Like most colleges and universities throughout the United States, my employer closed our five campuses and transitioned our instruction and services to occur remotely. While some colleagues experienced anxiety and trepidation at the thought, I did not. I thrive working remotely, and I knew that I would be totally accessible to the members of my team who do not share these warm and fuzzy feelings about working remotely.
My team and I have been working remotely for almost two weeks, and we are doing well. I am proud of them, and I do not hesitate to tell them. Following are the 10 strategies I am employing to effectively lead, motivate and inspire them.
- Discuss expectations early on
Several members of my team had already been working at least one day remotely. This has been the practice for several years – way before the global pandemic. Therefore, they are well aware of the expectations. In addition, these expectations are clearly explained in our team guide, which is required reading for every member of my team.
- Schedule regular divisionwide Zoom meetings
My division is comprised of four departments. Each department is led by a director. They report to me. The entire division meets once a week per Zoom. I lead the meetings and ask each team member these questions: How are you? How is your technology? They answer authentically, and I commend them for doing so. Because my team is close-knit, they truly enjoy this time together. Their laugher permeates throughout the internet.
- Schedule regular meetings with my direct reports
I always meet regularly with my direct reports. These meetings are continuing – except they are held via Zoom. I have found continuity is important during crises. The more I stick to my regular schedule, the better for my team.
- Host virtual events
In addition, I am hosting virtual events for my team. For example, I just hosted a virtual potluck luncheon for my team via Zoom. We did the following:
- Turned on our web cams
- Played games (they played the Quarantine Nickname game, where you share how you feel and tell the last thing you ate. Examples are Happy Pizza, Disturbed Burritos).
- Shared stories (We showed our special pictures and favorite memes by sharing our screens or holding our cell phones up to our computer cameras)
- Chatted (The comments were hilarious. When I need a pick-me-up, I will read the comments that they typed in the chat window. By the way, you can download the chat for later use)
They loved it, so we will do another virtual potluck luncheon in April and May.
Also, I found a clever game on Facebook, asked my team to complete it and promised them that the winner would receive a gift card. The response was positive, and those who responded indicated how much they enjoyed the game. One member of my team commented that the game allowed her to take her mind off of life’s pressures.
- Answer their questions authentically
I encourage my team to ask me anything, and they do. If I can answer their questions, I will. If I cannot answer their questions, I tell them I cannot and give them an idea when I might be able to do so. They appreciate my honesty, candor and transparency. Lying is never an option.
- Address the “elephants in the room”
For many people, the elephant in the room was how to discuss work-from-home expectations with employees – knowing that many of them would have to care for their children while working from home.
My employer’s policy allows colleagues to work from home, but colleagues must have childcare to benefit from this privilege. Therefore, if you work from home, your children must be cared for by others. Due to the global pandemic, we have waived this aspect of the policy. Schools and daycares are closed, so colleagues have no choice but to work from home while their children are at home.
To support my team members who are now working from home while their children are there, I sought advice from my direct reports who have children. They offered this advice, which we shared with the entire team:
- Work before your children get up in the morning
- Work while your children are taking naps
- Work after your children go to bed at night
- Ask a friend to keep your children while you work and return the favor (especially if you and the friend have different work schedules)
- Work when you can and communicate with your supervisor if you cannot work a full day due to having your children at home
- Ask your significant other to do their part (if applicable)
I expressed sympathy that some members of my team are having to work remotely while their children are at home. However, I made it clear that they are still expected to be professional. It is expected that we will occasionally hear a child crying in the background or hear a dog barking. However, that cannot happen often – for obvious reasons. I encourage leaders to have these types of conversations – though difficult – because it is what good leaders do. Also, I am a great, supportive and family-oriented leader and expect my direct reports to be as well. However, I reminded my team that having these types of conversations does not mean that someone is anti-family or anti-children. I know that can be the narrative – especially when leaders may not have children themselves.
- Give them “space” to vent
We are fighting a global pandemic. Therefore, naturally, members of my team will have bad days, days full of stress and heartache and days they just need to vent. I tell my team that we are humans – not robots. Therefore, we have the right to feel angry, overwhelmed, afraid and anxious. When my team needs to vent, they do so freely. There is no judgment, retribution or condemnation. Because my team is predominately female, it is important that this safe space to vent be provided.
- Allow them to “own” their work schedule
As I mentioned, my team has been allowed to work remotely at least one day a week for several years. Therefore, the only difference now is that they are doing it every day in light of the global pandemic.
Since my entire team and I started working remotely almost two weeks ago, I instituted common work hours to ensure we are still able to meet, connect, bond and collaborate as a team. Therefore, each day, from 10 a.m.-noon and 1-2 p.m., the entire team must be working. For the rest of the day, they can work any schedule they would like through 11:59 p.m. Again, they love the flexibility. To add even more awesomeness, some members of my team work four days per week instead of five.
- Hold them accountable
My team is required to complete a daily work log and submit it to their directors (who are my direct reports) and me. This is about accountability and responsibility and not about micromanagement. As a rule – before the global pandemic struck – I did not allow low-performers or those struggling with their job duties to work from home. If they cannot perform their job duties at work, it is unlikely they will be able to perform them at home.
- Offer financial assistance
My direct reports and I agreed to offer some financial assistance – from our personal funds – to help any member of the team who is struggling with food insecurity. I sent an email to the team and told them that any assistance provided would be kept confidential and reminded them that no one gets through life without help from others. Whether a colleague accepts our offer or not, sending the email was the right thing to do. Even if people do not accept the party invitation, they just want to be invited to the party.
Do I believe more employers will embrace working remotely when the pandemic ends? Yes, I do. To retain high-performers, employers will have to allow more people to work remotely. Not everyone will want, request, desire or deserve this option. That is why – when things get back to normal – this privilege should be reserved for high-performers.