So, you’re a manager suddenly doing your job from home, away from your team and in a completely new environment. Hi! There are a whole new set of stressors related both to the work itself and to the new realities of quarantine/distancing/no school/shelter-in-place requirements. It’s a lot for you personally, and your team is probably reeling. What are some steps you can take to make sure you make the transition as supportive, productive, and realistic for you and your team?
As a manager who’s worked from home off and on for years, I’ve got some experience and best practices to offer up. I’ve also gathered some wisdom from other people managers in similar positions. Hopefully we can help you make this transition as smooth as possible. I’ve separated the advice into general support for work-from-home setups, and specific advice related to the particularly stressful and uncertain environment of this pandemic.
Give space for informal conversation during each video or voice call or create discrete times for such opportunities. We take for granted the amount of casual conversation and checking in that happens when we’re all working in the same space! Give people the opportunity to do this both 1:1 and in group meetings. Keep in mind that, since meetings aren’t in person, you’re not getting the usual visual cues about a person’s state of mind, health, etc. Acknowledge the situation and be prepared to listen.
Make sure that you understand people’s work environment and patterns – they may be very different from what happens at work! (i.e., where is your workspace in your home, what hours are you keeping, do you take a specific lunch break?)
Set up online chat (e.g., Slack or Discord) mechanisms where people can share their work progress and discuss projects. As much as you can, make that conversation public/available to the full team. When we’re in the same physical space, we take for granted that we know what others are doing. Losing that common space means we can lose that common shared knowledge. My husband’s team posts a daily “WID” (What I Did) to Slack to update the team. My team has monthly all-staff meetings, and minutes are posted online afterwards.
Model setting off-hours. Make sure you’re helping your team enforce healthy work-home separation by refraining from sending emails or messages during certain hours and setting norms like turning off your own notifications of stepping away from your desk each day at a certain time. This is good for you, and your example will be important as well.
And along those lines, manage your own self-care. This is the single most important piece of advice I can give anyone, especially right now. It is essential that you:
- Identify specific activities that will keep you healthy mentally physically (good self-care requires some effort and is sometimes rather boring, like making sure you eat well every day and keep your space clean & neat).
- Make commitments to talk to friends and family socially and casually about non-work topics.
- Make sure to connect with mentors.
- Find fun things to do (right now I’m reading and watching Outlander – it’s a nice break from the intensity of the world these days).
COVID-19 Specific Advice
Beyond the general advice above, let’s talk about some strategies for navigating the current crisis. First, see this great Twitter thread from creative director Elizabeth Sampat. Much of what I say below is echoed there!
Ask what people need!
This may be as simple as a stipend for better internet service at home, but it could also include additional monitors or even a better chair. It might mean a different schedule. For example, everyone is checking in with family more. My parents are on the east coast, so I need to talk to them earlier in the day – during my normal work hours. I’ve also got a longer lunch break because my daughter is at home and I need to make lunch for her, too, and spend some time with her. It’s important that folks in my team know my needs, and it’s important you ask about theirs.
In this environment (with kids at home, and stressful news coming every day, and lots of uncertainty about the future), people won’t function at their best – including you. Give yourself and your team as much grace as possible, and do that as explicitly as possible. Specifically, identify new targets for productivity and output, set different work hours if necessary, and overtly express your understanding that the work expectations are different. Caregivers, extroverts, people with underlying medical conditions, and those dealing with the public on a regular basis (especially on social media) are going to be particularly stressed.
Practice Good Communication
It is of the utmost importance to be as clear, consistent, and transparent as possible about the impacts of this time on your team’s work, their projects, and the company. We are dealing with a lot of uncertainty, and rumors and fear are even more pernicious when we’re isolated physically, and our routines are more unpredictable. This may mean that you need more all-hands conversations, you need to send regular, comprehensive update emails, or you need a Slack channel dedicated to contingency plans. Please note, this does not mean that you should communicate every potential problem or wrinkle the minute it comes to your attention. It means that once you’ve made concrete plans, communicate them comprehensively and swiftly, and it means that you should let people know when you’re become aware of a new issue, so they know when you’re working on plans or mitigation efforts.
Be Prepared for Weird Things to Happen
This is a weird situation, and you never know how people’s home situations may alter how they show up for work or what they are able to do. You will need to draw on your sense of humor, and maybe a new collection of facepalm gifs, and be prepared to get a little out of your comfort zone. This is an uncomfortable and unprecedented situation, and the best thing we can do is provide a container that is understanding, flexible, and kind – both for ourselves and others.
Eve Crevoshay, Executive Director, Take This (She/Her)
Eve Crevoshay is a 15-year veteran of the nonprofit sector, with a focus on fundraising and executing strategy. Her background spans education, social services, and the arts, and her passion is the next generation. Eve is a member of the advisory boards for GDC (in the advocacy track) and The International Game Summit on Mental Health (TIGS.ca). She’s also a certified yoga teacher, avid gardener and cook, and gamer. She lives in the Seattle area with her husband, daughter and two dogs.