man working remotely with baby and dog
From encouraging video "coffee chats" to avoiding micromanagement, there are various tips business owners can use when managing a fully remote team. — Getty Images/Pekic

In the weeks since COVID-19 began its rapid spread throughout the United States, more and more companies have made the decision to protect their employees with an emergency work-from-home policy. While remote work was already relatively common in many industries, not every company was prepared for the sudden transition to a fully remote workforce.

Having the right tech tools in place for your now-remote team is essential, but you also need a plan for keeping everyone engaged and focused on their work. Most families are now quarantined in their homes together, so employees are now facing more distractions than there might normally be. On top of that, your team may be feeling anxious about their health and safety, so it's important for employers to be mindful of how those fears may impact productivity in the coming weeks and months.

To help you keep operations running smoothly as you and your team navigate this "new normal," here are some expert insights on how to maintain engagement while you're all working from home.

[Read: 7 Things to Do When Creating an Emergency Work-From-Home Policy for COVID-19]

Keep people updated

The key to success as a fully remote team is consistent, transparent communication. This is especially important as the coronavirus situation unfolds and changes. You'll want to ensure that you have multiple ways to reach employees, including chat software and email, and err on the side of overcommunication.

"Prepare powerful presentations to keep them engaged and motivated and provide them with all possible updates through communication channels," advised Nina Krol, outreach manager at Zety.

Get everyone on video

With video conferencing tools like Zoom and Google Hangouts, it's easy to keep your regular meeting schedule. The trick, however, is encouraging everyone to turn on their cameras so you can get that face-to-face focus and much-needed social interaction.

"Make sure you schedule regular meetings with the teams, have everyone connected via video conference so that everyone's prepped and out of their pajamas," said Krol. "Keep it professional."

And don't worry too much about any "background noise" from the family — it actually might be a good thing.

"The kids screaming in the background has been a way for us to bond with each other and with clients, where previously that might have seemed unprofessional on days we worked from home," said Jason Abromaitis, co-founder and CEO of Corus.

[Read: Top Tech Tools to Keep Your Team Connected During Coronavirus]

Watch our full CO— Blueprint discussion on how to hire and onboard employees in a remote work environment.

Because we work 100% remotely, we achieve trust by being transparent and avoiding micromanagement.

Brenna Loury, head of marketing, Doist

Watch Now: CO— Blueprint, 9/23

Check out the video from our CO— Blueprint event that took place Wednesday, September 23, 2020, where the panel discussed everything you need to know about recruiting and managing cohesive teams remotely.



Lead by example with a good remote work setup

If your team isn't used to working from home, they may still be adjusting to their new "home office," whatever that might look like. As a leader, you can model what a good remote work setup looks like, especially during your video conferences.

"Avoid or remove any clutter in the background that can distract others in a meeting," said Aruna Ravichandran, CMO and VP of marketing at Webex. "Try facing a window for natural light, or have a lamp nearby so your team can clearly see you on video. Investing in noise-canceling headphones or a headset is a great way for you to keep focused on the task at hand."

Avoid micromanaging

For companies that are used to a traditional office environment, it can be tempting for leaders to check in constantly to make sure employees are on task while they're working from home. However, micromanaging your team will only make them feel like you don't trust them — and according to Brenna Loury, head of marketing at Doist, engaging your remote workers starts with a high-trust culture.

"Because we work 100% remotely, we achieve trust by being transparent and avoiding micromanagement," Loury said. "The best way to do this is by keeping communication channels open and allowing team members to work autonomously."

Maintain friendly social interactions in your new virtual office

Without the in-person social cues in an office, it's easy for the hours to pass by at home without taking a break from work. Ravichandran encourages managers to schedule virtual "coffee chats" with team members in between meetings for some friendly, non-work conversation.

When you're chatting with colleagues via instant message, get creative and have a little fun with visuals to express yourself.

"When messaging, remember your colleague can’t see your reactions," said Ravichandran. "If a picture tells a thousand words, then a GIF is a great way to express yourself."

Get employee feedback on how they're feeling

Emotions are high right now and your team is going to take some time to adjust to this change. Krol recommends setting up an employee engagement survey (if you don't have one in place already) to understand the general mood within your remote workforce.

"Upon receiving feedback, you can act accordingly," said Krol.

For more resources from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce:

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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Published March 19, 2020