Leading in a work-from-home environment

Coronavirus remote work telecommuting

Accountants are exactly the right kind of workers to thrive in a work-from-home environment. Meeting with clients is easier than ever before to do remotely, and the work accountants do is not dependent on location. But how do team leaders manage their staff from afar?

American workers are starting to get into the groove of working from home. Even in states where social distancing restrictions are loosening, many companies, especially those that don’t need to interact with their customers in person, are opting to move to a remote working environment for the foreseeable future. Twitter and Square went so far as to announce that their employees can work from home forever. Accounting firms are the exact types of businesses for whom a complete transition to work-from-home operations is possible. However, just because the switch is possible doesn’t mean that it’s easy or desirable. Creating and maintaining a thriving team remotely is a new kind of leadership challenge, one which everyone is dealing with right now.

When the coronavirus pandemic and our collective response to it took shape, most business owners rightly focused on getting operational as quickly as possible. You probably spent a good chunk of hours shopping for tech solutions and figuring out the basics of Zoom. Now that people have had the chance to figure out a way to run their businesses or do their jobs from home, leaders now have to answer a more difficult and abstract question: How can we work “together” when everyone is physically apart? Replacing the little moments that happen in a physical workspace is something you can’t afford to overlook. Here are some ways to address that challenge and build bonds through the screen.

Virtual office hours
When everyone works together in an office, it’s easy for a team member to pull aside a manager or leader for some advice or a quick chat. These informal, off-the-cuff conversations are harder to replicate remotely than more formal interactions because they lack a predictable structure. Many leaders have something of an open-door policy, something that’s very hard to replicate when you don’t have a physical office. Making yourself available 24/7 via all forms of communication is neither possible nor desirable. Instead, you may want to set aside a couple of hours every week for virtual office hours, in the vein of college professors. Staff can either reserve space or show up on a first come, first served basis. Allowing space for these less directed chats will help foster camaraderie no matter where your team happens to be.
Options for support
Even if you had all of your team members in the same room working on the same task, you know that some of them would rather bang their head against a wall for hours than publicly admit they are struggling. Right now, at a time when the CDC has robust guides for dealing with the stress of COVID-19, it goes without saying that people are struggling. Some struggle with dealing with all the new technology, others with the absence of social interactions, but every single one of us is dealing with huge change right now. It’s so important that you let your team members know that it’s OK to struggle. Nobody should feel bad that they’re not a video-conferencing expert overnight or be quiet about the fact they’re bummed they can’t go out to eat right now. You cannot force your team members to have these discussions (and you shouldn’t), but you can certainly create a forum where they can bring up issues if they need to and foster a culture where asking for help, even from miles away, is welcome.
Disconnecting
A side effect of our transition to a work-from-home lifestyle has been the emergence of a new class of work-all-the-timers. For those not accustomed to being remote, it can be difficult to turn off and separate themselves from their job. You might say, “That’s no big deal. I’m not going to complain if people are working more.” While there’s a logic to that thinking, it’s a broken logic. We know beyond a shadow of a doubt that too many long hours hamper productivity, performance and employee satisfaction. On top of that, people who work all the time and don’t respect their teammates’ boundaries create undue stress for everyone. Devising a system where people can actually get away from work is essential. You don’t need to enforce disconnect hours, though some businesses may find that useful, but you have to repeatedly communicate to your teams that they aren’t expected to be working from home the entire time they’re at home.
Team building, and fun
This is one that’s all too easy to overlook. While you may be focused on the work part of work, you should also take time for your teams to have fun together. There are countless team-building activities and games you can play over Zoom. Virtual happy hours and quarantinis are fixtures in our new culture. The same way that tech platforms can bring us together for work, they can bring us together as people. As a leader, it’s on you to find ways to do just that.
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