By Lucy Siegel | March 24, 2020

With Corona virus cases increasing geometrically, many people worldwide have to work from home right now. While there’s an abundance of advice about how to organize yourself to work remotely, not so much is available for how the boss should suddenly manage an entire staff remotely, especially in this atmosphere where many employees are fraught with anxiety. This post aims to give some advice to small- and mid-size company owners, including PR agency CEOs, to help in maintaining productivity while managing employees remotely. Read on for some ideas and tips from the PR agency leaders in the PR Boutiques International network.

A few points about managing employees remotely:

  • It requires a different style of communications.
  • Great organizational skills are even more important for working at home, not just for the staff, but for top management as well.
  • Proper use of online tools helps a lot.
  • There’s an emotional and psychological component of managing remotely that’s very important to success, especially in the current Corona virus environment.
A different style of communications

The latest online communications technology helps greatly in managing people one-on-one and in a group. But communicating while working remotely has a different vibe from in an office. Here are some do’s and don’ts for communicating and managing your staff remotely:

  • Don’t leave your team working alone day after day. Keep in touch frequently one-on-one with staff that report directly to you, and encourage them to do the same with their direct reports. With some staff, daily check-ins may be a good idea.
    • Durée Ross, president and CEO, Duree & Company in Fort Lauderdale, FL, reviews her employees’ to-do lists each day so she can see what they’re working on and help them set priorities. “I used to review them once a week. It’s a lot of work, but they understand the ever-changing client situations due to the Corona virus. It’s a unique challenge for everyone.”
    • Scott Phillips, founder and CEO of Scott Phillips + Associates in Chicago, is discussing individual objectives for the day at his agency’s daily morning meetings. “We’re also asking everyone to be extra diligent about logging their billable time in real time,” he remarks.
    • “Everyone starts their day by posting a very simple list. It sets the tone and helps people organize their days,” states Fred Russo, executive director,  Botica Butler Raudon Public Relations in Auckland, New Zealand. “They fill in the blanks: ‘Hi, [name] checking in. Today my hours are _________. I have meetings where I’ll be uncontactable at _________. I’ll be working on __________. I would like help with_________.’  If you can get your staff off on the right foot, the rest of the day should be easier!
  • Keep staff meetings short and use a video conferencing tool. Most employees won’t multitask during an in-person meeting because they know it will be noticed, but multitasking during conference calls is a way of life in the business world. Video conferencing helps to avoid that.
    • Says Mary Shank Rockman, principal and CEO, MSR Communicationsin San Francisco, “In our video conference team meetings, we review with one another virtually our initiatives and client updates.” Rockman adds that her staff has weekly team meetings with clients, usually by conference call, but now is encouraging clients to join via video so that they can engage more personally.
  • Whatever tools you use to communicate, lay out ground rules on their use. For example, when should employees use texts vs. emails vs. videoconferencing vs. online chatting vs. a phone call? Some rules are common sense but should still be made explicit. For example, chats, texts and emails should not be used for lengthy discussions or to give sensitive personal feedback to team members.
Technology tools can help you manage

There’s a plethora of free or low-cost technology options to help you communicate with your team and help them communicate and collaborate with each other. The key is to choose the right tools for different needs. There is not likely to be one perfect tool for all your needs. Some are free for limited use, but have several higher tiers of services and prices.

Here are some categories of tools that can help bolster teamwork with examples of each type:

  • Virtual chatrooms: (These allow your staff to chat around a virtual watercooler. Chatroom software can provide instant text messaging, video or audio or a combination of all three.)
  • Audio and video conferencing, screensharing: (They can be used for external and internal presentations, webinars and meetings.)
    • Zoom (Just announced they will make their platform free to all schools during the current Corona virus crisis.)
    • GoToMeeting (known best for conferencing tools but advertises their “remote work kit” on their website.)
    • UberConference (They’ve expanded their free version in light of the current Corona virus crisis to provide longer call times and up to 50 participants.)
  • Team management (These support the boss in managing remote teamwork.)
    • Remote.co (A support site for managing remotely and working remotely.)
    • 15Five (The company’s website promo: “Integrate objectives into your weekly check-ins. Set up and view objectives, update progress, and post comments in real-time — creating one experience for your people, and less spreadsheets and emails for you to manage.”)
    • Sophaya (This company provides online courses for managing remote teams through the Remote Nation Institute.)
  • Project management: (These organizational aids help the whole team.)
  • Document collaboration (These are software-as-a-service/cloud-based programs that provide the ability to work as a team on document editing without having to email documents back and forth.)

If your company hasn’t been using many of these tech tools to support teamwork, you probably shouldn’t try to suddenly adopt a lot of them all at once now, in a crisis. However, the need to work remotely and “shelter in place” may continue for awhile and a good strategy might be to choose a couple of new tools now to meet your most urgent communication needs. In a few weeks, after your team is accustomed to them, you can add more. Remote work has been increasing quickly in recent years, and you’ll continue to benefit from learning how to use new tools long after the Corona virus crisis has passed.

Recommended relevant articles

“Five Ways to Improve Communication in Virtual Teams,” MIT Sloan Management Review, 6/13/2018

“Effective Remote Working,” Zoom

5 Rules of Professional Conference Call Etiquette for Remote Workers”, and “Building a Culture of Trust with Remote Employees and Clients,” Sophaya

How the Right Project Management Tools Can Help You Stay Efficient When Working Remotely,” Top10.com

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