Working and Managing Remote: Making the Best of the Sudden New Normal

by Bill Swift on March 30, 2020

in Communication,Employee Engagement


Social Distancing? Hmmm. As a guy with a mental health background, “social distancing” was one of those things we used to watch out for as a potential problem. As counselors and therapists, we wanted everyone to have social connection. The research has been consistent and clear that social connection is correlated highly with happiness, contentment, engagement and positive mental health. So, those who were engaged in social distancing were encouraged to form and maintain social networks.

I am also from the generation of management developers that used to preach Management by Walking Around. “Connect with your people,” we would say, “Build emotional bank accounts by listening and relating to your coworkers.”

Things have changed a bit. Some of the “distancing” that workplaces have been experiencing has been gradual over the last decade. Now it’s mandated.

We can still have positive and effective connection even though we are currently restricted to Email, ZOOM, SKYPE, Facetime, text and (gasp!) phone calls. We just have to work a bit harder and smarter to keep this important connection during this very large work-from-home experiment.

So what are we to do now that we are being discouraged from any kind of in-person social interaction?

The good news is that most of us have been practicing some important skills for a while to effectively connect with our coworkers even when we aren’t in the same room.

Here are a few ideas to keep the focus on the connection with people we work with and to build your circle of security even when we aren’t face to face for a while:

  • Maintain The Workplace Feeling of Inclusivity. Find ways to keep everyone in the loop. Reach out twice as much as you did a month ago. Reach out to everyone.
  • Stay Focused On Goals, Not Activity. As a manager, it pays to continue to emphasize outcomes without some kind of “virtual hovering” about tasks that contribute to those outcomes being achieved.
  • Be Intentional. A Mindful approach to emails, chats, phone calls and ZOOM meetings can really help your team to continue to feel valued and to stay engaged. Empathize with the inconvenience, novelty or general weirdness of remote work for those who are not used to it.
  • Create A Communication Strategy. Discuss expectations for responses to communications and meeting attendance. It is more important than ever to not assume mind-reading capability.
  • Avoid Multi-Tasking. You know who you are!

Do your employees feel anxious, distracted or stressed as a result of the disruption that the virus has caused? Fear and anxiety can drive people to become self-focused so that they are prevented from continuing to work productively.

Our job as managers is not necessarily about being a reassuring voice or about asking questions that probe into the feelings of our coworkers. It’s about giving clear direction and next steps so that people have focus and something to hold on to.

Here are some tips:

  • Set an example. Show that you are staying focused on the key initiatives for your organization while taking care of yourself and your family.
  • Over-communicate. Constant communication builds trust and is critical not only for successful remote working but also for making it through a crisis like this.
  • Ask your team members what they need now to perform best. Questions like these are statements of support.
  • Maintain face-to-face contact ZOOM, FACETIME, etc. Build a routine.
  • Be specific in your messaging. Discuss expectations for responses to communications and meeting attendance. It is more important than ever to not assume mind-reading capability.

Please join us on Thursday, April 2 from 1:00pm-3:00pm for an online workshop on Working and Managing Remote: The New Normal?

We would also love to hear what is working for you in this ever-changing world. Email us at

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