For most people in the post COVID-19 pandemic world, working remotely is the new normal. Like it or not, most people have no choice other than getting used to doing their work remotely, most of the time from the comfort of their home. In the case of Mitrais, whereas almost all of the employees work remotely now due to COVID-19, there are certain unique challenges appearing compared to when they were working from the office before the pandemic. Although the challenges are not always significant at first, when people work remotely for a long period of time (even Twitter has allowed their employees to work remotely indefinitely), these trials could possibly affect their performance.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, most Mitrais employees were used to the option of working remotely. Mitrais allowed employees to work remotely under certain conditions and after undergoing an approval process. Those who had been approved by the client were then each assigned a company laptop. Regardless, not many employees opted for daily remote work, even though it was technically allowed. People still chose to work in the office for various reasons such as social necessity, comfort, or just simply to avoid boredom.
As an Engagement Manager here at Mitrais, one of my tasks is to manage development teams, and due to this crisis, all of them are now working remotely—including myself. Managing these remote teams also presents some unique challenges, and there are certain strategies and tips for managing remote teams during this pandemic or any other crisis.
Working remotely presents a wide variety of working environments for your team. You need to always keep this in mind when managing your team remotely. Their environment may not be ideal or comfortable compared to a standard office setting. It is important to ask each individual about their working environment, and to provide guidance as necessary. The most common advice that I usually give to my team members is to have a dedicated working space. However, most people don’t have this kind of luxury, and I suggest that just having a dedicated corner or desk at home could help significantly. This defines a distinct working area and separates it from other areas in their environment. A good and comfortable working environment leads to a more productive team overall.
Similar to working in a normal situation, the key to good teamwork is communication. As a team lead or a manager, you need to maintain communication at all times, even remotely. Periodically drop team members a message or video call. Just a simple “hi” will maintain that necessary level of communication. Try not to discuss the ongoing crisis too much. It could distract from the discussion, or it could sadden or offend your team, as they could be affected directly or indirectly by the current crisis. Maintain positivity during all of the conversation and help lift the mood of the team.
The biggest challenge when working remotely is minimizing distraction. It is undeniable that minimizing and resisting distraction can be more challenging than when working in a traditional office space. When working with a remote team, it’s best to set a clear goal for each day or week. Keep them engaged by aiming at that goal or target. This will maintain focus and avoid distraction without having to micromanage your remote team. Of course, the key here is to trust your team to do their job and believe in them.
Working remotely during a crisis could eventually affect the physical and psychological state of your team members, especially if an individual is confined in the same space for a long period of time. This will eventually affect overall performance, so you need to manage this to minimize impact on your team. During a break, you can remind your team to stretch by moving around the house or yard. This helps blood movement and relaxes muscles that may be tight and sore from sitting in front of a desk all day. The last thing that you want during this pandemic is for your team member to go to a doctor with back pain due to sitting the whole day. This is more critical now, since a home office setup and chair may not be ergonomic. You could also encourage team members to do a simple workout before or after work to maintain physical fitness.
Even more important is the mental health and wellbeing of your team member. Some form of detachment after they finish for the day could help them forget their work issues for a while and come back with a fresh mind the next day. This detachment could be normal activities such as watching movie, gardening, or playing with children or pets, or it could be a gentle exercise such as outdoor or televised group yoga. You could also do a simple activity like a casual video call with your team that does not discuss work. This could also help the team bond with each other.
Whether it’s crisis mode or not, as a leader you always need to set a good example for your team and lead as much as you can. During crisis, a leader is forged and tested. Keep a level head, and face each challenge by empowering your team. This will get you and your team through any crisis.
Freddi Muliantono - Engagement Manager