Just checking in: how managers can keep remote teams together in a lockdown

(Image credit: Shutterstock / Ruslan Satsuik)

The global pandemic has caused a monumental and abrupt shift towards home working for millions of employees.

For managers dealing with a dispersed team (potentially the first time), there are five key pointers to keep in mind when using digital communications to keep the team together when they're physically and geographically spread apart. 

Check in with staff - but not too often

Keep in touch with staff and show them that you care about the difficult situation many of them will find themselves in working from home – potentially with other family members as welcome/unwelcome distractions, and potentially without the workspace or equipment to get things done as efficiently as usual.

Endless email and Zoom meetings will overwhelm people, but managers can check in occasionally to see if there is anything staff need (e.g. offering a monitor if the laptop screen is too small or clear instructions about how to access online resources and corporate networks).

Respect the need for work-home boundaries

Managers should suggest staff create physical boundaries between work and home (even if that’s just putting things in a box at the end of the day). This can be important for workers to appropriately unwind and switch back to ‘home’ mode. 

They should also avoid the temptation to expect workers to be contactable at any time, just because they know they are at home. Staff need downtime to detach from work, especially in these potentially stressful and uncertain times.

Before clicking send, double-check digital communications

Before clicking send on a message, double check that the content is clear, concise and understandable. With an exponential increase in digital messages at the moment, it is too easy to hastily wing off an email which has the potential to be rude, abrupt, pestering or otherwise inappropriate.

In times of uncertainty, people are more anxious, and therefore more susceptible to misinterpret communications that are not couched in any of the usual social niceties. Be vigilant, be focused, only message people when you need to and avoid excessive cc-ing.

Turn down the volume

Whilst it is important to be mindful of the volume of messages sent within the organisation, employees should be encouraged to stay in touch via Slack or other group forums, to help with feelings of isolation that employees may currently be experiencing.

With geographically dispersed teams, digital becomes the default means of communication. If not coordinated well, this can become a significant cause of stress and workload pressure for team members if the volume of exchanges come through in overwhelming numbers.  

Show kindness, compassion and tolerance

As staff are not in the office there is not the same visibility of efforts being made and work being achieved. Managers should still be encouraged to acknowledge good work.

At the same time, managers should be mindful that people will make mistakes as they move to different ways of working. They can encourage the team (as well modelling this themselves) to adopt a compassionate and tolerant attitude when things go wrong.

Dr Emma Russell is a Senior Lecturer in Ocupational and Organisational Psychology at the University of Sussex Business School

Marc Fullman is a PhD Researcher studying digital incivility at the University of Sussex Future of Work Research Hub

Dr Emma Russell

Dr Emma Russell is a Senior Lecturer in Ocupational and Organizatonal Psychology at the University of Sussex Business School and a member of Digital Futures at Work Research Centre and recently advised the civil service on digital communications.