The golden rules for managing your team well, remotely.
The role of a line manager is critical in enabling an effective working environment and community, while most of our people are working remotely. Some members of your team might be struggling to cope with the uncertainty of the situation we're faced with, and you are likely to be called on to support, motivate and understand your team like never before.
Our golden rules for managing remote teams
Set clear expectations
Setting clear expectations ensures that the team understands what they are responsible for and when it needs to be done, and they can work accordingly. Many people at UCL may be caring for vulnerable relatives as well as trying to work remotely, so might not be able to achieve as much in their work as they might have hoped to. Your expectations will need to allow for that.
- Agree ground rules with your team.
- Due to the Covid-19 crisis, and ongoing remote working situation, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion have updated the equality impact assessment form and developed specific guidance that managers and departments can use to inform decision making and when making critical changes in ways of working and managing a team.
Lead by example
Setting and maintaining clear boundaries around when you work, taking time for self-care and being flexible around the type of work you are doing will give a clear positive example for people in your team. For example, agree maintaining normal office hours so colleagues should be prepared to be available during those periods as usual, with adjustments for established flexible working arrangements. See LinkedIn Learning Remote Working: Setting Yourself and Your Teams Up for Success.
- Take time to focus on your own wellbeing. The Self-care toolkit provides more information on this.
- Consider flexibility in your own working hours to allow you to attend to any caring responsibilities.
- Update your diary with times when you are not available, due to caring or other responsibilities, and encourage your team to do the same where flexible arrangements have been agreed with line managers.
- If you are new to line management, you may find the UCL guidance on managing people day to day helpful.
Things are changing quickly and you will most likely be making decisions on a daily basis about the way your team will work most effectively to meet the changing organisational needs. It is vital that these are effectively communicated with your team. Think about how best to share key messages. With so many different channels and platforms, think about which is the most suitable for the message you need to share.
- Consider a daily email update - focussing on changes in your team (wider UCL will continue to be shared via the coronavirus website and update email, so you don't need to repeat this).
- Be explicit in written communications as tone of voice and body language can't be captured. UCL provides guidance on email etiquette which can also be applied to other forms of digital communication. Keep all written correspondence short and concise so that there is no space for misinterpretation.
Make time for your team
You need to be visible and available to your team. One way to do this is through regular catch-ups. These online meetings can be used both to catch up on what they're working on, and also how they're feeling. It might be hard for your team members to be honest about how they are feeling, especially if they feel like they might be letting the team down, so these will work best if you are able to use the video call function where you will be able to pick up on facial expressions and body language. LinkedIn Learning resources to support you during the Covid-19 outbreak offers helpful tips on working remotely during COVID-19 and the ongoing period of remote working.
- Arrange regular keeping in touch meetings using MS Teams (you can record and share them if someone can't attend).
- Start each meeting by checking in with your team. How is everyone is coping? How are they feeling? Are they looking after themselves? Are there any immediate difficulties that they would like to share with the team? Do listen to everyone's answers as this will help you to pick up on any differences in a persons responses/attitude, which you may wish to follow up on separately.
- End each meeting on a positive note; let your team know that they can reach out to you as they need to, outside of team meetings.
- Remember to consider the different needs of staff during meetings. For example, some people may need to use live captions in MS Teams so presenters will need to speak very clearly in order for this to work. Please see the UCL guidance on Accessible Remote Working for suggestions on supporting disabled colleagues.
- Consider holding "huddles" through MS Teams. Generally these would be short sessions at the start of each week, providing staff with an opportunity to receive key updates, discuss priorities for the week ahead, and they can check-in with each other.
Be supportive and compassionate
We are all facing our own challenges so listen to your team about what theirs are. Some may need more support than others but be careful that your support is not seen as micro-managing.
Staff may also need support with their working arrangements and any existing agreements may need to be reviewed. The UCL Agreement of Consistent Treatment should be used where these reviews need to take place.
We know that there are many societal issues that may have an impact upon Black staff and their sense of wellbeing. How UCL responds to this as an institution is important, but so too, is how individuals who interact with Black staff on a day-to-day basis. Line managers have a responsibility in this context.
- Be considerate and realistic when setting expecations.
- Consider flexibility for staff with caring responsibilities, whether this is in the short or long term. Staff may need to take special leave in some circumstances.
- See Work/life/plus blend for guidance on how, as a line manager, you can support your team to achieve a work-life balance during the coronavirus outbreak.
- You can also read about Chief Opertaing Officer Fiona Ryland's views on How UCL can help you find the best work/life/plus blend during lockdown in her recent blog.
- See LinkedIn Learning: Leading at a distance.
- Consider any requests for adjustments in duties, support needs, etc. in line with the UCL guidance on reasonable adjustments.
- Familiarise yourself with the Accessible Remote Working Guide for BSL interpreters, deaf and hearing participants.
- Understanding the different characteristics and needs of your team could promote clearer conversations about an individuals support needs. The Disability Awareness factsheet provides information on a range of disabilities and health conditions.
- UCL has recently produced Guidance for managers - Supporting Black Staff at Work to help managers support staff during the difficult times of Covid-19, where concerns about health and wellbeing will be particularly accute, but also following events in the USA linked to the Black Lives Matter Movement. The guidance also servces as a useful resource for colleagues working with Black staff.
Supporting bereavement and loss
During this time, it is possible that colleagues may suffer the loss of a loved one or signficant other, and indeed, teams may suffer the loss of a colleague. Managers will be instrumental in providing support to teams and individuals.
- The UCL Bereavement and loss support toolkit has been designed to help managers and colleagues support teams when somebody dies.
Look after yourself as well as others
You are best able to support your team once you have taken care of your own wellbeing.
- Consider your own mental health and wellbeing as well as that of others. The Self-care toolkit provides more information on this.
- LinkedIn Learning resources to support you during the Covid-19 outbreak offers helpful information on mental health and well-being.
Give MS Teams meetings clear structure and house rules when needed.
MS Teams is a great way to keep in touch with your team but meetings can become difficult if they are not managed well. It can help to agree on the format of the meeting; who will chair, should everybody mute their microphone unless they have something to say, will notes or action points be taken?
You can find tutorials online as well as specific guidance on conducting large meetings. If you would like to receive 1-1 support, in the form of a brief overview of MS Teams, please contact Rachna Kayastha or see LinkedIn Learning for further details.
Zoom has been purchased for UCL for a year to support learning and teaching during COVID-19 for certain specific use cases. Both Zoom and Blackboard Collaborate are recommended for online teaching; the ISD recommended tool for online meeting and staff collaboration in most circumstances remains Microsoft Teams.
Team structures need to be flexible and well communicated.
There might be a need to redeploy people to work outside their normal duties temporarily in order to balance workloads across the team. Be sure that this is communicated to staff as early as possible, and encourage staff to communicate any difficulties they might have in managing their priorities. As manager of a team working remotely, for an undefined period of time it is even more important that staff workload (and potential stress levels) are managed effectively.
Understand that the workplace isn't as formal as when you're working in the office.
Accept that pets, children etc. may randomly appear in meetings. Consideration needs to be given to the complexities of the current situation and a degree of flexibility and understanding should be exercised.
Read our tips on how to make meetings matter.
To further support managers and staff as we continue to rely heavily on MS Teams as our default means of communication, we have produced guidance on how you can plan meetings to make sure everyone gets the most out of them. Find out more about Making Meetings Matter.
Read our tips on protecting time for work.
The Your Wellbeing survey highlights, every week - that staff around UCL are struggling with their workloads. As teaching staff strive to get the 2019/20 academic year wrapped up, before starting the mammoth task of planning for next term, and as many of us are faced with trying to adapt to new ways of working with the additional challenges that come with that, we’re feeling the pressure of being asked to do more with less. Crisis Leadership Team and the Crisis Resolution Advisory Group have initiated a few pieces of work aimed at addressing this issue, which we will be able to share over the coming weeks.
The first piece of work which we’re able to share, is some light touch recommendations on how we can protect time for working and improve meeting efficiency.
Focus on personal development
As a manager, you may also wish to review and refresh your own knowledge of issues around supporting staff within the workplace. The Managers Toolkit produced in response to requests from managers to have clear and simple frameworks for addressing concerns that arise in the context of managing people and teams.
Career Frameworks support staff to think more strategically about their career progression and development, while providing suggestions of possible learning options through learning on the job, learning from others, or formal learning. The frameworks are also designed to support line managers for annual appraisals, preparing for developmental conversations and to support succession planning. Staff can access information on a number of job roles across UCL which might be helpful in preparing for ongoing Developmental Conversations with line managers and direct reports.
Continue to have developmental conversations with your team – these can be run online. A new online learning programme called ‘Developmental Conversations Module 1’ has been designed to support all staff in structuring 1:1 conversations enabling a more dynamic and responsive approach to goal setting and personal development. The new questioning techniques facilitate open, two-way dialogue and will be equally useful to problem solving conversations with peers and stakeholders.
Keeping it social
Keeping some humour and fun.
Find a way of sharing those funny things that we would if we were in the office, maybe through MS Teams or WhatsApp if people are happy to join a group for that purpose.
Find a way to eat lunch together.
Encourage staff to use MS Teams for more social meetings such as virtual coffee sessions/team lunches.
Keeping our bodies moving
- Keeping our bodies moving.
Many people will be working at their screens more than previously - encourage your teams to schedule in regular breaks and time looking away from their screens. The Self-care section of the website contains further guidance on useful software that will help staff relax and take time away from their screens.
Recruitment during remote working
It is possible that you might be involved in recruiting new members of staff while much of the university si working remotely. In these instances you may have new members of staff joining your team while you are all working from home. Although this is not an ideal situation, the use of MS Teams will greatly assist you with onboarding the new team member.
The recruitment process remains the same but you may also find this additionlal guidance helpful;
Returning to campus
UCL Workplace Health, the university’s occupational health and wellbeing team, have produced a new questionnaire for managers and supervisors to support individuals who are returning to campus, and who may be at increased risk of becoming seriously ill from COVID-19.
The questionnaire will ensure a consistent approach is used across UCL for managing the risk presented to staff who may be disproportionately affected by COVID-19. This includes those who are over the age of 70, have an underlying health condition, and those from a BAME background.
Managers should complete the questionnaire with all employees after you have undertaken the general COVID 19 workplace risk assessment available on RiskNET.
It is critical that interventions are put in place to mitigate and manage any risks to staff. If the questionnaire identifies any potentially increased risk of significant illness from COVID-19, you must refer the individual for assessment by Workplace Health. You can find out more about making a management referral on the Human Resources website. Please consider discussing your referral with your HR Business Partner before submitting it to Workplace Health. You can find your department’s Business Partner on the HR site (login required).
Managers and staff should also refer to the Keeping safe on campus webpages which provide key and up to date information to support both students and staff who have returned to campus.