As the world braces for recession, you need your team in fighting shape to take on the economic challenges to come. An efficient use of resources while still maintaining high service standards is more important than ever.

But that’s a tall order for IT leaders who may be managing a fully remote workforce for the first time. The processes and habits that worked to boost your team’s productivity while your direct reports all sat within earshot may not cut it when workers are remote.

We’ve collected advice from IT leaders on how to adjust your management style to help your team do their best work—even in the worst of times.

Be flexible to the current reality

Start by acknowledging the challenges your team is facing right now. Even those who regularly work from home are feeling exhausted and strained—even grief-stricken—by the current environment. After all, there’s a big difference between choosing to work from home, and suddenly being forced to work from home while a global crisis rages outside your doors.

VMWare’s Brian Madden points to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to help understand your team’s headspace: “Security, safety, friends, and loved ones will take priority over whatever work is going on.”

This doesn’t mean you need to accept decreased productivity for the duration of the pandemic. In fact, some data suggests the opposite. By analyzing when users connect and disconnect from its service, NordVPN has found that US users are logging three more hours on the job per day than before COVID-19-related lockdowns. Another VPN provider, Surfshark, has reported spikes in usage from midnight to 3 a.m. that weren’t happening before COVID-19.

Productivity might look different now than it did before the pandemic, so flexibility is key. Ask your team what they can manage and find ways to accommodate for the unusual times we’re in, while maintaining high service quality for your users.

Dial up your communication

In the absence of impromptu hallway chats and desk fly-bys, IT leaders have to be more deliberate to keep communication channels open.

Daily team huddles by videoconference (with video on) are a great starting point. These meetings are a time to talk about what’s on everyone’s plate for the day and share successes, struggles, and KPIs.

For you, they provide awareness of what your team is working on, as well as a chance to spot struggling employees or customer service issues before they escalate. For team members, they provide accountability, a consistent schedule, and a sense of camaraderie and connection.

It also helps to set expectations upfront about how you should be communicating. RedHat’s Jason Tibbets writes:

“One step my team recently took: We reinstated our communication preferences. During our weekly meeting, we talked about our preferences for communicating by instant messaging, email, phone, and text and the appropriate scenarios for different use cases. We ultimately agreed that email is the definitive communication method to get an answer or help from someone on our team.”

This ensures everyone is on the same page about where and how to communicate, as well as expectations for availability and speed of response.

Use tools to boost transparency

In the office, it’s relatively easy to gauge how your team is doing. Frowns and muttered curses? Something’s up. Peaceful silence punctuated by high fives? Things are going well.

Without these cues, you’re flying blind. So, you need to get more engaged with your employee’s day-to-day work than you would ordinarily be.

“This is a great opportunity to maintain and/or improve your service dispatch performance by introducing a heightened presence in managing your service boards, queues, and individual technicians’ workloads,” writes Erick Simpson for ChannelPro.

Keeping an eye on team utilization rates may not be enough. Dig into tickets to ensure the work done matches the time entered, and you truly understand where your team’s time is going.

There are many tools that help enhance transparency:

But no tool is a substitute for trust and communication. CIO Dive warns: “The risk is in the perception of a Big Brother, as well as letting those tools dictate what it means to get work done. Rather than tallying specific units of work or time spent on the job, the focus needs to remain on goals.”

Positive reinforcement can be a powerful motivator as well, as Erick Simpson says:

“I encourage you to set some performance milestones that may be as simple as maintaining or increasing performance, customer satisfaction and other goals, and go the extra mile with rewards that they can actually benefit from during the Coronavirus epidemic—like gift certificates from any of the many food delivery services, online streaming services and more. Get creative and you’ll be surprised at the outcome.”

Do you have advice for other IT leaders on helping your team stay productive during the pandemic? Let us know in the comments below.

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