UCL Human Resources


Leading our people

The golden rules for managing your team well, remotely.

Women working at a desk
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.

Below are some golden rules for managing a team well, remotely.

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. The LinkedIn Learning Remote Working: Setting Yourself and Your Teams Up for Success training video can offer managers guidance on managing teams in a remote environment.

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.

Communicate well

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 expectations. 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. The UCL guidance on Work/life/plus blend will explain how you, as a line manager, can support your team to achieve a work-life balance during the coronavirus outbreak. You can also read about Chief Operating Officer Fiona Ryland's views on How UCL can help you find the best work/life/plus blend during lockdown in her recent blog. UCL staff can access a range of free training through LinkedIn Learning subscription.  Managers may find their training programme on Leading at a distance  might be helpful at this time. 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 acute, but also following events in the USA linked to the Black Lives Matter Movement.  The guidance also serves as a useful resource for colleagues working with Black staff.

Supporting parents and carers

Staff may have additional caring responsibilities due to closure of schools or care settings; or because dependents are self-isolating or are ill with COVID-19. Staff may need to work at different times of the day or request a reduction in their working hours. 

Staff may need to work at different times of the day or request a reduction in their working hours. Any such agreed changes in working hours and patterns will not result in a reduction in pay. The maximum five day period for carer's leave within a twelve month period will be temporarily suspended. University staff are considered critical workers and therefore they are eligible to send their children to school as usual. UCL staff can present their staff pass as evidence.  Staff requiring a school place can access a template letter here. Staff who cannot work or can only work part-time due to caring responsibilities may be eligible for the furlough scheme

Supporting bereavement and loss

During this time, it is possible that colleagues may suffer the loss of a loved one or significant 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. 

Focus on personal development 

We understand that staff are continuing to work hard, sometimes under challenging personal circumstances. We also recognise that workloads can be demanding and making time for activities outside of the normal daily demands can be difficult to image, let alone plan for.  However, a change of activity can sometimes be helpful in providing a different direction and focus, whether this is refershing existing skills or learning new ones.

The Learning and Development team are offering a range of bite-sized interactive webinars and resources to support staff and line managers across a broad range of topics with a focus on building resilience and supporting wellbeing.  These courses will be running in Term 1 to ensure our staff are in the strongest position to cope with what will be a challenging year ahead, both professionally and personally. Encourage staff to engage in development opportunities such as; MyLearningLinkedIn Learning, Open University free courses, and SilverCloudfire safety, etc.   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 for Professional Services Staff 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.  

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.

Recruitment during remote working

It is possible that you might be involved in recruiting new members of staff while working remotely.  In these instances you may have new members of staff joining your team while you are working from home.  Although this is not an ideal situation, the use of MS Teams will greatly assist you with on-boarding the new team member. 

The recruitment process remains the same but you may also find this additional guidance helpful;