By Shonali Advani
When the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 as a pandemic 18 months ago the world went into a tizzy. Companies had to adapt to the new normal of working from home, overnight.
And most struggled. There was no set routine, employees missed team huddles and managers found it hard to ensure their staff actually ‘worked’ from home!
But I bragged. Why? Not because I had an A-team, because I was seasoned with all things virtual.
MY VIRTUAL COLLABORATION STORY
My first experience managing a team virtually was as the Assistant Editor for Network18’s Entrepreneur magazine. I was Bangalore-based while my team was spread between Mumbai and Delhi. Despite the distance I managed to get my production cycle ahead by two months.
Later on as I transitioned into an independent consultant it was WFH by default for me. I took on a variety of projects – from content-led assignments to curating events pan-India – all of which were executed from the comfort of my couch. The latter involved choosing speakers, a suitable venue and all the communication needed in the run up to the event. The only time I needed to be physically present was on D-day to host the show.
None of this would have been possible with meticulous planning and the right processes.
With the world opening up, companies are slowly opening their doors to employees albeit with hybrid models – a mixture of in-office and remote work, as their permanent solution.
It’s imperative we master the art of managing teams virtually. Here are my hacks from years of experience so you can ace your leadership game!
#1 SET UP PROCESSES FOR SMALL, MEDIUM AND LARGE TASKS
In the office we hang, huddle and land up at our colleague’s desk for that unforeseen task. It is easy to execute because we’ve built a rapport with folks. A few cajoling words and you can delegate on short notice, and on priority!
But in the new normal, managers/ leaders find themselves dealing with pandemic induced vagaries.
An unexpected power cut, a team member who is ‘just not feeling well in the morning’, or that peer with a plate full of tasks with no time for yours!
Here are my quick tips to wade through it all:
- Break up your team’s daily, weekly and monthly tasks into buckets
- In each of those buckets assign a special point of contact (SPOC) within your team
- The SPOC will be responsible for ensuring the flow of work for each task is executed as per timelines and in accordance to set guidelines
- If you need to collaborate with cross-functional teams your SPOC ensures the necessary data reaches them on time.
- Now further demarcate each task as high, medium and low priority.
- Google Sheets, Google Drive, and Google Calendar – these three tools became my best buddies and make virtual collaboration a breeze
#WEEKLY TEAM CHECK-INS
This one’s especially for first time managers or managers of managers looking to transition into leadership roles.
Efficiency and productivity of your team has a direct bearing on your personal career growth story. This means you’ve got to be mindful of the basics first before you can achieve any lofty goals.
The first thing to note is that you will need to ensure business continuity for your company. This means tweaking your management style a notch because your team members are not a few steps away from your desk!
Let me break this down for you:
- Set up a tracker on Google Sheets where your team can pencil out their tasks for the week as well as outline their dependency on anyone/ cross-functional teams for each. For eg: Employee X plans to work on a strategy for a new brand campaign in week – Who is he/ she dependent on to fulfil this task?
- Organise a weekly meeting (first thing morning Monday morning or last thing Friday evening) to plan and discuss the week ahead
- At the end of the weekly cycle ensure each member has a column to fill the unforeseen tasks they worked on so you can measure the actual plan versus the outcome
#BE AVAILABLE, BE RESPONSIVE
Now let’s say your team and you are on the same page with respect to processes and your trackers are updated real time.
Your job doesn’t end here. You have a crucial role to play to ensure smooth collaboration. The last thing you want is more chaos in an already uncertain world. So lead by example.
Your team members and peers will be communicating with you in chat rooms, WhatsApp or the old fashioned way – a phone call.!
- Make sure you are responsive to messages/calls as soon as you can
- A response within 24 hours is ideal
- Be sure to address each one of them
Now this does not mean you need to drop out of an urgent meeting to respond to a query in your chat window!
However you need to make your presence felt virtually. The more available you are – especially to your team – the sooner you set an example for virtual collaboration.
Be it WFH or office, for a company it’s always business as usual. Make sure you’re always on the ball!
The author is an experienced content & communications professional with 18 years of experience with media, startups, and corporates.
She has worked with marquee media brands like BCCL’s The Economic Times and Network18’s Entrepreneur Magazine. She has led & built teams, nurtured talent and created high quality digital assets for organisations.