If you are part of a team that usually works from an office, the shift to full-time work from home during these past few weeks has likely caused some turmoil, confusion, and unease within your team. Add a generous dose of global emergency, and this can turn into a potentially stressful situation for everyone involved.
I have observed different leaders taking different routes to tackle this unparalleled situation – usually combinations of their personal leadership styles and instinctive reactions to a shift in the operational logistics, which in turn are impacted by our own fears and anxieties. Some have taken the route of extra scrutiny and micro-managed logistics, while others have continued as they would have in the office, with no change in routine or behavior.
Regardless of approach, all business leaders owe it to their organization, their employees, and themselves to consciously demonstrate these five vital characteristics both in times of crisis and after:
If there was ever a time to appreciate an aptitude for emotional intelligence, this would be it. The shift from working in an office designed for work to working in a space designed for leisure and relaxation was sudden. Most of us did not get the time to set up workspaces before we had to make the shift. Many of us might not even have the opportunity to create exclusive work zones in living spaces that we share with others, be it family or friends. This means acclimating to shared spaces, crying babies, noisy pets, playing kids, presence of partners, parents or presence of household items in the background, seeing a glimpse of an unmade bed or an unkempt cupboard, etc.
Recognize this reality. Bring this up in discussions with your team members. Some of your team members might be embarrassed by their home set up. Acknowledge and accept these circumstances and that things will impinge on work activities, like during a meeting or discussion. Discuss with the employees what are some of the things that they should watch out for, in case they get on client calls. Don’t get mad because a dog barked, or a child popped into view in the middle of a call.
We all know the importance of communication as leaders. However, in a crisis like this, the three aspects of communication – mode, nature, and frequency – changes.
- Mode – How you connect. All communication goes virtual, all the time. Not to be undervalued is turning the video on, or moving from exclusively audio calls to a mix of video and audio. We connect better when we can see the expressions of faces of our friends and colleagues.
- Nature – Change why you connect. We have all been trained to be polished and professional on business calls, video and otherwise. Now we should take care to expand our conversations to include more casual, informal, and friendly banter. Recreate those watercooler moments that made working in the office fun and social.
- Frequency – Increase the frequency of connections. Earlier, if you were speaking to your team once a day, make it at least twice daily now. Not to micromanage, but to connect, to ensure they feel you are around, to make them feel confident and supported.
Trust is one of the most important aspects of managing remote teams. Leaders who are used to managing teams in a physical office often find themselves struck with a deep desire to ‘keep an eye’ on their team members when they work from home. This is understandable because of the sudden loss of physical visibility. Like how we expect employees to trust that their leaders are looking out for them, leaders should also trust that the employees are engaged and motivated at work, irrespective of location or visibility. Remember, trust is a two-way street. What might benefit is discussing this concern with your team and together, arriving at a method to keep track of work being done. Fortunately, technology has also given us the ability to go mobile, non-intrusively track employees, and enjoy real-time visibility into work progress.
It’s easy to clear things up when you can walk a few steps and ask questions. This easy access is not an option when we work remotely, and thus the dangers of things getting misunderstood increases exponentially. If we have a concern now, we need to call or message someone sitting somewhere else – and many of us usually hesitate in doing that. This could lead to errors and delays in work, not to mention the psychological impact that any connected frustration might cause.
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Leaders can reduce the impact of this by increasing the clarity in their communication, especially around performance goals and metrics, priorities, preferred approaches towards communication, and updates, etc. This might seem silly and unnecessary; after all, you all have been working together for such a long time. But clearly articulating these things on a regular basis ensures everyone knows what’s expected from them and cuts down on frustrating course corrections mid-way through projects.
It is chaotic and scary and grey and uncertain out there. In these unprecedented times, we are bombarded with unasked information, and unverified news blares at us constantly from every outlet. It is understandable that your team members feel lost and worried about a future that they cannot see. During these times, a leader’s optimism and confidence are some of the biggest strengths that a team can possess. Try and access information that is factual and scientific. Be better informed. Even if you are unable to advise them on the path forward from this pandemic, hear out what is worrying your team members and establish connections with them that allow them to voice their fears and concerns with you. Handle these without prejudice and with optimism. As the old quote says, this too shall pass.
Last but not least, cut yourself some slack as well. These are extraordinary times, and this sudden change in work culture might make you feel lonely, isolated, stressed, frustrated, anxious, or unmotivated. Any transition takes time to get used to, so try to go easy on yourself. And if you feel the need to reach for help, do that. As you put these five behaviors into practice, remember this: if you are not taking care of yourself, you will not be able to take care of your team.
In a climate of great uncertainty, like the one we are facing now, we tend to grab on to things that provide us safety and show us direction. And for your teams, it needs to be you.