WFH for Managers: How to Lead Without an Office

By Caitlin Denham-Swanson

Caitlin Denham-Swanson is Director of Global Segment Marketing for Quip.

As a people manager, I want to set up my team for success and help them become the best marketers possible. Most leaders would agree that the manager’s role is to support and challenge team members, remove roadblocks, and ultimately help them grow in their careers. These aren’t always easy tasks in the best of times, but now with our entire team working from home, I’ve found that I need to make extra efforts to effectively lead my team.

Here are five things I’m focused on to ensure my team feels connected, stays productive, and takes care of themselves during these challenging and uncertain times.

1. Lead with Empathy and Trust

The first thing I want my team to know is this: We are in this together. No one is alone. Although we are physically separated, we are still a team and we will get through this as a team. We will lean on each other for support and encouragement because we’re all going to need it. None of us have gone through this kind of situation before and it can be scary.

I want to be a strong and courageous leader, but I also want to be honest and transparent with my team. I'll admit I don't have all the answers, but I will do the best I can to help us get through this. People will respond differently to this new normal, but knowing you have a team that will be there for you can be comforting.

There’s an additional layer of trust that everyone working from home needs. We have to know that we will each get our jobs done to ensure the success of the team as a whole. This may mean adjusting expectations of when things will be delivered, or when people will be online or available to chat. And that’s okay. I’m reinforcing that it’s a good thing to ask for help, especially now. That’s what we’re here for. It’s not a sign of weakness, it shows you care about your work and you're doing what's best to ensure projects are moving forward. Again, we're in this together and we're only going to succeed if we support one another.

2. High Frequency Connection

I’ve increased the frequency with which I connect with my team. At the office, we can walk up to each other and chat about campaign updates or go on coffee walks to get away and talk about life outside of work. Since that’s no longer possible, I’ve scheduled a couple of quick syncs throughout the week just to check in to see how things are going. Over-communication is key during these times. Having a time to review projects and ensure they are moving in the right direction helps prevent things from falling through the cracks. Dedicated sync times also cut down on distracting text chats, where details and tone can sometimes get lost and constant notifications can interrupt focused work. If you know there’s a set time to review projects, it can be easier to prioritize your work, prepare all your questions, and consider your needs.

I also make sure to ask how things are going outside of work. I try to ping my team good morning each day, and in our scheduled syncs, I ask about their weekend plans and how their friends and family are doing. Work can be a nice distraction right now, but it’s also easy to be consumed by it when you’re working from home. It’s important to step away and take some personal time even if it’s FaceTiming with loved ones, deep cleaning the house, or binging an entertaining Netflix series (ahem, Tiger King).

3. Refocus Priorities

Customer success is one of our top values at Salesforce and that remains true now. Our main focus is to support our customers through this time of change and uncertainty. We’re in this together with our customers, and as a result, we’ve had to adjust our priorities as a team. Now is when it’s critical to make clear what your team should focus on and what they should no longer prioritize. Making it easy for your team to understand where they should be investing their time and resources will instill a sense of confidence and ensure they stay productive on the right projects.

At Salesforce we use a framework called a V2MOM to help us lay out our individual and team goals for the year. We make them visible to the entire company so everyone knows your main objectives. Since none of us could have predicted the impact COVID-19 would have on our lives and work, we decided to create a revised 90-day V2MOM for the entire marketing team. This has helped keep the team on the same page, prioritize projects, and ensure we’re all working toward the same goals.

4. Let Loose and Show Appreciation

Encouraging my team to have fun is something I take very seriously. During this often stressful and challenging time, it’s important to take a step back and let loose. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by our current situation. To get through it, we need to liven things up a bit. This has taken many forms with our team. We use Kahoot, a fun trivia game that everyone can participate in remotely, creating some fun competition. We’ve also instituted a weekly virtual happy hour, which it seems like pretty much everyone is doing. But it’s nice to come back to what's familiar and relax after a long day. We’d normally be doing it anyway, so why not enjoy a beverage with colleagues in the comfort of your home? Personal connection, even virtually, can have such a positive impact on your mood and outlook. Since we're stuck having video meetings all week, it’s almost turned into a competition to see who can find the most ridiculous Zoom video conference background. (So far, I think it's the chicken wings coming out of one team member's back and forehead.)

It’s also important to show appreciation right now. Letting your team know they’re doing a great job, thanking them for their hard work, and making sure they know they’re having a positive impact can go a long way. Thanking them for all that they do is a mood booster and a great way to reinforce continued great work from your team. For example, here's a snapshot of our Kudos chat room celebrating Melissa Chan's blog on how Quip helps her balance working from home and teaching her elementary school student.

5. All About That Self Care

We all know it’s easy to let work take over when there’s less distinction between work life and home life. I'm checking in on my team to make sure they’re taking time to take care of themselves. Whether it’s going for daily walks, which I’ve pretty much made mandatory, or encouraging them to take off early on a Friday afternoon — it all makes a difference. From baths and facials to reading a good book or meditating, self care comes in many forms. The most important thing is that it’s prioritized.

Above all else, I want my team to know that I’m here to support them. It’s strange times and we’re all figuring it out as we go. Our job as leaders is to ensure our employees are safe, happy, healthy, and fulfilled both personally and professionally. The most important thing to remember is that we'll all get through this together.

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