The new world in which we live is demanding as many people as possible work from home. This means, on occasions, whole departments will be functioning remotely. For most of us, trying to manage a team for an extended period without being in the same room is very unusual.
We need balance: delegation but not abdication, less management and more leadership, greater productivity and lower levels of control. Getting the best from teams is always a challenge because there are so many variables, not least of which are the different personalities of the individuals. For a team to be successful in any circumstances requires certain basics such as an embedded positive culture, clear goals, skilled people, great technology and supportive intentions.
We know that some staff are incredibly productive, in certain aspects of their job, when they work from home. Without the distractions and interruptions of the office, the person can be highly focussed and free to deliver.
Here are ten considerations for our new world:
In any team, it is fundamental that trust exists between team members and, especially, from the team leader. This may be the biggest challenge. If we are honest between ourselves, there are many managers who don’t trust the people, who think the staff will slack and waste time if not constantly monitored.
This goes beyond confidence; confidence that if Fred is asked to achieve a task by Friday that it will be done. This is vulnerability trust, the deep commitment to each other as described in the Five Behaviors of Cohesive Teams which we can facilitate in normal circumstance.
The inevitable consequence of lower levels of trust is micro-management.
The most intrusive and distracting actions is a manager constantly enquiring about progress and activity. There are tools which will allow the micro-manager to monitor people’s time at the keyboard; they are a huge contradiction to trust and leadership.
Most of us have met or endured a micro-manager and know how debilitating he is. It isn’t just the pauses to our workflow, it is the implied threat, to meet his, often unspoken, standards and targets. It is the frustration that the only facet of work which matters is time at the keyboard, that being active in other unmeasurable ways doesn’t count, like thinking and planning or interacting with colleagues, clients and suppliers.
Forced to make redundancies?
If you have no choice but to make redundancies, there are still ways in which you can reduce the impact, as well as showing other staff that you have not abandoned your values and ethical code.
Read our paper, Outplacement in an Online World.
3. Settling Time
Recognise it will take time to get up to speed. It isn’t just the technology that needs to bed in, we do as well. This is different and uncomfortable, and we need to create routine. Perhaps equally significant is making sure the others we share our home with understand we have to work. As a leader we must accept that this means our output may be irregular rather than a nice orderly linear use of time. Children have needs and boredom thresholds which have to be accommodated.
The measure isn’t hours worked, it is contribution. We must change our mindset as leaders.
Everyone will say we need to communicate, and they are correct. In reality, we need to do much more, we must make great connections.
Too many managers think transmission is communication: if they talk it’s enough. But this is a process and a time where listening and observing are critical.
Connection requires a relationship and all relationships require trust, personal connection.
Be available, be a crutch, be the sponge absorbing the issues from the team.
5. Find ways to drive ideas
We all have thinking time and may come up with new ideas.
We can read books, write articles, watch TED talks and podcasts. The stimuli are there, so let’s encourage them.
Hold conference calls specifically to discuss concepts and thoughts. Please remember to be positive about the propositions, even if they aren’t very practical. This isn’t just about business improvement, it is equally valuable as a mental wellness tool.
6. Encourage Development
This is a great time to learn new skills and expand knowledge. Find out areas in which individuals want to develop. There is a tremendous amount online which is free.
With a little research (which is also developmental), people can find extraordinary amounts of content.
If possible, give some financial backing, as it will open up untold possibilities.
Again, this isn’t just about business improvement; it is equally valuable as a mental wellness tool.
7. One-to-one Support
Be available, at almost any time, for a phone call, an email, a video call…
When you are giving this specific help, you must ‘be in the room’, only focusing on this person.
Accept that the discussion may veer into the personal, career and ambition. Not everything is about work in the here and now.
Of course, professional support is available as well.
8. Encourage making connections
A big part of business, of personal development and personal wellbeing is our interaction with other people. This is a fabulous chance to make new links.
Work with the team to plan a campaign to meet new people. It may be a coordinated hunt for new clients or a general spread of social media connections.
Most people are in the same constrained situation, so will welcome an invitation. However, do remember, this is the start of the relationship which may, over time, lead to something more significant. Don’t expect or demand immediate results.
9. Be aware of mental health issues
Each one of us will react to these strange circumstances differently. For a minority it may lead to mental illness. Not being in the same room as your team may make this more difficult to spot.
Recent research showed that it is easier to discern if someone is lying when talking over the phone than in face-to-face conversation. Being distant doesn’t stop us seeing the signs but we need to be aware of the need to be ready to observe and question.
Always ask twice: ‘How are you? No really, how are you?’
10. Look after yourself
You need your leaders to be applying these principles to the relationship with you. Let them see this paper and discuss your needs.
Don’t beat yourself up; don’t expect life to be as effective; do self-observe for the cracks in your own resilience.
If you need one-to-one coaching seek it. If it gets to the point of needing counselling, don’t be embarrassed, ask for the help.
Stay physically fit. The state of your body very directly affects the state of your mind.
Not only will our people be more productive if we approach this time more thoughtfully, but we may also come out of it a better leader for the future. We may learn how to be the leader our team wants and to inspire higher performance. We have enough problems today without our managerial style compounding them.