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Are your engineers working from home? Learn how to keep your engineering team happy and productive.

It’s far from a normal time for team management— experts predict that 30% of all American workers could be working from home by the end of next year due to the effects of COVID-19.

If you manage an engineering team, you might have a leg up already. There’s an Agile culture in many teams that lends itself to remote work by encouraging open communication and a culture of collaboration.

Still, even if your team has already worked remotely in some capacity, it’s a huge transition to move to 100% remote operations—and that’s what most tech teams are facing. 

It’s not just about implementing the right Agile methodology or using the right project management software. It’s about being there for your team and supporting them even from a distance.  

Your engineers that are working from home are facing the toughest conditions of their working life—they’re running complex projects while working around a constant array of distractions like childcare, household chores, and barking dogs.

If you are a leader who used to be an engineer, you might have a tendency to forget about the people factor.

That’s not to mention the stress of living through the pandemic or lowered morale from not seeing your coworkers face-to-face.

Here’s what you can do to show up for your remote team during this time: 

Be there for them

  • Do not skip one-on-ones
  • Be ready that the first one-on-ones might be longer or less structured than the regular ones
  • Look for signs of overwork and stress to see whether you need any help from an expert
  • Check whether they have everything to work effectively in their homes
  • If you rely on Slack for communication, give feedback on the quality of these conversations, encourage your team to setup ad hoc calls to sort out things
  • Create opportunities for the team to be together, e.g., joined lunches over Zoom or Slack where people can just chat and socialize
  • Do you have a reason to celebrate? You can do this on Zoom as well.

You should consider bringing in an external expert if you notice any negative signs from the  effects of distant working is having on your team. I also recommend setting up a few company wide calls where an external specialist talks about possible negative effects that the new way of working may have on their lives. It is a good prevention method.

If you come from tech like me, we have a tendency to rely on ourselves to solve problems and don’t focus much on our  feelings and emotions. This might backfire in this situation so looking for a better way to cope would be beneficial.

By the way, we are also not immune ourselves. Think about the many times you discounted your own bad moods, feelings of exhaustion, or stress level.

Hire Stress, Productivity & Relationship Experts

Consider hiring expert consultants to work with your team in some capacity. They can help aid the transition between working from the office and working from home. Working from home during a pandemic means new challenges with:

  • Stress management: Working from home means countless distractions and removal from your normal routine. When you’re stressed, it’s harder to put your best foot forward. An expert consultant can help your team learn new stress management techniques and rise above new challenges.
  • Productivity: It’s normal for team managers to worry about productivity issues during a big transition. A consultant can identify potential problem areas that are affecting productivity, either for your entire team as a whole or for your individual team members. An audit or remote seminar can be helpful, and so can one-on-one coaching.
  • Relationships: Your team members may have trouble maintaining a good relationship with their team from a distance. They might also clash with family members as they spend 24 hours a day at home for the first time! A consultant can provide tips for relationship management in close quarters.

Depending on the needs of your team, you can bring in an expert to offer remote services such as:

  • A system-wide audit and recommendations for management action
  • One-on-one consulting video calls for individual employees
  • Company-wide webinars that include a presentation and Q&A session

Your team can benefit from these services on multiple levels. Productivity lessons will help your team’s output and your company’s bottom line, but they’ll also help your team members function better at home and at work on a personal level.

Provide Crisis Counseling

Your team is living through a global crisis—the first one that most of us have witnessed in a lifetime. 36% of Americans say that there’s been a negative impact on their mental health just a few months into the COVID-19 pandemic.

Consider providing crisis counseling services to keep your team emotionally supported. Like most services you provide right now, you should look for counseling that’s remote to help aid in social distancing. Luckily, there’s no shortage of remote services providing crisis counseling.

Some options to look into include:

  • Your health insurance company: Check with the health insurance company that you work with just in case they’re offering telehealth services for counseling. Many insurance companies are covering remote services at unprecedented rates during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Telehealth apps: Many telemedicine apps are offering remote counseling referrals using video calls, including myUPMC, Amwell, and Doctor on Demand. During the crisis, some of these services are offering reduced company rates. Even better than counseling, these apps can provide access to licensed psychologists and psychiatrists.
  • Counseling apps: In response to COVID-19, many counseling apps are offering reduced prices on company-sponsored plans, including BetterHelp and others. These apps offer one-on-one remote sessions with a therapist via phone, video, or chat message. Your employees can choose a crisis-specialized counselor or therapist.

Move Offices to the Home

If your team members are used to working from the office, they probably don’t have a dedicated workspace at home. And during the financial uncertainty of a global panic, you can bet that many team members don’t have the budget to go buy everything they need for a home office.

Even if you allow your team to bring their offices home with them, not everyone has the vehicle or manpower needed to move furniture, and many moving services are closed or operating on a limited basis. Still, the kitchen table doesn’t compare to a standing desk. Your team’s success is a lot easier with the right setup. 

Provide your employees with a moving service to help get their work equipment from the office to home. During social distancing, your employees don’t have social networks to come to help them move unwieldy furniture or heavy equipment. You can make it your role to provide that service for them by contracting out the service and covering it.

Offer Essential Work-From-Home Equipment

Just like office furniture, it’s unlikely that all of your team members will have a powerful router, great internet connection, a high-quality noise-canceling headset, or even the computer that’s necessary for working from home.

Individual routers and noise-canceling headsets aren’t likely items that you can borrow from the office, but you can and should provide this equipment for your team on an individual basis. 

Some other key work-from-home equipment includes:

  • Ergonomic keyboard and mouse
  • A computer with the right OS
  • Webcam
  • Printer and scanner

Your team will also need software, so keep that in mind if your team isn’t borrowing office computers and is receiving new ones instead.

Provide Support for Household Services

Shopping takes much longer now that COVID-19 is causing businesses to restrict shopping capacity. Besides that, it’s hard to separate work from home when you’re leaving in the middle of a project to pick up groceries.

You can take the burden of household services away from your team by offering a personal shopping service. Alternatively, you can offer a stipend or reimbursement for shopping services like Shipt or Instacart.

Other household services you can consider providing include laundry pickup and meal delivery. The more you can help your team automate their daily routine, the better they can focus on the transition to remote.

Upgrade Your Remote Workspace

If your team is new to remote work, then you might not have all the infrastructure available that you need during this transition. Remote workspaces need to function on another level compared to brick-and-mortar offices—you can’t just walk over to another department when you have a question; you need to have the capacity to share and get all the information you need.

If you’re using local databases and cheap or free communications tools, now’s the time to upgrade. There are hundreds of remote-friendly work tools that remove distractions and work seamlessly in a work-from-home environment.

Instead of using Skype or WhatsApp to keep in touch with the team, consider picking up Slack. Instead of a local database for project management, look into a customizable cloud database like Airtable. It’s these decisions that really make or break the work-from-home experience for your engineers. 

Find Remote Ways to Increase Morale

Project management and team communication apps have no end to amusing add-ons that can build team morale from a distance. A sudden switch from the office to work-from-home can cause a rift in work relationships, even if your team had solid relationships before.

The solution is to find ways to implement that same sense of team well-being but without the physical closeness.

Try checking out:

  • \Clap, which has the official description “does 👏 what 👏 you’d 👏 expect 👏 it 👏 to 👏 do 👏” to convey that extra level of enthusiasm via text 
  • Donut for all-remote coffee meetups, team-building exercises, and lunches across big teams
  • Giphy to bring your team’s chat reactions to a new height
  • Karma for rewarding your remote team with real-life perks when they go above and beyond or do something to exemplify company values

These are only a few add-ons out of hundreds. In particular, these are available for Trello and Slack, but you can find similar add-ons for almost any project management software your team already uses. Many of them are cross-compatible between dozens of platforms, making it easy to include your team members wherever they are.

The Bottom Line: Cater to Your Team During This Difficult Time

This is without a question the only time that your team has lived through a global pandemic. The bottom line is, the crisis is stressful to everyone on your team for reasons other than the work-from-home transition. 

The best you can do to serve your team during this challenging time is to support them in every way that you can, from bringing on stress experts to installing a funny clapping add-on on Slack. It’s an unprecedented time, but you and your engineers can rise above it.

Sources

  1. Work-at-Home After Covid-19—Our Forecast (Global Workplace Analytics, April 2020)
  2. Coronavirus: 36% of Americans Say Pandemic Has Made a Serious Impact on Their Mental Health (Forbes, April 2, 2020)
  3. Coronavirus boosts mental health app and chatbot usage (March 20, 2020)

Wojciech Barczyński is Director of Infrastructure at Codility.

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