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Establish New Ways of Working

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With COVID-19 workplace disruptions, members of your team may change the way they accomplish their work. Some may request temporary telecommute arrangements for a portion or all of the work week, while others will not. You may need to lead a fully remote team for a period of time. Certainly, working in distributed teams might be a new way of working for many individuals. Here are some tips for ensuring your team is productive and stays connected.

Best Practices

Normalize New Work Environments and New Ways of Working

On a practical basis, working with a distributed team means that on any given day, part of the team may be in person while others are joining from home. The key to success is to jump in and begin exploring new ways of working so that you and the team can become comfortable and productive in this new work environment as quickly as possible.

Utilize Stanford technology tools

Stanford has invested in a number of technology tools that are extremely effective in enabling distributed teams to efficiently communicate and collaborate. Don’t worry about mastering a large number of new tools; focus on learning the basics for  these key tools: Slack, Zoom, and Google Drive. Slack keeps your team in close contact through instant contact for  team conversations and impromptu interactions that are such a staple of  being in person. Zoom is essential for virtual meetings. Google Drive enables the storage and sharing of files across the team as well as real time collaboration. Detailed information is on the Work Anywhere website:

Share new surroundings

While you may be tempted to skip this step, especially if the team has been working together for a while, use this as an opportunity to reorient the team given the new distributed situation. On your next Zoom team meeting, encourage each person to take a minute to show the team his or her home workspace and share some personal context (e.g., barking dogs, children coming home from school, sharing a workspace with a roommate, etc.). This context can help others be more sensitive to each other’s constraints and lessen the ambiguity about what it means to work in a distributed team to break down biases and assumptions. Discuss anticipated challenges to working in a distributed environment and brainstorm potential solutions. This will help to generate new and useful ideas as well as help to strengthen the team.

Talk about talking

You have probably heard the advice that in times of change it is not possible to communicate too much and this certainly applies to navigating the COVID-19 workplace disruptions. It is also true that it is useful to discuss and create new norms for how the team will handle group and 1:1 communications. Identify how you will address 1:1s and other team meetings in a distributed environment, which could be as simple as adding a Zoom link to all calendar invitations so that a virtual connection is always available. You may also need to establish new norms for virtual meetings; e.g., always have your video camera on, or avoid multitasking during the meeting. Perhaps you decide to start and end the day with a Slack message to the team, such as a brief check-in in the morning and completing the day with a quick touch base about what you accomplished during the day. There are many creative ways to utilize the technology tools to facilitate team communications. Engage your team in conversation about what they think will work best in your environment. And, don’t forget to leave a space for social conversation. Perhaps you develop a habit of starting Zoom calls with a few minutes of casual catch up or create a Slack space to capture ideas for weekend plans. There is no one right answer for how you communicate within the team. The important thing is that you communicate.

Take stock

It is important that the team as a whole and individuals on the team have a clear sense of how things are going in achieving both team and individual goals and objectives. Utilize your tried and true tools for effective performance management, such as making sure you revisit goals and expectations during the year and deliver timely and effective developmental feedback. It is also important that you check in with the team regarding progress toward creating new norms that are useful in supporting the team during this period of COVID-19 workplace disruptions. These norms may include reestablishing expectations for work hours and schedules, keeping each other informed, work coverage, or taking of lunch breaks, amongst other topics. Consider devoting a portion of each staff meeting agenda to discussing what is working and what should be changed about how the team is interacting. Look to the team to provide input into what is motivating and energizing and what is draining about the current circumstances. Brainstorm solutions to address the challenges and then measure progress in achieving the solutions. Continue to check in on an individual basis. Utilize 1:1 time to learn about challenges and celebrate success. Ask for feedback as a team leader around what you can do to support the achievement of objectives and goals.


COVID-19 workplace disruptions may be short lived or they may linger for a while. Your role is to keep the team positively engaged and productive by quickly establishing new team norms.