Clear Expectations for (Newly) Remote Workers

Apr 20, 2020

Transitioning to remote work can be challenging for even stellar employees. Now, during this coronavirus pandemic, it is even more stressful.

It is hard to know what to expect from team members, hard to trust that they are truly working if you don’t have your eyes on them, and hard find a reasonable communication cadence.

If you are managing newly remote employees, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Set clear expectations about the work. Make sure each person knows what their priorities are. Work with each one (or help their managers know how) to agree on what they will be working on and set achievable goals for the week. Make those goals measurable, so that you both know what the definition of ‘still doing a great job’ looks like—even from home.
  • Focus on goals, not ‘butt in chair’ time. If your team members are meeting their work goals and maintaining a high quality of production in four hours a day…great. If it takes them ten hours a day, due to other issues and distractions, then they are still meeting your expectations and carrying their load…also great. Focus on whether they are meeting their agreed-upon goals, not how much time they are spending sitting in front of their computers.
  • Communicate regularly and more often than usual. During a crisis, people need more communication, not less. Even more so when you are not all in the same office anymore. Lack of clear communication creates confusion and conflict that is avoidable. If you aren't providing clear and good information, people will make up scary stories about what might be happening. Either you (or their direct manager if that is not you) need to consider doing the following:
  1. Check in two or three times per week with each team member. Set weekly measurable work goals (discussed above), check in with them personally to make sure they are doing okay and to see if they have any questions or need anything. You also want to check to make sure they are actually accomplishing the goals you have set together.
  2. Conduct a daily team check in meeting to keep tabs on how projects are going, problem solve, and to support each other. This can be done via Zoom or other tools.
  3. Host regular (probably weekly) company-wide calls to inform everyone about what the company is doing to keep the business going, how your customer base is holding up, any plans you are making for the business or for layoffs, etc. This is when you want to be transparent and concrete. Platitudes don’t help. Saying “financially we are still doing okay” is very different than saying “These two clients have put their accounts on hold for six weeks. As a result, I am dedicating ten hours this week to make calls to previous customers to work on shoring up our short term bottom line.”
  • Balance accountability with compassion. During this crisis, each person has a unique situation. Some have elderly parents or relatives they are worried about. Some have family or friends who may be desperately ill. Some may be dealing with financial strains or bills due to a spouse or partner layoff. Some have kids at home now with no child care. Maybe some are dealing with none of these issues. The key for you is to be realistic about what someone can accomplish in a day or week, given their circumstance. You want to support your team members so that when this is all over, they will be eager and able to come back and enthusiastically pick up the ball from the office.

If you have laid people off or furloughed them but want to rehire them when you can—reach out to them once a week or so and fill them in on what is happening with your business. Let them know that you care about them. Let them know what business metrics you have determined will guide you to bringing people back. Keep in touch with them and keep them informed.