Managing Remote Teams with Shifting Priorities Due to COVID-19



The world of work has changed and shifted dramatically in 2020. Many businesses are tasked with the balancing act of effectively managing remote teams in the midst of shifting priorities due to the pandemic--be they work-related or personally-motivated. As organizations reevaluate their work models and efficiencies, this is also a good time to consider incorporating on-demand talent into the mix if it hasn’t been utilized already. Our team at vChief has been a remote model since the beginning, so we are very familiar with these elements.


Since many workplaces have transitioned to remote status, managers have had to pivot their leadership style. The key is to leverage technology to its fullest. Since you can’t just pop by a co-worker’s desk for a quick check-in, familiarize yourself with instant messaging programs like Slack to manage these types of communications. You may want to establish some policies or procedures up front about how to use these and other forms of communication (like the good, old-fashioned email or phone call) and how to communicate in the event of an emergency. Keep these messages clear and concise. Longer-form communications can take place over email; use Google Docs to work collaboratively on shared documents.


The Importance of Personal and Team Communication

Communication is especially important right now in the absence of daily face-to-face contact. When more communications are written, it’s important to keep those communications clear and to the point. Instead of a long weekly staff meeting, think about shorter, more frequent check-ins that might cover the day’s highlights and questions, or a specific initiative. Video calls and conferences are ideal for unspoken communications that might otherwise be lost (i.e., reading facial expressions) and can help team members to feel more invested in one another. Zoom, Skype, Google Hangouts and Google Meet are all good options.


Maintaining one-on-one communications with your team is so crucial right now, especially in establishing shifting priorities. Many of us are still getting by in “survival mode.” Families are quarantined at home together, trying to make work, school and daily life balance out. As a manager, your role is to be understanding and supportive. Hear your employees and seek to understand what they need in order to be successful. And work through the unusual circumstances to find ways for everyone to still be productive while maintaining outside priorities.


Manage Changing Priorities as a Leader

Priorities may also be shifting organizationally. For many industries, additional work is being created because of the pandemic and the protests. Now, more than ever, organizations need to be taking a good look at their priorities and making sure their workflow falls in line with their company values and mission, and that those values and mission are true to who you are in this moment in time.


Practicing your reflective leadership skills will go a long way in our current situation. Self-awareness, careful observation, and flexible responses are three major tenets of reflective leadership. It’s okay to admit you don’t have the answers to every question or solution to every problem. Leaders who become comfortable and familiar with their own strengths and limitations by examining their own reactions, thoughts and feelings about the work they are doing set the example for their employees around them. You built a team around you so that you could rely on their strengths, too. Not everyone has the same strengths or weaknesses; defining these is key for improving the culture and success of your organization.


As priorities shift, having a solid foundation of each other’s strengths and weaknesses can allow shifting of tasks, if necessary. As a manager during this unusual time, it’s key that you are familiar with your staff’s personal work styles. How and in what environment do they work best? What motivates them? How do they learn? What mode of communication do they prefer? All of this information is especially valuable as you’re likely managing your team remotely and have lost those daily interactions in person at the office.


How to Take Advantage of On-Demand Talent to Help Your Team

Another valuable resource you should consider utilizing at this time is on-demand (or agile) talent to fill in the gaps. These positions are usually contractual or freelance-based, so managing on-demand talent is different from managing your remote team. Set very clear guidelines and expectations up front. Drafting up a contract helps eliminate any grey area about the work involved, timelines and compensation. They are typically not considered your employee, so you need to make sure there is a solid understanding of expectations to avoid any uncomfortable conversations or situations in the future. Think of on-demand talent as partners in your business that have a specific skill set that you need.


On that note, make sure you also have direct conversations with your team before you decide to bring in on-demand talent. Your goal is to hire an expert on a specific topic or area to narrow down and focus on a task that your organization needs some support in. They are not a replacement for anyone on the team, rather, they can enhance the efficiency and success of an organization and should be viewed as a value-add.


One way to ensure your on-demand talent is well-received is to give them an onboarding experience similar to traditional employees. Make a point of introducing them around the organization and sharing your culture and values. If your on-demand talent builds strong relationships within the organization, they are more likely to pass on their expertise and knowledge to a traditional employee who can one day take over in that realm when it’s time for your on-demand talent to move on.


In that regard, good leaders are always building their network of on-demand talent, whether they need to utilize them or not. Think ahead to what you might need in the future, and make connections with the people who can get you there. You may not need to build off their talent right away, but wouldn’t it be nice to have someone in your back pocket when you do?


Organizations are learning to adapt to this new world of work and managers are adjusting to being remote leaders. With such a wide range of tools and resources, as well as the ability to outsource on-demand talent, the world of remote work can fuel a successful, efficient organization into the future.


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