The “next normal” for managers: How to prepare

Right now, clarity is king. Prioritize robust, consistent communication, and take time to tailor and target pieces for your specific employees.

Preparing for the new workplace normal

 Some stay-at-home requirements are beginning to ease, but not everyone is returning to the workplace.

Most organizations are navigating a phased approach to bringing employees back—some have even offered to allow employees to work-from-home permanently.

That means leaders and managers must have the communications skills to keep their remote teams focused, engaged and productive—for the long-term.

Below are four tips that can help.

1. Clarity is king.  Without co-location, and employees’ personal and professional lives permanently mixed, communications from managers must be crystal clear and easy to absorb. Extreme clarity makes sure your team understands what to know, feel, or do when you share information.

  • Be open about when you are reachable and when you are not. That makes it easier for your team to reach out when they need help and feel more comfortable about balancing their own personal and work commitments.
  • Make sure your team knows all the communications channels available to them. Be sure to set expectations about how each channel should be used. For example, video communications are the next best thing when face-to-face meetings aren’t an option. If you expect your team to join via video, make the request clear that they need to turn on their computer cameras.
  • Help your team overcome frustrations so they can focus on the work that needs to be done. By now some of your team may feel quite isolated working at home while others might be feeling anxious at the idea of returning when the office re-opens. Those feelings can distract your team from receiving information and working effectively. Remind them their mental and physical health and safety are always the priority and carve out time for team “safe place” discussion. This will help ease anxiety and allow them to refocus on current priorities and critical information.
  • Even when you think communications and expectations have been made crystal clear – a little repetition may be in order. A good tip that can help is to wrap up any conversation about work expectations with each team member involved saying exactly what is happening next and what is most important.

2. Make the time for robust, regular, and individualized communications. Good management starts with good communications and that takes time, energy, and focus.

  • Realize that very regular check-ins are still necessary and welcome. Judge carefully what each of your team members needs and wants but recognize that short daily touch base communications with each team member may still be needed. (If you have too many direct reports for that to be a reality – think about weekly connections and setting up a “buddy system” in your team to check on each other regularly.).
  • When you connect with your team members, those connections cannot be all “work talk.” Ask (genuinely) how your team member is feeling and doing. If someone needs support, remind them that you can connect more often and of company resources available to them (like Employee Assistance Programs). Employees will remember the manager who focused on their well-being and that memory builds loyalty and engagement.
  • Keep the team connected. Be sure to schedule regular team interactions – and continue to be flexible about the frequency and length of those meetings as needs change. Your colleagues need to feel connected to each other. And, team meetings are an important opportunity for you to share information and discuss topics with your team.
  • Use technology, and lots of it, to communicate and stay connected. Everyone on your team absorbs information in different ways. Ideally you already knew what makes each team member “tick” before this crisis. If not, for now offer a lot of options and see what works for everyone.

3. Solid communications drive alignment – and that is needed more than ever. You should already be completely in synch with senior leadership and company-wide messaging about employee safety, company priorities, and organizational changes. When sharing with your teams:

  • Become the translation expert. Company-wide communications are broad in nature. Sharing them in your own words and giving examples of how the information affects your team will make that information much more accessible for your people.
  • Communicate any schedules and deadlines that are critical. Remember it may take longer to finish tasks and projects when everyone is not in the same location – plan for that and build in timelines accordingly.
  • Make sure that your team member’s (and your overall team) priorities are set to support the broader organizational ones. That will create clarity and focus and help your team maintain productivity.

4. Now is the time for “real” engagement building.  Before the pandemic, engagement was too often associated with employee “perks.” Now those are not available and building engagement is critical to the productivity and retention of your remote teams.

Communicating with and managing your remote team may be challenging. Remind yourself you are building some new “management muscle” that you will rely on for years to come. And that your efforts can be the key that keeps your team engaged, active, productive, and proud to be part of your organization. That is a worthy payoff for the extra effort.

Bonus: For a guide on how to prepare managers for difficult or uncomfortable conversations, click here.

Bryant Hilton is an affiliate consultant with Ragan Consulting Group. He specializes in manager communications consulting. Contact Kristin Hart at Kristin.Hart@raganconsulting.com to learn more about RCG. Follow RCG on LinkedIn here.

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