You're halfway through an important presentation for your team and suddenly there's a slightly muffled question from someone clearly too young for office work. "Mom, how do you divide fractions? Mom? Mom?" Your team laughs, the mom in question apologizes with a grimace, and you spend a few seconds helping the group refocus. Welcome to managing remote teams in early 2020.
As the novel coronavirus has forced much of our workforce to practice social distancing and work from home, we're all adjusting to new realities. To help guide managers now tasked with managing teams remotely, JHU's Talent Management team recently launched a newsletter focused on the subject. The first issue includes links to Zoom and Microsoft Teams training materials, tips for leading virtual meetings and teams, and guidance on how to get more help. Future issues of the newsletter, which is expected to be posted twice a month, will include managing change and finding work-life balance while working from home, says Kathy Forbush, executive director of Talent Management.
There's plenty of other support available, too, plus more on the way. HR's Working at Home Support document provides links to courses and resources on topics that include remote and online app access, virtual team training, and online communication and collaboration, as well as productivity and wellness.
Forbush's team also is working on a comprehensive toolkit for managers, with advice on handling expectations around work, checking in virtually with team members, managing performance, and maintaining workforce engagement.
These resources will no doubt help, but Forbush has a few general suggestions for working and managing remotely as well:
Expect the unexpected
"Someone is going to crash your Zoom call, you're going to hear a dog bark, you're going to try something new and maybe not get it perfectly right the first time," Forbush says. As you adapt to new working conditions, you'll need flexibility, a sense of humor, and a willingness to try new things. "This is a brave new world," she says. "Sometimes in unprecedented times you need to react quickly and you need to teach yourself a new skill and take advantage of the resources that you have."
Embrace the familiar, re-create what's missing
You might not be in your old office or following your usual routine, but managing your team remotely isn't as far from normal as it may seem. "In many cases, managers are used to supervising people who are in different parts of a building or different parts of one floor," Forbush points out. "It's not like you're literally standing over someone all the time."
What's missing are the face-to-face interactions that happen throughout the day or workweek—the direct reports dropping by your work space or stopping to chat as you pass each other in the hallway, for example. Often those interactions aren't strictly about work.
"As managers, we have to find ways to connect with folks socially the way we did in the office," Forbush says. That might mean a manager logging on to a meeting early to make small talk or setting up an attendance-optional virtual lunch once a week. "These are times you can catch up on the craziness of the personal stuff, like venturing to the grocery store or finding ways to keep the kids busy."
Use all communication avenues
When you're working virtually, it's easy to rely too much on a particular communication tool. "When you're emailing a lot or using a chat tool, at some point you may have to decide to just pick up the phone," she notes. Phone calls can be more effective at times and can help restore some of the social contact of in-person communicating, something that's easy to forget when you've gotten into the habit of typing out a text or email.
Learn something new
As stressful as it is—and Forbush is quick to acknowledge that this is a stressful and disruptive time—it may be beneficial to view this period as a chance to learn new skills. JHU's expansive professional development offerings, accessed through MyLearning, are a treasure trove of courses, books, and other resources that can help you better manage virtual teams, adapt to your new work life, and grow professionally.
LinkedIn Learning, for example, has "great content on almost any topic you can imagine," Forbush says. "Whether it's a new piece of software you need to learn, or public speaking, or ways to lessen your stress, it's a great resource."
You can enhance your LinkedIn Learning experience by opting to link your learning profile to your regular LinkedIn profile. To do so, go to the Learn & Grow webpage and click on LinkedIn Learning under Quick Links. The first time you sign in you'll be asked if you want to link your LinkedIn Learning profile to your LinkedIn account (or at any time later by updating the settings under "Me" in the tool bar). Once you do so, LinkedIn will curate content based on your profile and the courses you take, so recommended courses will be tailored for you.
The Talent Management team also offers Bits and Bytes Webinars that provide training tutorials on everything from Excel to Microsoft 365 to web forms and more.
For all the latest links to resources and updates on HR information regarding novel coronavirus, go here. Additional information about the pandemic for the Johns Hopkins community can be found on the university's COVID-19 Information website.