Posted on behalf of Jeff Ford, Director, Client Services

COVID-19, or novel coronavirus, is here. It’s affecting our lives in innumerable ways. We’re being encouraged to stay home and away from others. Many businesses have had to close their doors temporarily. In the Healthcare Tech industry, many of us are fortunate enough to be able to continue our work remotely. This creates unique challenges for employees and managers. As someone who is typically in the office but manages a mixed staff both local and remote, I’d like to discuss some tips to working and managing remotely.

You’re going to have the same number of meetings and email contacts you have in a typical day, that won’t change. What will change is you will lose the times you stop into a coworker’s office to ask a quick question, grabbing lunch together to discuss solutions to an issue you were stuck on or lingering in the conference room after a meeting to further discuss a point that was brought up. I know “more meetings” is a bad word these days, but I’m going to recommend it here. Some employees will try to figure an issue out on their own, not wanting to ask for help until they desperately need it. A quick one-on-one with them could get them to voice their issues and get to the bottom of it more quickly. Don’t view it as a waste of time, see it as an office stop in. Think about scheduling 15 minutes with each of your employees 1-2 times during the week beyond what you already have in place.

Stay personal
So yes, there’s the “work talk” discussed above. But often overlooked in the remote work landscape is the personal side of things.  Studies have shown the social relationships among coworkers and supervisors are strongly related to overall job satisfaction. Positive social relationships are also associated with lower stress levels. During your one-on-ones, initiate some of the personal discussions you would in the office. Create a virtual water cooler via your Instant Messages so there’s not a Pavlovian response that as soon as you say “Hi,” they know a work request is coming. On Mondays, do you typically stop by your coworker’s office to discuss a Sunday night TV show you both watch? Keep that habit via IM or a quick phone call. Don’t be a “workbot,” continue those personal connections that build trust and a true team environment.

Context is everything
That sarcastic wit you’re known for in the office? It may not come through the same over email or IM.  Or maybe you swerve in the other direction, and your dry, informative email comes off as cold. With face-to-face conversations, it’s been said up to 55% of communication is non-verbal. When speaking virtually, you are losing body language, facial expressions, and posture. It becomes doubly important to think about how your emails will be received. Try to read your email from the perspective of those that will be receiving it. Try to add a little of your personality to it if appropriate. Make sure your email is delivering both the message and tone that you are aiming for.

Be flexible
Working remotely is not new, but the current situation we’re in is certainly unique. You and your employees are not going to have the typical work environment right now. Kids will be home. Spouses will be trying to work, possibly sharing a phone line and internet bandwidth. Our thoughts around the typical 9-5 will have to evolve. So, try not to call people out of the blue. There may be a crying kid or a barking dog. When possible, send an IM or email first asking if now is a good time for a call. Meeting notes can come out 20 minutes later if you need to let the dog out. That documentation can be done tonight after the kids go to bed. Yes, there is always time sensitive work and that will still need to be prioritized. But work with your team on what needs to be done now and what can be done during flex times.

Trust and Appreciation
With what I’ve said in the paragraph above, this may be the most important thing to remember. You hired your staff for a reason. They are trained professionals. Trust them. Trust that, just like you, they are doing their best in this situation. They’re working hard. Just as they didn’t need babysitting when they were in the office, they don’t need micromanagement now. And remember to recognize the hard work they’re doing virtually, since you won’t be able to poke your head in their office to thank them for the way they handled that tricky project today. Never lose sight of the fact that we’re all people on the other side of that laptop screen!