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Managing remote teams in a time of social distancing

by Angela Harbinson
on 20 Mar, 2020 6 min read

As all things “COVID-19” continue to dominate the national psyche, it’s so good to see how quickly businesses are activating remote working plans to “flatten the curve” in order to protect their staff, clients and community at large.

While at the time of writing, the Australian government has yet to impose lock-down regulations we’re proud to be one of the first agencies in our industry to initiate this practice.

This telecommute model imitates similar societal trends from Italy and China, where working from home limited the spread of the virus, but still allowed for business as usual.

As times have changed, so to has technology. Today, it is very easy to work outside of the formal office for an extended period of time. With a whole host of digital tools at our fingertips and collaboration trends rising, planning for remote work is simple.

To help businesses as they prepare for a surge in remote workers during this time of social distancing we’ve put together a quick start guide for the most important ingredient in making remote-working work – keeping your culture uplifting while staying productive.


Choose the right system for remote work

Promoting an effective remote working environment sometimes requires businesses to adopt new communication and management methods.

The most fundamental of these is to invest in reliable cloud systems that enable you to both secure your assets online, while enabling your teams to collaborate freely.

Your techstack doesn’t have to be a complex setup either, you’ll be amazed at what tools are available to you in a Google Suite or Microsoft setup.

Just as in-house employees are encouraged to ask questions and make themselves heard, remote workers should too. Without the right means of communication, your colleagues could quickly feel disengaged and not produce work to their highest potential. Managers should prioritise frequent one-on-ones with their staff over video to ensure greater transparency – even more than usual.

Chat tools also promote unambiguous communication and usually allow for regular video conferencing. At Thirst we make use of Google Hangouts as it smoothly integrates with our Google Suites infrastructure. See how we hold our daily “stand up” with the entire team each morning to kickstart the day.

Thirst's daily stand-up conference callCheck out our team and their (pet-friendly) remote work set up.


Build a remote work culture

Workplace culture isn’t just about social gatherings and face-to-face events, it’s the character and personality of your organisation; that makes your business a unique place to work.

Studies have found that habitual telework routines can leave employees feeling socially and professionally isolated. Combined with the added worry surrounding the coronavirus, employees may be feeling extremely heightened levels of stress at this time. Businesses must prioritise community engagement and augment rhythms to create an extended culture of empathy to compensate for the lack of background banter; that integral x-factor for what makes workplaces tick.

For the team at Thirst, our culture manifests as an upbeat mood across all channels of communication. To combat a lack of in-person culture, our team has built an online support network using Slack. We have dedicated a channel to the novelties of #remotelife where employees can send images of and comments about their home set-up and observations from their own space in the world – our favourite pets are stealing all of the attention!

We also have a channel devoted to communicating what we achieved for the day, a channel specifically for troubleshooting working-from-home issues, as well as a channel for people to have lunch conversations.

The team have also recently started to challenge one another to show their zaniest outfits in our daily digital “standup” – our new favourite part of the day!

image of the Thirst pets


Communicate with your customers

If the virus is threatening to affect the products and services your organisation delivers, it is important to communicate with your customers as soon as possible. Let them know of any organisational changes using appropriate channels such as email, social media or on your website. Or better yet, give them a personal call and let them know you are thinking of them.

At this time, maintaining business continuity is on the minds of every employee and client so it is vital that all conversations begin from a position of empathy. When you genuinely approach conversations with the idea of alleviating someone else’s burden, the intrinsic value of your support becomes that much more valuable.

When communicated well, you’ll find that even your employees will rally around your messaging.

Image of LinkedIn post

Image posted on Thirst’s LinkedIn profile


Use the time to plan future operations

With your business assets already accessible and secure in the cloud and your employees maintaining productivity and optimism by helping each other to succeed, as a business leader you can start looking ahead to operational resilience.

Start contemplating how you will successfully restore operations as the spread of the virus comes to an end. If you experience a delay to your operations and find yourself with extra time, search for business opportunities you may be able to embrace. Review your organisation’s operational strategy, products and services, marketing plan and financial strategy.

It might be tough to steer your mind towards the future in the current present, but thinking of a brighter tomorrow might just help lift your spirits. Gratitude checks are a personal favourite of mine.


How can we help your business?

It’s a rocky time for everyone and we truly hope you are doing ok.

If you are feeling overwhelmed with work at this time, please get in touch so we can help alleviate the stress. Sometimes a problem shared is a problem halved. We can help you with an overflow in your communications, digital, marketing or strategy work, and mobilise the best of our multifaceted team to help you in times of need.

It is hard to predict the future and what opportunities or challenges may arise during this unprecedented time.  For many, we already act as an extension of our client’s marketing departments as their sounding board to make stuff happen, and we can play that role for you while your business contends with more pressing issues.

While there may be a lot of uncertainties in the world currently – one thing is certain. Our care, commitment and delivery of service to our clients won’t change.

My big lesson from all of this, despite being geographically apart, remote work has made us communicate even more with each other. I truly believe that people band together at a time of crisis. For me, the silver lining of this situation is that as a team we are now a much more tightly-knitted culture than we could possibly have anticipated. I’ve also had numerous calls from friends, colleagues, collaborators and competitors, all rallying behind each other and offering support. We’re in this together, creating stronger bonds each day and our workplace is going to be so much stronger for it.

Stay safe and be kind to one another. We look forward to sharing more with you soon.


P.S Watch out for this campaign I’m launching to help our friends in the hospitality, arts and tourism space. They are really doing it tough right now. It’s called Pledge now. Play Later. Every little bit of positivity helps.

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