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Managing Teams Remotely--ASAP! 

You’ve been managing a team, but have always been able to see them in person. People have always been able to pop into your office when they need a quick response. You all have chatted in the hallway or at the coffee maker. And now you don’t. If you’re scrambling to effectively manage your team when everyone is working from home, here are five strategies to help you now:

1.Clarify goals and roles.  With your leadership team, define your goals and priorities. Certainly there are things that no longer rise to the top of the priority list in this new context. So, take time to identify:

  • What is priority? What can wait? If your program has been focused on youth programming, that field trip or school STEM night is no longer pressing. What is?

  • What are things you’ve been wanting to accomplish? Operations manual? Family handbook? Curriculum updates? What are those tasks that have consistently been pushed to the back burner? Now is an opportunity to dig into those.

Once you have a set of current organizational priorities, figure out roles. Be aware that staff roles may differ from what they have been doing. Maybe it makes more sense for the program coordinator to take the lead on curriculum revision or a dynamite staff member works on revising the staff training. Decide who should do what. Then, communicate that with the whole team.

It’s helpful to have a cloud-based project management tool. At the very least, try Google Sheets. Other project management tools we like are:

  • Avaza (has a free option)

  • Asana

  • Basecamp

  • Trello (has free option)

  • Monday.com

2. Make sure everyone can work remotely. You may have already realized this, but device and internet access is an equity issue. Not everyone has access and that includes staff. So, have one-on-one meetings with each staff member. Find out about their home situations and what kind of support they may need in order to work remotely. Who needs devices, webcams, internet, data plans? And what can your organization provide? Once everyone is set up with ways to connect, choose a tool that will allow you all to be in communication. Email is fine, but consider a supplement like Zoom, GoogleHangouts, Skype, Slack, etc.

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Tech companies are offering free remote working tools. So check out:

  • Microsoft Teams

  • LogMeIn “Emergency Remote Work Kits”

  • Google Hangouts Meet

  • Zoom 

  • CiscoWebEx

3. Focus on outputs rather than time. This is may require a shift of mindset. But, really. If you’ve been homeschooling your children, you understand—the number of hours you have to devote to work are difficult to pin down. As a leader, focus your team on what it is you need them to get done—not on counting their hours.

If you can get a task accomplished via email or chat, do not have a meeting. Get it done via email or chat. Also, when you do have meetings with the team, plan to make your meetings efficient. This is a new normal. Staff meetings should not go too long. I’d recommend aiming for an hour. People don’t have the mental or emotional bandwidth to stay on calls that go longer. Set an agenda; get updates online in advance; get new meeting norms in place. If everyone is getting online at the same time, use that time wisely. In my opinion, wisely means that you use that time to discuss items that cannot be resolved over email. It also means ensuring personal connections to continue to build and maintain staff morale.

4. Be clear on expectations. When are staff expected to be online and available? How will they let you know that they are working? Do you have flexible working times? Set the expectations and communicate them.

If you don’t already, then use tools like #Slack, Teams, WhatsApp to be in dialogue regularly with your team. Make sure your team knows when you’re online and offline. Hold virtual office hours so they know when they can “pop-in” to meet with you. Because you’re not in person, it is critical, essential, vital to communicate, communicate, communicate. Even if you communicated once, communicate it again. Emails get lost. Texts are forgotten. Keep your team looped in by communicating. Do not fear over-communication. Staff will let you know if you’re telling them the same thing too much.

We really like this Sample Organizational Communications Agreements document that The Management Center shared. It models what clear communication looks like within an organization. You can make a copy of that document and revise it to meet your organizational needs.

5. Promote personal interaction. In our field, most of us are people-people—we are social, we have interpersonal skills and enjoy interacting with others. Not having the consistent feedback of young people or staff can feel like a big void for those of us who are used to receiving lots of input. We need to feed and support our own social-emotional well-being by connecting with others. In moving to a new, virtual reality, it’s important to have regularly scheduled meetings where staff know you will all be able to connect. During those meetings or just after, make sure to host a virtual water cooler time so people can talk about everyday, non-work things. Many organizations are hosting Virtual Coffee Breaks or Virtual Happy Hours by simply designating a time when colleagues can visit via Zoom or Hangout and sending link to join the video conference.

Our colleagues at the Maine Mathematics and Science Alliance have a lot of great tips and tools about maintaining positive personal interaction with your team. We encourage you to check them out.

Yes, this is all weird and unsettling, but you do not have to do it alone. At DWL, many of us have been working and managing teams virtually for ten years or more. Some people on our team have never met in person, but work together closely and know each other well. So, if you need a thought partner or are feeling stuck on managing your remote team, please don’t hesitate to reach out. We’re happy to help.



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