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Managing employees virtually in the home office

For many companies, it is still quite new: virtual leadership requires great tact and flexibility from superiors in terms of leadership style, communication and trust.


For many professionals, the world of work has changed significantly since last year. The culture of presence has been fundamentally challenged by the COVID 19 pandemic. Companies are increasingly getting used to having teams work from home offices. Many confirm that they will continue to do so even after the current Corona crisis is over.

Home office for managers

The hitherto unfamiliar situation requires a high degree of adaptability from both employees and employers. Managers in particular need to familiarise themselves with new methods of managing employees via digital channels.

This is how implementation can succeed:

  • Acknowledging the circumstances One of the biggest challenges is not primarily the physical distance. It is more about the different basic conditions team members face when working from home. Especially in cities, not everyone has enough space for a separate room as a home office. For many, the workplace is still the kitchen or dining table. In addition, there is a whole range of possible distractions: Children need help with their homework, the parcel delivery man rings, the dog has to go out. And if you live alone, you may feel isolated from your environment over time. All this has an impact on how - and at what times - employees can best complete their tasks. Supervisors who openly express understanding for these individual situations create the basis for trusting cooperation.

  • Controlling the stress level Permanent stress in the home office is not a good prerequisite for continuously delivering good work. Managers who communicate that it is okay not to function perfectly all the time take some of the pressure off employees to get used to the new normal. With this certainty, it is much easier for many to meet deadlines and expectations. It's not a big deal if the kids or a pet run through the picture in the background during the video meeting. This only becomes a problem if the meeting is permanently disturbed because the distraction is too great. This is where virtual backgrounds come in handy to create a separation between private and working life.

  • Maintaining contacts regularly A daily conversation with the boss - isn't that a bit too much communication? Maybe it looks like it at first glance, but especially in digital employee management, the regularity of the exchange is crucial. This is the only way to assess whether everything is going as discussed and whether everyone in the team feels up to the demands. Misunderstandings and mistakes happen - similar to in the office - especially when there is too little communication.

  • Use of digital technologies Relationships can only develop with people with whom one maintains regular contact. In the age of digital exchange, this works through numerous communication channels. Modern video conferencing tools such as Zoom, Teams, Google Meet and others enable face-to-face communication and make it possible to see how all team members are doing. The reason for a short face-to-face meeting does not necessarily always have to be a concrete work assignment. In order to maintain honest and open communication, it is also enough to ask a question:

How are you getting on? How is it going with the division of labour? Do you need help and support?

  • Establishing communication rules Decentralised teamwork works most effectively when everyone agrees on the ground rules for joint communication. Supervisors can ensure clarity by setting the frequency, purpose and timing of exchanges and the channels prioritised for them. Video conferencing is usually the first choice for daily group meetings. Larger discussion groups in particular can be structured with simple tricks so that even meetings with a large number of participants run in an orderly and effective manner. For example, polls can be used to gather opinions or answers to certain questions so that every participant has a chance to speak. When it comes to urgent matters or follow-up questions, other channels such as instant messaging are a better way to go. Unified communications platforms allow for a variety of applications and communication channels.

  • Definition of expectations Often, during the transition from traditional office work to the home office, certain tasks are redistributed within a team, and sometimes new ones are added. In order for employees to be able to fulfil these, it must be clear what exactly is expected of them. Some may find it difficult at first to prioritise assignments outside the familiar office atmosphere. Together, it can be clarified which tasks have priority and what can be managed. Simply assuming that everyone already knows what they have to do is counterproductive. It is better to agree on a feedback loop from the beginning in order to adjust expectations if necessary and document them in the familiar applications.

  • Pursuing a common goal If you give employees a clearly defined goal, you ensure that they establish an emotional connection with each other. Because teams function above all when all members pursue a common mission. The resulting sense of community also helps to overcome uncertainties and to deal with unfamiliar work situations. When everyone knows what they contribute to the common success, this is the best motivation to perform at the highest level. Successes should also be appreciated and given the appropriate recognition.

  • Focus on results How can engagement and personal responsibility be fostered? By leaders focusing on the desired results - and giving team members the freedom to decide for themselves how they want to achieve the goal. The prerequisite for this is that sufficient time is available and that appropriate trust has been built up beforehand. If this is the case, it is not only possible to promote the creativity of the employees, but also to avoid exhausting micromanagement. Virtual brainstorms can be divided into breakout rooms, for example. Smaller teams can meet in separate sessions and collect their creative ideas, which are then presented to the larger group.

  • Avoid strict control mechanisms Regular communication and clear targets are important. However, they must not lead to employees getting the feeling that they are being monitored in the home office. Supervisors who demand meticulous feedback on completed work steps several times a day are not only signalling a lack of trust. They also risk teams losing focus. Advice and support are better than strict control.

  • Allow new team members to participate Joining a decentralised team as a new member can be a challenge because the dynamics of a group are difficult to feel at first. This makes it all the more important to give employees the feeling of being part of the group right from the start. Companies that already have a long experience in decentralised working have made this an integral part of their onboarding. One of the first tasks of new employees is therefore not only to set up their work account and secure access via two-factor authentication, but also to make an appointment for a virtual coffee with their new colleagues to get to know each other.

  • Strengthening the WE feeling Even in well-functioning work environments, insecurities, dissatisfaction or even fears can occasionally arise among employees. The task of managers is to protect teams from this. This is most likely to succeed if the social aspects of joint work are also taken into account. This does not require obligatory coffee breaks, but the opportunity for a casual exchange from time to time, which gives employees the feeling that they are seen and heard despite their distance. Team spirit can also be promoted virtually by organising a happy hour, a virtual quiz or a joint pizza meal via video chat for a change. (cw)


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