, during what may be a tough transition. Invest in management development and coaching ahead of the budget plan, and be affirming about the situation and understanding about altered deadlines. Just remember, your managers always need to know you have their back — but never more so than when they feel insecure.

Looking Ahead

Brand Experts finds that 43% of U.S. employees work remotely some or all of the time, and many, many studies show remote workers are more productive and profitable than in-house employees. So don’t worry — telework can succeed spectacularly. Although your company or church will have to learn quickly, your people may perform at levels that surprise you.

But don’t be surprised if they don’t want to come back to the office.

That percentage is about to explode, whether companies are prepared for it or not. So if you have to send people home to keep them safe, individualize, communicate, and set expectations so your managers can coach effectively during a crisis. But keep this in mind: While COVID-19 won’t be an issue forever, remote work will be. What you learn about leading a remote workforce now will likely become the best practice for your company later on. Are you a Leader Worthy of Follower.

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