25 December 2020

Are We Effectively Managing Remotely?


As we continue during lockdown, it feels like we are entering a new phase of remote working.

For me, the drafting of crisis communications for clients continues, but for now we have settled into a new routine of regular pieces in different formats and it has quickly become part of the standard weekly routine.

Through my regular contact with clients, contacts and colleagues, I continue to be amazed by the stories of changing cultures. Generally, we seem to be having more conversations than ever. Community spirit is thriving and, in many businesses, a positive gear shift in teamwork and general comradery seems to have taken place. I think we have all experienced this in some form over the past few weeks.

I reflect constantly on what we have learned through this crisis and how we can maintain what is good, build upon it and play it forward in a strategic way. I see business leaders and managers adapting to new ways of working. All with good intentions, but some with greater success and effect than others.

We all agree that effective remote working requires increased and regular communication. Zoom, Skype, MS Teams and others have provided new and, in some ways, more personal platforms for establishing effective relationships and managing teams. But am I the only one who is finding the increased demand for video conference calls difficult to juggle? At the moment, it feels like the only time I get to do any ‘work’ is after hours. I have asked a few of my own team recently if they are feeling the same way and the answer was a resounding yes. NordVPN recently reported that there is evidence that employee hours have increased since the onset of the coronavirus outbreak. In the UK, workdays have typically increased by an average of two hours.

Whilst for some, the daily scheduling of team meetings is a great way to make sure team members are not feeling isolated or alone, for many it’s now taking five hours out of a working week to do what was typically covered in one! Also, it hadn’t occurred to me until I recently hosted a remote working Q&A, that some people were now feeling they were “being more closely monitored” or “checked-up on” and this was perhaps never the intention (or was it?).  It is easy to understand, that a once empowered employee can suddenly feel demotivated, over-managed and at the extreme even “policed” and that it is essential to establish trust in a remote working environment at an early stage.

Conversely, there are colleagues for whom this period is incredibly difficult. They may require additional support, even more contact or increased flexibility, to help them cope through this challenging time. We are all in this together, but some of us will feel very alone. There may be increased anxieties about personal health and that of friends and family. In addition, as this lockdown period is extended, new issues will start to develop around for example; financial difficulties, domestic arrangements, care for dependants and general mental health to name just a few. Early research suggests that the psychological affects of this pandemic will be felt not only now but for a long time to come and in some cases it will be the cause of PTSD.

So how do we as Managers navigate through these challenging times?

Being a great Manager is a job in itself. The clue is in the title. Take the time you need to manage your team effectively and be a coach. Don’t assume a ‘one size fits all’ approach is all that’s required and remember to be inclusive.

Successful teams are diverse teams. They are created by being understanding and managing individuals differently. Exchange expectations and ask individuals in your team what they need from you and how they would like to work as we settle into this new norm. Understand their strengths and development areas and consider how to utilise these within the context of the wider team to achieve your business objectives.

Most importantly, just set aside time frequently to ask colleagues how they are doing? Try to better understand how this situation is affecting them on a personal level and remember to be inclusive. We are not all the same. Be present, ask open questions and listen. You will unlock potential, form better relationships and build trust and loyalty.

Finally, don’t forget to take care of you! Practice what you preach. Take regular breaks and the time you need to recharge. This is a marathon not a sprint and hopefully we can all emerge from these unprecedented times stronger, wiser and ready for the next chapter together.

In the meantime, stay safe and keep well.