Yesterday, you were managing your team by swiveling around in your chair, stopping by their desk, and getting down to business in your weekly face-to-face meeting.  Today?  Not the case.  You don’t see them because you’re all scattered about working from home in your respective kitchens, dens, bedrooms, and (if you’re lucky) home offices.  So, how do you effectively manage a team in this new and unfamiliar landscape?

At Poly, we’ve been living the remote worker scenario for decades, so we asked our managers what they’ve learned over the years and they broke it down into six practices that will keep your team engaged.

#1 First and foremost, overcommunicate

We use videoconferencing for nearly every meeting, and there’s a reason why:  humans are generally visual creatures.  We take in cues from expressions and body language that help us better relate to others.  In fact, neuroscience shows that good visual interaction makes for more productive discussions.

But video isn’t the only thing.  We also use instant messaging, texts, and email to be on top of things.  You can’t always have synchronous conversations so use all the tools at your disposal.

Think about the communications in the office: you might say hello to someone as you walk by, or in line at the coffee counter, or heading to the restroom.  People like to know that the boss knows their name!  Try to find ways to acknowledge people digitally in similar ways so they know you know they exist.  You can do things like set a timer to give a few casual hellos each morning. Or, you can schedule a regular ‘water cooler’ video chat for anyone who wants to join.  Go out of your way to highlight good results and thank team members for their contributions.

My staff and I are almost always on a message thread – we use Microsoft Teams for this – where we make comments and share bits of news.  It’s a little bit wiki, a little bit coffee klatch, and a little bit “we’re all in this together.”

#2 Ask for feedback from your team

When you manage someone remotely, you see them only when YOU see them, so you may not be aware of how they are interacting with others when there’s no risk of being observed.  Skip-level interactions are more important than ever, so you don’t find out too late that someone has become a virtual bully. You will have to find ways to make this happen – which is a new management muscle for many of us.

#3 Give feedback to your team

It will feel a little artificial at times but, giving feedback and providing suggestions to your team is more important than ever — particularly when you aren’t working from home by choice. You may be tempted to ‘wait until it’s back to normal,’ but putting off tough conversations never pays off.  Remember, you tend to do well the things that you practice.

#4 Remember that everything isn’t “work” 

Working remotely, so many interactions become scheduled and you may find you skip over the, ‘how was your weekend?’ conversations.  The risk here is that your interactions become much more transactional, and a bit impersonal.  Remember, your team members are still people.  Remember to ask about the stuff you’d naturally do in person.  Working from home, you’ll find you get a view into things you might not have known.  I bumped into a former manager the other day that I hadn’t seen in years, and the first question he asked was if I was still listening to a lot of Bruce (Springsteen, of course).  How did he know that I was a fan of the Boss?  The posters in the background in my office. And, anyone who has ever had a call with me while I’m working from home knows all about my dogs.

#5 Camaraderie is critical

That means using whatever you have at your disposal. Just this holiday season, we had a virtual staff meeting and one of the team members was wearing an ugly sweater.  I looked around my office and found a Santa hat, which I put on.  Within a minute or two, everyone was decked out and we all felt that holiday spirit.  You decorate the office, why not decorate your virtual office?  This week, there was some good-natured ribbing during a meeting about the number of times a certain individual’s photo was showing in a presentation about an upcoming event. It didn’t take long for people to change the virtual background in Zoom to the same headshot.

#6 Don’t multitask

Let me repeat that one – Do not multitask.  Your people know when you aren’t really paying attention, and it erodes trust and culture in a hurry.  When you are talking to people virtually, talk to them as if they were in the room with you.


Got tips to share?  Let us know by using the hashtag #WFHtips


Further reading:

Working from Home, but I’m Not Alone

Staying Engaged — Even When Everyone’s Working from Home

How to Facilitate Successful Remote Collaboration

5 Tips for Working from Home