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Training Leaders to Successfully Manage a WFH Team

Updated: Jul 18, 2022

It’s hard to believe that we are now in month five of the Coronavirus Pandemic. Most of the assumptions, or hopeful thinking we had early on about temporary solutions have been completely upended. Many managers knew they could manage their Work-From-Home employees for a few weeks or even a month without missing a beat.

Unfortunately, we are still not back to “normal” and slowly we are coming to the realization normal is no longer recognizable. So, what do we do next – we adapt!

Leaders that transitioned to managing a WFH team may have been able to get by with minimal impact on their team for the short term, but without additional training and tools, there may be long-term detrimental effects. Even some companies that thought permanent WFH arrangements may be the way of the future are rethinking some of those assumptions. Loss of collaboration, lack of employee engagement, and lower long-term productivity are all starting to appear in companies that haven’t seen each other face to face in five months.

Here are five key topics that will help ensure your leadership team has been trained to successfully manage their WFH teams.

Setting Expectations

Key to any relationship is understanding what is expected from all parties. This means managers need to be very clear about what is expected from the team. Deadlines, working hours, availability for phone and Zoom calls, response times, etc. In addition, employees need to let their managers know what they need to be successful working from home. Check out my comments in this American Express blog post from earlier this year.

Managing Performance

Management by walking around doesn’t happen in a WFH environment. Feedback on projects that used to happen when a manager stopped by the desk of an employee now must be scheduled or intentionally happen because two people connected online. More than ever, employees may be concerned with out-of-sight, out-of-mind when it comes to a lack of feedback from their manager. Organizations need to encourage managers to provide consistent, honest, and helpful performance feedback. By providing tools, and even a schedule, companies are promoting a performance management model and actively preventing a reduction in productivity.

Employee Engagement

Disconnected. Alone. Forgotten. Employees can easily become disengaged when they don’t drive to an office or see co-workers on a regular basis – particularly if they have been used to this their entire career. Some managers need to be trained on the impact of employee disengagement and how to watch for signs of an employee losing the connection with the company or their team. At the beginning of the pandemic adding a happy hour zoom call may have done the trick, but that has gotten old. Companies may be struggling with employee connections but supporting managers and providing new and innovative tools will help them reconnect with their team. One of the most effective engagement tools is soliciting and using feedback from employees. Regularly seeking their opinion, just like when you walked by their office, can show an employee you value their opinion. Look at my employee engagement blog post from June for more info.

Encouraging Collaboration

Without conference rooms, whiteboards and chats over lunch, collaboration among employees is diminishing. And that’s just for the employees who are still in the office. Opportunities are even less for those working from home unless managers actively encourage it and provide tools to make collaboration successful.

Apps like Slack and WhatsApp provide an informal way to communicate with each other. However, they are not without their pitfalls. What’s missing in these tools is non-verbal communications. We need to actively encourage collaboration, but we also need to monitor it to be sure it's effective and not having the opposite impact. Companies thrive on collaboration among a diverse workforce. Don’t lose that advantage.

Promoting Work-Life Balance

Finally working from home can be great, yet the lines between work time and home time can get blurred. Employees who were used to starting their day by driving to the office were able to mentally get ready for work. More importantly, the drive home was a transition back to home and family. Now with WFH, stepping in and out of your office, if you are lucky enough to have one, happens so frequently it may feel like employees are always at work.

Training for leaders should include how to set boundaries for themselves, but also boundaries in communications with employees. This is not a new phenomenon, but rather one we have been dealing with since cellphones and email communications started. The larger WFH audience has made a sometimes-tough situation even tougher. Preventing burnout among managers and employees will increase morale, maintain productivity, and boost creativity. The tips I gave to HR professionals in this blog can also be applied to training for leaders and rolled out to each team member.

Working from home is not new, and it is not going away anytime soon. The difference now is so many more companies and employees are doing it. It’s time to ensure your leadership team is trained to make it a success and stop crossing our fingers and hoping for the best. Invest the time and money into effective training – it will pay off greatly in the long run.

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