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With the onset of COVID-19, many of us have shifted to working from home. With our teams now scattered across multiple locations and even timezones, it’s become a lot tougher for us as managers and leaders to look after our employees. However, during uncertain times like these, it is actually more important than ever to be there for your team. Not sure how to navigate this challenge? We interviewed 20 team leaders, from founders to CEOs to HR managers, and here is what they have to say about supporting your remote team. Check out their wisdom below and learn from the experts!

Paula Cizek, Chief Research Officer at NOBL

“Show that you’re listening and engaged: don’t get distracted by email while on a Zoom call, acknowledge other’s contributions, and demonstrate interest in your team as people, not just as colleagues.”

“Create psychological safety. Whether your team is in-person or remote, what’s most important is creating an environment in which people feel comfortable taking risks – whether that’s bringing up a new idea to the rest of their team, or sharing bad news with the boss. To do this in a remote environment, show that you’re listening and engaged: don’t get distracted by email while on a Zoom call, acknowledge other’s contributions, and demonstrate interest in your team as people, not just as colleagues. In addition, double down on your shared rituals and culture. Without physical gathering spaces, it’s easy to feel like your culture has disappeared into the ether – which is why it’s never been so important to stay connected. Set up regular meetings like status updates, 1:1s, and all-hands, and look for ways to incorporate your culture into digital platforms, like setting up a Slack channel to share pictures of your new ‘coworkers’ – your kids and pets.”

Jenna Carson, HR Manager at Music Grotto

“We have flexible working hours, with the caveat that everyone needs to fill in their calendar so that we all know when each team member is available for time-sensitive issues.”

“The biggest challenge our employees have faced is managing to juggle their personal obligations with their work – some have had issues with childcare, or caring for family members, and as a result we’ve had to work hard to create as flexible a work-from-home policy as possible. We have flexible working hours, with the caveat that everyone needs to fill in their calendar so that we all know when each team member is available for time-sensitive issues. My advice for other team leaders would be to make sure you always remember that these are extenuating and unusual circumstances. Some people will adjust quickly and manage fine, while others will need much more support. It’s our job to be mindful, recognize this when it happens, and provide that support.”

Raphael Allstadt, Co-Founder & CEO of tl;dv

“We aim to have fun networking and get-to-know-each-other events that are always organized by a different team member and held on Google Meet.”

“We use Donut App as a baseline in order to ensure that we all stay connected with one another. On top of that, we aim to have fun networking and get-to-know-each-other events that are always organized by a different team member and held on Google Meet. Usually, we prepare some fun things like fun-facts or physical things in our rooms that say something about out personalities to share with the rest of the team. And of course, we also use our own product, tl;dv, to stay connected amongst each other via video!”

Amie Devero, Founder & Managing Director @ Beyond Better

“When people fully understand the ‘why’ behind what they are being asked to do, they are more creative, engaged and motivated. Make sure your individual team members aren’t working in a vacuum, but in the context of the company’s strategy. That’s true all the time, but especially now.”

“When people share an office, there is an unspoken boundary that leaders don’t cross into the personal lives of their teams. But, during a pandemic, when so much is opaque about the emotional well-being of individuals, it’s important to do more than simply say “how is everyone doing?”, which is the default. So, one thing I recommend is that leaders dig in a bit more in their one-on-ones with their teams, and that they tell managers to do the same. Obviously, you can’t intrude too much. But it’s important to ask employees how they are, and their families, whether they have any people close to them who have succumbed to the virus, and whether anything is weighing on their minds. Knowing this kind of information gives a leader more insight into what may be obscuring engagement and what the employee needs in terms of empathy and support. Often the job of a leader is less to cause engagement than to remove whatever could be standing in the way. Another thing that is even more important remotely than in person is to continually reinforce the relationship between what individual employees do and the organization’s macro goals. When people fully understand the ‘why’ behind what they are being asked to do, they are more creative, engaged and motivated. Make sure your individual team members aren’t working in a vacuum, but in the context of the company’s strategy. That’s true all the time, but especially now.”

Jon Mattingly, Co-Founder of Kodable

“This is an indirect method of communication that keeps people in the loop on what everyone else is working on, without disrupting their own daily schedules.”

“I would recommend establishing something like an internal Twitter feed. At Kodable, we have a special slack channel called ‘#status’ that everyone is a part of. When someone is working on something, they update their status and it automatically posts a message there. For example, if you’re starting a new blog post, you would update your status to say ‘Working on the blog post for Friday’ and everyone would see it. This is an indirect method of communication that keeps people in the loop on what everyone else is working on, without disrupting their own daily schedules.”

Liesel Vaidya, Co-Founder and CTO of Leda Health

“I have found it best to set small deadlines and assign projects as they come so that employees do not get overwhelmed.”

“It is important for leaders to be trustworthy and responsible during a crisis. Employees must trust that their leader is able to effectively communicate and be open about the current situation. As a founder, I have realized that it is vital for me to be there for my employees and show them that I care. It is easy to put off an employee’s struggles and just assume that they did not finish a project because they were unproductive, but it’s often so much more complicated than that. Leaders must be understanding, but firm. I have found it best to set small deadlines and assign projects as they come so that employees do not get overwhelmed. As a leader, you should first strive to be there for your employees as a form of support before ensuring that they are being efficient and productive.”

Karl Armstrong, Founder of EpicWin App

“During these daily check-ins, we do video calls and discuss priority setting and alignment of goals.”

Daily morning check-ins have become a ritual for me and my team. We always allot a specific time in the morning to check in on each other while we have our morning coffee. During these daily check-ins, we do video calls and discuss priority setting and alignment of goals. With this type of setup, we give ourselves the chance to extend camaraderie and maintain the connection even though we are working remotely. One of our work-from-home policies is having a structured working time. This is to cultivate discipline. One of the major challenges that we’ve encountered – which brought us to enforce this policy – is a lack of motivation among our employees. We were able to identify that profound distractions and isolation are the root causes. Thus, it became a top priority for us to enforce such a policy to help us coach and mentor our employees.”

Thomas Drew, Co-Founder of 1AND1LIFE

“Encouragement from leadership and acknowledgment of a job well done is also extremely important in an environment like this.”

“Encouragement from leadership and acknowledgment of a job well done is also extremely important in an environment like this. In our three weekly group touch bases, we have everyone that’s running a silo of the business talk about what they got done since the previous touch base (two days prior), what they plan on getting done/working on over the next 48-hours, and where they need support. This allows anybody with bandwidth on the team to be able to step in with support and resources if need be because they understand what everyone else is doing. Our Editor in Chief, Dennis Consorte, introduced this method to the group, and it’s been a great addition to our weekly touch-bases during COVID-19.”

Nikolina Jeric, Founder of 2Date4Love

“To stay connected and ensure timely task completion, we use tools such as Asana, which helps us effectively track our tasks from creation to completion.”

“To stay connected and ensure timely task completion, we use tools such as Asana, which helps us effectively track our tasks from creation to completion. We use Slack for our daily communication – we have project related channels there, but in addition to those, some channels dedicated to non-work-related things as well that help us stay connected as a team. Furthermore, we’ve now introduced weekly Zoom meetings. All of those things have made us feel closer and less alone, and have helped us stay truly connected as a tight-knit team.”

Ben Walker, CEO of Transcription Outsourcing

“My policy is simple: work your own hours, as long as you get your deliverables completed.”

“Even though most of my employees are paid by the hour, I am more about output than time spent on a task. And it is completely up to them how they intend to make that happen. My policy is simple: work your own hours, as long as you get your deliverables completed. Right now, your employees need every form of support possible. Try your best to accommodate them. It would mean a lot to your employees just knowing that the company cares for them too.”

Abhijeet Narvekar, Founder and CEO of The FerVID Group

“Another issue we have seen is that our newer team members miss the frequent interactions that take place in the office. They used to learn by listening to some of the interactions in the office, but now they have to try and pick things up on their own through their own experience.”

“Mental exhaustion is one of the key issues our teams are facing during the pandemic. Teams work very hard to keep the company going. And lot of companies need to pivot during difficult times. This leads to frequent changes in strategy and tactics, which leads to mental exhaustion. Another issue we have seen is that our newer team members miss the frequent interactions that take place in the office. They used to learn by listening to some of the interactions in the office, but now they have to try and pick things up on their own through their own experience. In terms of solutions, over-communication has been very helpful. We communicate frequently and let everyone know where the company stands. This way, employees do not need to worry about layoffs or furloughs.”

Julie Jensen, Principal at Moxie HR Strategies

“Spending all day on video or conference calls is mentally and emotionally exhausting. Many employees are starting to burn out from all this screen time, not to mention the eye strain.”

“Sure, technology has made working remotely easy, but spending all day on video or conference calls is mentally and emotionally exhausting. Many employees are starting to burn out from all this screen time, not to mention the eye strain. Consider setting ‘no-meeting zones’ like ‘No Meeting Mondays’ or ‘Administrative Afternoons,’ so that people have a chance to do their work, ideate on innovative solutions, plan strategically for the future, or just get up and stretch their legs from time to time.”

Ashwin Sokke, Co-Founder of WOW Skin Science

“I think employees need to set up home offices to draw clear boundaries between their personal lives and their work lives. The lines between the two are getting blurred and it is leading to burnout and a decrease in productivity.”

“I think it is natural for employees to start experiencing burnout at this time. We have been stuck in our homes for almost 5 months. Working from home is difficult, especially without the appropriate conditions. No one expected that we would be working from home for this long. I think employees need to set up home offices to draw clear boundaries between their personal lives and their work lives. The lines between the two are getting blurred and it is leading to burnout and a decrease in productivity. Additionally, the uncertainty of the situation has been having a huge effect on people’s stress levels and moods. I am working hard to communicate with my employees daily. Scheduling check-ins are extremely important to me. I want to be considerate of everyone’s situation and be a grounding source of reassurance and support.”

Jennifer Yugo, Managing Director and Owner of Corvirtus

“I’ve politely interrogated each person on the quality of their workspace to make sure they have all the resources they need (chair, extra monitors, printers) and provided equipment as needed.”

“Concrete things I’ve done include: allowing unlimited vacation rollover for this year (potentially next as well), establishing a cadence for communications between me and each member of my team (at least two friendly conversations during the week – and usually a week-end mostly-social call). I’ve also politely interrogated each person on the quality of their workspace to make sure they have all the resources they need (chair, extra monitors, printers) and provided equipment as needed. We have increased flexibility (I’ve always been highly flexible around appointments and even extras like leaving work for volunteering, exercise classes, or other needs) but we’ve taken that up even further with working from home.”

Lauren Kleinman, Co-Founder of The Quality Edit

“It’s important to understand that everyone has very unique work-from-home situations and that not all things are equal right now. As managers and leaders, we have to understand our team’s emotional needs, be especially flexible and sensitive, and meet them where they’re at.”

“I check in with my team first thing in the morning on Slack and we share our top 3 priorities for the day. We also use Notion and Asana to manage the various projects and priorities for clients. All documents and sheets are collaborated on together within Google Docs or Google Sheets. We use Google Hangouts or Zoom for client meetings. We’re also loving Canva to create beautiful and seamless presentations for clients quickly. Our favorite remote team-building activity is an end of week Happy Hour. At least once a day, I make sure to ask my team how they’re doing, unrelated to any business objectives. It’s important to understand that everyone has very unique work-from-home situations and that not all things are equal right now. As managers and leaders, we have to understand our team’s emotional needs, be especially flexible and sensitive, and meet them where they’re at.”

Tom Winter, Co-Founder of DevSkiller.com 

“I have introduced more frequent team building activities online to enable people to relax a bit and chat about topics that aren’t related to work.”

“My entire company is now operating remotely and it took me some time to get used to this system and find the best way to support my workers. I have introduced more frequent team building activities online to enable people to relax a bit and chat about topics that aren’t related to work. My major goal was to keep everyone connected virtually so I came up with different games and activities that we now play on Zoom. Aside from the entertainment aspect, I’ve been scheduling bi-weekly 1:1s with my employees to make sure they are doing okay in this situation. I don’t have a large team so it is doable to make time and talk to everyone. I figured that the best way to support employees is to discuss their needs and worries via conversation.”

Dennis Theodorou, Managing Director @ JMJ Phillip Holdings 

“ Check-ins from department heads are therefore crucial. Transparency is crucial and communication across the board needs to be elevated in order to keep momentum.”

“Accountability can be tricky for some staff members during these times. Today, no one wants to be micromanaged, but at the same time, some individuals can have a hard time managing their work day. Being in the office, people are reminded by their colleagues to stay focused and continue to work.  At home, there are more distractions. If you’re not disciplined to stay focused day in and day out, it becomes a challenge to get work done efficiently and timely. This isn’t across the board, of course. Additionally, keeping morale up while working from home is probably the toughest challenge we’ve faced so far.  You simply cannot gauge how your employees are doing. Whether your team members are having a good or bad day is difficult to determine, especially when you cannot walk down the hall and see their body language.  Check-ins from department heads are therefore crucial. Transparency is crucial and communication across the board needs to be elevated in order to keep momentum.”

Robin Nessensohn, Co-Founder of Really Good Innovation

“In times of uncertainty it is important to take on leadership roles and give your employees a sense of stability and safety.”

“The most important point, I think, is open and direct communication. In times of uncertainty it is important to take on leadership roles and give your employees a sense of stability and safety. We therefore communicated very early on to the team what the pandemic could mean for our business, which threats and opportunities it gave us, and what the next steps would be for our business. All the people working on Really Good Innovation were directly instructed to stay at home for their own safety and the safety of others. As we offer a digital platform, it was quite easy to switch to a completely remote working model. Our policies include daily update calls in the morning and in the afternoon, not just to check-in on tasks but also calls for purely social purposes. We also encouraged everyone in the team to set themselves very clear goals so that task management is easy and so that people can work more independently.”

Barb Hansen, Co-Founder & COO of Thinkin Blue Inc

“You don’t get to ignore questionable behaviors or actions because you are working remotely or because your team is new to working remotely. You still need to be a manager and you might need to be a better manager than you normally are in the office.”

“My big tip to managers is to be a manager. When you see something – say something. Reach out to make sure things are okay with your team members. Do they need additional support or training? Do they need to take a few hours off to regroup? Did they just ‘stumble?’ Are they over-working? Are they missing deadlines? Are they talking more or less than they usually do? You need to be more aware of what’s happening with your team members. You don’t get to ignore questionable behaviors or actions because you are working remotely or because your team is new to working remotely. You still need to be a manager and you might need to be a better manager than you normally are in the office.”

Alex Shute, Co-Founder of Upward Exits

“My advice would be to make sure you view your working day and life as something that is fluid. Welcome the change.”

“We’ve allowed people flexibility and grace in their schedules to work and get their work done. I think agreeing on an arrangement where employees can work during a certain time or for a certain number of hours, as long as they get the job done, is helpful. Challenges for employees would be getting used to doing everything remotely; with everyone suddenly switching to a remote work environment, adjusting to the new tools and policies as well as managing work schedules and even productivity can be a bit challenging. My advice would be to make sure you view your working day and life as something that is fluid. Welcome the change. Do make plans and do schedule but allow what we’re experiencing to breed fresh creativity in your life and business.”