In many practices around the world, COVID was really the first time that practice owners were suddenly tasked with the switch to telehealth and the urgent need to manage their employees remotely.
If you have always worked in an in-person practice, the change can be tricky to navigate. In addition to ensuring that your employees remain productive and engaged, you also want to keep tabs on how they are doing. All this can seem difficult to do as remote working removes personal context which allows you to pick up on non-verbal cues as you interact with your staff.
You may have found out the hard way that managing a team remotely isn’t all smooth sailing. But, if many of the world’s leading companies are embracing the change and doing so successfully, there’s no reason why your practice can’t do the same.
What are the challenges of managing a remote team?
Before you can manage your team effectively, it’s worth spending a bit of time understanding what factors make remote working more difficult. If you can do that, you can prevent issues such as declining employee performance, lower engagement, and burn-out.
The four major challenges are:
- Lack of personal interaction and feedback – Employees may feel that working remotely means they don’t have as much support and feedback. They may also feel that you, as a manager don’t understand what they need. From your perspective as a manager, you may worry that your staff members will not work as hard when they’re not in the office.
- Lack of information and resources – If you’re in the office, it’s easy to ask coworkers questions between sessions. This becomes a lot more difficult in a remote working environment, and getting answers to even the simplest questions can be a trying experience. You’re also less likely to give a staff member the benefit of the doubt if you don’t have the context that you would get from working in person with them. They might be having a bad day or struggling with a difficult client, which would make them respond in a certain way when you ask them a question. But if you don’t know that, you might take offence to an off-handed comment.
- Lack of social interaction – Remote working can be lonely, and your team members may miss the social interaction that comes from working together.
- Lack of space for working at home – There’s a good chance that some of your team members haven’t found it easy to set up a dedicated workspace in their homes. And having children at home can make it very stressful for employees who are parents.
Our top 7 tips to help you manage your remote team
1. Check yourself
If you’re only going to read one of the points in this article, make it this one. Research on emotional health in the workplace shows that employees look to their managers for input on how to respond to crisis situations.
The best thing you can do for your team is to first acknowledge that the situation is stressful and that it’s perfectly normal to feel anxious. Then, second, communicate that you have confidence in your team to overcome the challenges. For remote working, this might mean acknowledging that integrating new communication technology will take time and will require some trial and error. At the same time, it also means telling your team that you know they can do it and that they can come to you with any concerns or problems they have along the way.
2. Set expectations
If you can clarify your expectations, distil them into guidelines and communicate them to your staff, those guidelines will form a strong foundation. They will make it possible to keep your practice moving forward, even if you’re not all in the office.
Part of this also includes helping employees maintain a health work-life balance because the physical distinction between home and the office has now been removed.
3. Embrace technology
There are hundreds of collaborative tools available; it’s just a case of finding what works for you. Most of them are inexpensive and will quickly pay for themselves by improving communications and facilitating improved productivity.
Practice management software should be at the top of the list as it will help you manage calendars, invoicing, and a number of administrative tasks without having to go into the office. At Power Diary, we primarily use Google Docs, Slack, Trello and Zoom to keep our remote team connected, on track, and up-to-date with what’s happening.
A note of caution here, as a health practice, the security of your clients’ data is a top priority. Before trialling any new software, check that it has the necessary protocols in place if any client data will be shared.
4. Provide comprehensive training
If your employees are working from home, or working part-time at home and part-time in the office, they need to have access to comprehensive training. This will give them the confidence to continue doing their job without getting side-tracked by the steep learning curve of online communication technology and other learning that comes from the switch to remote working.
5. Track progress
Because you’re not physically at the practice, it can be challenging to know who is doing what, how many clients are being booked and whether your practitioners are working productively. This is an opportunity to put reporting measures in place, and it’s something that you’re hopefully doing anyway.
Power Diary can make this a simple weekly task. You can pull various reports for the practice, customising them to give you the data you need. Goals you might want to track include:
- Sessions booked per practitioner;
- Client cancellations;
- Invoices sent.
Don’t overcomplicate this step because it will only take more of your time. Work out what you need to track, then be disciplined about pulling the reports weekly so that you can identify and respond to any red flags before they become bigger problems.
6. Encourage communication & feedback
This is one of the most difficult things to get right when your team is working remotely. It can be helpful to use communication tools but limit the number so that you’re not constantly flicking between emails, texts, phone calls, and other tools like Slack and Trello. The best approach may be to chat with your team and ask how they want to be managed.
You definitely don’t want to micromanage, so focus on:
- Being a good listener;
- Communicating that you trust and respect your team;
- Regularly touching base so they feel they can ask for help if they need.
A good option is to set a daily structured call with each team member or a team call if you have a more collaborative approach and make time for small talk.
7. Keep Celebrating Successes
This is a difficult time for everyone, and your employees may be struggling both professionally and/or personally. If you celebrate work milestones in the office, there’s no reason not to keep doing it now that you’re working remotely. You could schedule a doughnut delivery one Friday a month, have flowers delivered for a staff member’s birthday, or a weekly coffee voucher would be a hit.
Even if you’ve just taken a quick read through these tips, it should be quite clear that it all comes down to communication. From letting your team know what you expect of them and continuing to celebrate milestones to using technology to facilitate those exchanges – it’s all about keeping the lines of communication open and the information flowing both ways.
The world continues to change, and for many of us, the necessary adjustments have been uncomfortable and very quick. But there’s hope. The experience of remote working can be incredibly positive. So, if you can manage the transition for your team and become their biggest cheerleader, you have the best chance of making a move to remote working a successful one – both for yourself and your team.