How to Manage a Remote Team in a Crisis

It’s crucial for managers not to lose sight of the people in their teams and the impact a crisis may have on their lives.
How to Manage a Remote Team in a Crisis
Brandyn Morelli

A crisis impacts every facet of people’s lives, and the small- and large-scale effects must be integrated into your management strategy to protect employees’ well-being and avoid major setbacks in productivity.

Crises can be internal or external, but all of them should be handled with the utmost level of care and compassion. It’s crucial as a manager to not lose sight of the people behind your team and the effects an event has on their lives, and while you can’t ignore logistics and deadlines your team should still feel supported during a difficult time.

Every team is different; you may find some strategies to connect with your workers are more effective than others. Trial and error is a part of healthy communication, but choosing the strategies most likely to work at this moment is important to maximize the emotional benefit.

As you strive to unify your team and make the workplace better for your remote workers, here are several key factors to consider during a crisis.

Be Open About What’s Happening

Parents sometimes avoid acknowledging problems for fear of causing stress and anxiety among their children. Managers are prone to doing the same thing.

Ignoring a painful situation doesn’t make it go away.

A crisis stirs up many difficult emotions, ones that can leave people feeling alone. The best thing you can do is reach out and start a conversation.

Managing remote teams during a crisis requires even more communication than usual. Make an effort to connect with your workers to see how they’re doing. A simple message like, “This is a hard time right now. How are you holding up? Is there anything I can do to help?” can have a profound impact on someone’s mental health.

You should also thank people for their presence and let them know that you appreciate their work despite the challenges they’re facing. Showing up isn’t easy during hardship. Make sure employees know their presence is meaningful.

Don’t Ignore Emotions

The way people respond to a crisis differs based on a variety of factors including:

  • Their personality.
  • The context of their experience.
  • The direct impact of the crisis on their life.
  • Their culture.
  • Their mental health.

Whether it’s a global catastrophe or a local disaster, people are prone to going through a wide range of emotions including grief, anxiety and depression. It’s important to acknowledge that your remote team is facing difficulty and encourage them to take care of themselves.

Offer to listen if they need someone to talk to. Share your own experiences to demonstrate that there is no shame in struggling.

Be Flexible Where You Can

Emotionally coping with a crisis is draining even when it doesn’t directly impact someone’s life. Those who are grieving a loss will require even more distance and time to process and heal. As a leader, it’s important to let your remote team know that you care about their mental state and want to help them as much as you can.

This means allowing people to pause non-essential tasks, take time off without being penalized, adjust their schedules and extend deadlines.

It may not always be desirable, but a business is nothing without its workers. You must show your team that you care more about their well-being than their job performance. That’s not to say you allow people to completely disregard their responsibilities, but it does mean you recognize the need for additional time or assistance.

Recognize the need for additional time or assistance.

Consider splitting work up and having those who are in a better headspace work on different responsibilities. Freeing up a person’s schedule and decluttering their task list can help them stay engaged at work without the added anxiety of making a mistake or missing a deadline.

Stay Aligned With Values

Use this experience as a time to help your remote workers by acting through the company’s values. Culture is important in establishing a sense of community among teams, which is even more important when there is a physical distance between workers. Communicate often, and express your desire to help. Be accountable through honesty and transparency.

You may even find that the process of helping others is cathartic. Managers of remote teams can get so caught up in their employees that they forget to look after themselves.

Although you are a boss, you are also a human being. Never forget that you can and should open up and connect with your team as a person, not just a leader.

Utilize Helpful Resources

Whether you’re setting up interviews for remote employees or trying to find ways to support your team, don’t think you have to handle everything on your own.

There are so many incredible resources online that can help people help themselves. Sometimes, serving as the bridge between a person and the support they need is the most helpful thing you can do.

Find and share helpful articles that your employees can use to work through this challenging time. HelpGuide is a free online mental health site with amazing guides on how to manage everything from trauma to stress.

Instant messaging is also an important tool to take full advantage of during a crisis. You can also use virtual meetings to maintain a routine, which is extremely soothing and important during times of uncertainty.

Encourage Feedback

Send out a survey to help employees express their concerns and gauge how they’re currently feeling about the crisis. You may consider making it anonymous so people feel more comfortable disclosing their true thoughts. The results will give you a better idea of how the crisis is impacting your team.

When you understand someone’s challenges, it’s easier to provide the level of support they need. At times, managers can over-generalize the impact of a situation to the point employees feel disconnected and unheard. The most important thing to keep in mind right now is that everyone may not speak up, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t struggling.

Many people try to handle stress and anxiety during a crisis by ignoring their mental states altogether.

You can’t force anyone to discuss something, but you can lead by example. Reach out to your team at least once a day, and hold one or two weekly video chats to see how everyone is doing. Lead the conversation by first revealing your own feelings, then encourage others to share their present experiences.

You may want to use the following statement, or something close, as a starting point for your dialogue:

“Thanks for coming, everyone. I know we’re all dealing with different challenges right now, but I wanted to check in and see how you’re doing. How do you feel today on a scale of 1 to 5? Personally, I’m around a 3.”

Asking people to rate their current mood can help open the door to conversation; it’s not always easy to describe exactly what you’re feeling, but rating your mood is much simpler. People who aren’t used to talking about their emotions will also find this type of question easier to respond to.

Learn From Each Other

Managing remote teams during a crisis gives you the opportunity to bring your employees closer through their shared struggles. Resilience in the workplace is bred out of challenges, and this can be an ideal time to show your team just how strong you are together.

Rather than adopting an unrealistic, overly optimistic attitude, acknowledge the pain of the situation. Respect everyone’s feelings, offer support and encourage workers to talk with each other. Sharing perspectives fosters trust and respect.

Resilience in the workplace is bred out of challenges.

Every person’s experience is valuable. When you create a safe space for people to openly communicate and express how they feel, collaborating to overcome challenges becomes tremendously easier.

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