The uncertainties presented by COVID-19 has prompted many companies to ask some or all of their employees to work remotely. While over half of U.S. companies have team members who work at least part of the time remotely, these new policies are leaving many employees - and their managers - working out of their office and separated from their team members for the first time.
For leaders whose teams normally share an office, this can present a number of new challenges: How can you lead effectively when meetings are held virtually via Zoom rather than face-to-face? How do you ensure the business continues to run smoothly and employees remain productive?
We know first hand what it means to successfully manage and lead remote teams. Approximately 1,200 of Upwork’s team members work remotely. Another 500 or so work from one of our three U.S. offices (San Francisco, Santa Clara, and Chicago), with the option to work from home at least one day a week. Every team within our organization leverages remote talent and distributed team structures, from communications and social to finance and engineering.
This expertise helps us empower companies of all sizes—including over 30% of the Fortune 500—to remove location barriers and leverage both remote workers and distributed teams to create a competitive advantage for their organization.
With that in mind, we want to share some tips to help us all be more effective while working remotely, as well as some steps that corporate leaders and CEOs should be taking during this unique crisis.
Leading a newly remote organization
Managing a virtual team requires leaders to double down on the fundamentals of good management, including establishing clear goals, running effective meetings, communicating clearly and leveraging team members’ individual and collective strengths.
However, it can be difficult to quickly pivot when forced to adapt to a fully remote organization. Leaders can mobilize their team and ground their operations with a plan for today, while keeping an eye toward the future with these five steps:
1. Identify a core team of critical leaders and create a plan to address key business risks as they arise
Work with this team to create an ongoing cadence for identifying, evaluating, and addressing new risks to your business. Set up daily or twice daily “stand ups” with this group and other internal leaders to check-in around the following:
2. Build a contingency plan
Tap the same team of leaders to build out some “what if” scenarios. Outline the subsequent decisions you’d have to make for each, and align guiding principles so you’re ready. Some example questions to ask yourselves:
3. Develop your distributed working model muscles
Learning to lead a remote team won’t just help you navigate change now, it’s a valuable strength that you’ll increasingly need to lean on.
4. Listen to your customers
Talk to your customers. Find out what’s most on their minds and how you can help. It may be that your sales team dials back outreach for a period of time, or that you change up the messaging to address specific questions, needs, or concerns.
Crises are never welcome, but they can be opportunities to grow. We hope sharing what we’ve learned as a remote-first company over the years will help ease your transition during this difficult time. From all of us at Upwork: Stay safe, stay healthy and stay connected.