New research has revealed that 91% of contact centre professionals are planning to leave their roles in 2021. And with the evidence indicating it is in part because of poor management of remote working teams, it’s time for organisations to improve their remote working practices.
Never has effective leadership been more integral to business success than in the challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic. I am sure that working from home, albeit on a part-time basis, will be the new norm in the future, so with this in mind, how do we manage our teams remotely?
Good managers understand that building relationships and trust within their teams is vital for success in normal times, but now the emphasis is more on effective communication, training and working positively with teams as their work/life balance changes.
I refer to a recent survey commissioned by Enghouse Interactive which states 91% of contact centre professionals say that they are likely to leave their in 2021 - a very worry statistic.
Digging into the research further, we find:
48% of these staff report stress or emotional burnout.
66% of contact centre staff say that have not received remote training/advice on health and wellbeing in the home workplace since working remotely.
60% say their organisation has not put any new training or policies in place to improve mental resilience for new recruits since March 2020.
These statics are evidence that we can all benefit from learning about managing teams remotely.
Virtual teams will always be a challenge and conducting clear remote-working practices training can be particularly difficult during the disruptive times we find ourselves in. Nonetheless, it is essential.
Managers need to understand the complexities that can make remote work demanding for all the team, but also remember that high-performing employees may experience a decline in job performance and engagement when they begin working remotely so they need more support from you as their manager.
Some common challenges:
Lack of face-to-face supervision and leadership.
Lack of remote working training.
Not enough support on health and wellbeing in the home workplace.
Family and other distractions whilst working at home.
Lack of access to information required to work efficiently.
Outdated equipment/resources at home.
Social isolation from managers and colleagues.
Inability to brainstorm in the same way.
So how can managers lead remote teams more effectively?
Create a professional work environment
Set professional standards regarding dress code and encourage a distraction-free work environment as far as possible. Setting professional standards puts the team in the right mindset and fosters a relaxing work setting. Not everyone is cut out for remote work so exhibit empathy especially in the context of an abrupt shift to remote working.
It is important to note some of the unforeseen obstacles your remote team face, both physical and emotionally, distractions at home pulling them in multiple directions. Managers and team leaders need to acknowledge stress, listen to their teams’ anxieties and concerns and empathise with their struggles. The best managers mentor and coach in this new environment and display trust and support.
There will also be a need to provide the best physical resources to teams to enable them to contribute to their maximum potential.
Many remote teams now need new laptops, improved WiFi, and new technology. This may be costly initially but equipping the team now will pay off dividends with the future success of the team.
Make sure work hours overlap with national/global teams and schedule regular meetings
Regardless of what time zones your team members are in, it is advisable to arrange at least three to four hours on a regular basis where most of the team is online at the same time. It is crucial to check time zones and do your utmost to assess a realistic time, preferably in normal working hours if possible. Scheduling meetings, where possible, at the same time on the same weekday, contributes to creating a routine. Routines provide the team with something they are familiar with and this puts the team at ease and reduces stress.
Video calls like Zoom and Google teams are two good ways to maximise efficiency as they can recreate the routine office feeling.
Remember your team is the eyes and ears of your customers and often understand any issues customers might have interacting online, they can identify quickly how to resolve the issues so team meetings can provide quick solutions to new problems, particularly in call centres.
Communicating, defining job tasks and objectives for remote learning
Beyond the daily check-ins, communicating is imperative when it comes to the team’s tasks, duties, responsibilities and desired outcomes. Online communication can already be a challenge especially when your team is suddenly forced to working remotely and focusing on new or different tasks. Communication is always vital, bringing the team together for the benefit of the business, this does not change due to COVID.
Different people have different ways of going about tasks but by setting clear objectives it can shorten the time needed to achieve the desired result. Create agendas and set meeting outcomes, be organised then the team generally have less questions and get a feeling for how long certain tasks should take.
These new working systems need to be both standardised for maximum effectiveness but allow the necessary freedom to complete the task to the best of one’s ability. Everyone should be clear about what another team member is working on, be transparent with your teams, empower them to own what they do from start to finish and reward for a job well done.
Identify the right team members to work with on various projects
Although it is good to hold meetings with the whole team, preferably at the beginning and end of the week, occasionally there will be a need whilst, looking at specialist projects and tasks, to create smaller teams.
Never waste time on your most valuable resource, your team members, trust is imperative, never invite the whole team just so you can check up on them. This is not the best use of their time or yours. If you have reason to believe they are not performing well then you need to discuss this privately with the individuals concerned but also take a look at your own team/task schedules. If you are setting the correct targets and deadlines for completion your performance management tools will identify any gaps within the team.
Managing the teams’ expectations
Managing expectations has become increasingly more important in this current environment. Many managers have had to pivot roles, which means the same team members may now have to focus on new tasks which may impact on their ability and motivation levels and therefore performance outcomes. Set clear expectations and request regular feedback to ensure alignment.
Never assume all the team members understand where they need to focus their energy. Clearly defining the tasks, time lines and desired results will allow the team members to develop a plan of execution, which encourages creativity and ownership.
Identify project management online tools to measure performance
Project management tools can be ideal to keep track of deadlines. They also provide alerts and reminders for deadlines, giving you and the manager/team leader regular feedback, what needs to be done, by whom, and when. Google Docs can be a useful tool here but there will be many other in-house processes available.
Reward, recognition and trust
The process of rewarding and recognising teams, based on their skills stimulates them to work harder and better. They become more motivated and generally display positive attitudes.
This might be perceived by some to be even more important when managing remote working. Make sure to set up reward systems to keep your team motivated and set expectations early and clearly so success is achievable. I would like to emphasise that trust is vital in leading great teams. Individuals can spur each other on to achieve greater things when they are trusted to do a great job.
This is evidenced in many other countries where learning outcomes and target setting are inbuilt into the culture with proven results. Japan being one of those countries practicing yoga and meditation daily, setting the mood for the day and have always allowed their people to finish when all tasks are done whatever the time of day.
Finally, customers are becoming more demanding and possibly more angry because they are not coping well in this pandemic so your front line staff not only require your support with their emotions but need to display empathy towards their customers too.
I remember one large corporation I worked with a decade ago used to randomly survey some staff on various days of the week and times and just asked, “How are you feeling right now” on a index from 1-5 and managers would discretely follow up on those that appeared to be having a bad day to see if they could help. It also identified particular days when more than one person was not happy then managers could then look at their work schedules.
I would like to add that re-focusing on your elearning strategy will be equally important to retain your edge in this increasingly competitive marketplace where online working, buying, reviewing and seeking market intelligence has becoming king.