Managing Remotely During COVID-19

6 min read
Reading time: 8 Minutes

Recently I attended Legal Island’s webinar Managing & Motivating Homeworkers in the New World of Work in which Louise Smyth, Emer Hinphey & Barry Phillips shared their advice on how to ensure we’re balancing business needs with the needs of our workforce during this difficult time.

As Emer mentioned, we need to ensure our businesses remain commercially viable while at the same time we’ve also got to be wary of the impact of what’s happening to our employees.  After all, our employees will have a massive say in whether our business performs at this time or any other.  I would therefore ask you, rather than letting employee engagement slide as we focus on more apparently immediate challenges, has there ever been a more important time to make employee wellbeing and engagement a major focus?  If we want to recover from this, we’re going to need our people fighting alongside us.  Remember, employee engagement is not the beanbags and the pool tables in case you think I’m asking you to send them all ice-creams and expect everything to be okay.  Although if you are sending ice-creams, can you send me one too?!

How we treat our employees today, the care and compassion we show for them, will make or break the strength of our relationship with them in future.  As we all know, people work for people not businesses.  Right before lockdown kicked in, I experienced this first hand when interviewing employees from a client’s business about their experience of working there.  Multiple times I was told the firm had looked after them in their darkest hours and times of need and for that reason no amount of money could prise them away to work for a competitor.  They would walk through walls for their employer and I would suggest if that’s the kind of workforce you want to have in future, you continue to consider the needs of your people right now as much as ever.

My favourite quote from the webinar was “we’re not at home working, we’re at home during a crisis trying to work.”

I think that comment really sums up an important point.  We’re learning a lot during this strange time about remote working and the question many have pondered has been whether companies who have been resistant to the concept will embrace it in future.  Can it actually make our businesses more resilient, or has this time proven it doesn’t work for us?  But as the above quote highlights, it’s important to bear in mind that while this time can give us some insight into how remote working could work, or not, in our businesses – this is not normal business.

In normal circumstances people who take on work from home contracts typically set themselves up with a dedicated work space at home where they have peace, quiet and minimal distractions to focus on the day’s tasks.  There’s been time for preparation to ensure they have the equipment, tools and access they need to fulfil the demands of their role.  They have a manager who is possibly experienced in managing remote teams already.  They aren’t cooped up at home with their entire family, trying to look after their kids’ education, keep them entertained, potentially looking after or worrying about elderly or vulnerable relatives all while managing their own mental health… and working at the kitchen table while telling the dog to stop barking at the neighbours…

This scramble to pivot our businesses to remote working will have been harder for some than others.  Indeed, many will have had the capability to work from home in place already, but the circumstances within which we’re doing it are still totally different.  Whether you like it or not, the number one focus for most people right now is the health and survival of themselves and their loved ones.

But we still need our businesses to perform to survive – so what can we do?  Here are 3 of my tips.


1. Let Go

This might sound counterintuitive, but I would suggest we need to loosen the iron grip and be more flexible than ever with our employees.  The command and control nature of many businesses, the autocratic style of many managers, who have somehow survived in these positions through to 2020, is going to prove itself largely redundant.

A question was asked during the Legal Island webinar about how we track employee performance during this time.  I once remember working with a manager who said the ultimate business doesn’t need daily targets and someone checking over shoulders.  If people are truly engaged, they’ll give everything to help their company survive at a time like this.  But they’ll only do that for an employer who cares for them too.

If you’ve worked with your team so everyone has well-crafted objectives and understands their part, the expectations on them and why they matter – this might be a good time to try supporting rather than suffocating.  That does not mean give them enough rope to hang themselves.  It means ensuring they understand what’s required of them, checking in with and supporting them to achieve success – but letting them achieve it in the best way they can as they cope with the challenges of life in lockdown.  It’s about results, not time served or when tasks are completed.  Work structures and patterns for many will need to be individual and unique.  We need results, but maybe how we get them is less important right now.


2. Remember the human in the employee

This is an important time for regular communication.  Loneliness and isolation are two of the key challenges we want to pre-empt.  They are not the same thing, but they can impact each other.

Loneliness is the emotional response to a lack of connection, while isolation is more about accessibility.  When isolated, people feel cut off from the business, they can’t access the materials and tools required to do their jobs.  That isn’t an emotional issue, although it can and will affect our emotions the longer it goes on, it’s a technical one.

How do we solve these problems?  Talk to people.  And not just about their work, but about them and how they feel, how they’re coping and progressing under this new working arrangement.  Managers should be in regular contact with staff to help them determine what they can and can’t do from home, how they can do it, what’s expected of them and who they can contact if they’re in need of support.

We should be encouraging team talk as well, quite the contrary to what many businesses normally do.  Human’s are social creatures and they want to feel like they’re connected to something bigger than themselves.  Team meetings *with cameras on* are very important at this time – and sometimes try just lightening the mood with a bit of fun e.g. a game or a quiz.  We all need a bit of relief right now, and yes it might eat into a few minutes of time that could have been spent working – but sometimes the release people get from switching off for a few minutes re-energises them, sparks creativity and they go back to work to achieve so much more anyway.


3. Set boundaries

Granted, work patterns need to be more flexible right now – but that doesn’t mean someone should be working all hours of the night and day.

It’s too easy for someone to be answerable to e-mails and phone calls when they have the capability of doing so from home.  We don’t want people getting burnt out, so if we want them performing at their best, we need to keep an eye on overworking.  That means both being wary of the demands we place on them, but also encouraging them to switch off too and spend time with family.

Overworking becomes more common than you might think when people work remotely.  It might sound great at the outset, look how committed they are, but it often ends badly with lower work quality and eventually resentment kicking in.

Of course, these are just my thoughts.  How can you really know what’s affecting your employees and what they need to be healthy, productive and happy?  Our new employee engagement platform mooqi can help shed light on that.  We’d been developing this for a long time before COVID-19 and this just happens to have highlighted the need for keeping on the pulse of employee wellbeing.

You can find out more info via or get in touch if you’d like to more info.

What do you think is key to successfully managing remotely?  Share your thoughts in the comments.