Managing your teams virtually

Lots has changed in the last two weeks. One minute we were happily going into work as usual, and then it felt like everything we knew changed overnight. 

The escalation of Covid-19 has resulted in many changes in our lives. For Managers and Leaders you may now find yourself managing your teams remotely; and often with the added pressures of juggling childcare too. This might represent quite a big change to how you have worked previously, so how can you adapt your leadership style to ensure that you still get the best from your team?

Don’t forget that your team are going through this massive change curve too. So understanding where they are on this (from the initial shock, frustration, depression / grief, through to the upwards area of the curve), is important. It doesn’t matter how high performing and motivated your team was before this big change, it is likely that this will all dip. Think classic Maslow! No matter how high up the hierarchy, this may literally have pulled the rug from under their feet, so they are likely to drop several levels:

It’s highly likely that some people will lose their sense of purpose, as they suddenly find themselves working from an environment that they don’t associate with work, and without the reassurance of work colleagues. That sense of belonging that they have; belonging to a team, belonging in the workplace and feeling important, may feel under question. And the very security of going to work every day and getting paid may also be uncertain, and they may be fearful for their job and maintaining their home-life. 

So what can you do to help?

  1. Encourage them to find a working space from home. The sooner they feel that they have a work area that they associate with working (rather than home-life and leisure), the sooner they will adapt. Also ensure they have all the essential equipment to do their job, otherwise they not only lose productivity there may be elements of their role that becomes impossible to do.
  2. Be flexible on timings. Staff may work a 9-5 in the workplace, but this may be impossible in the home environment, particularly if they have young children who are also now being home schooled. Unless absolutely necessary to the delivery of the job, allow staff to set their own hours. This may mean them working before the children get up and / or when they go to bed. This flexibility is likely to mean you get more out of your team members, as they find hours when they can focus fully, rather than when they are juggling many other demands.
  3. Be clear on vision and purpose. Of course, you should always cascade the vision and purpose to staff so they know why they are doing things, but during periods of change, this becomes even more important. As an organisation you may for example, be needing to diversify to reduce the impact of the coronavirus on the business; or changing the content of peoples jobs to adapt to customers or clients needs. Ensuring staff understand why, will help them buy into the change, understand how they contribute, and make them more motivated. 
  4. Keep having 1-2-1’s. Technology means it is entirely possible to keep in touch. This provides you with an opportunity to ensure your team members really understand what they are meant to be doing, provides and opportunity to check progress, provide feedback, answer questions and agree next steps. If you can make it a face-to-face interaction: communication is mostly conveyed through body language, then tone of voice and then the actual words. Therefore, if you can see your team members on screen the communication is much more likely to be received in the way intended, and you are also much more likely to pick up cues from body language, such as whether the team member is really engaged, or experiencing problems. This will allow issues to be dealt with quickly.
  5. Encourage regular team meetings. Maintaining team meetings will support the sense of team and belonging; and the sense of feeling part of something bigger than themselves (great for motivation). It will allow team members to support each other and maintain team spirit – which will also help when everyone goes back to old ways of working!
  6. Set boundaries. During times of uncertainty often people seek out gaining certainty by asking more questions and becoming more dependent on their line manager. This could result in your team contacting you every 5 minutes and you struggling to get your own work done! Spend a bit of time talking to them about what they need to do but then set some boundaries which allows them to access you but not all the time (like having the door shut at work)! Maybe have an hour a day available, where staff can contact you with queries that cannot wait until their one-to-one or team meeting. This will mean you can plan your day better and have time to focus on your priorities too. 

This is by no means exhaustive, but if you adopt these tips for work, then you may find it much easier both to manage your team virtually but also to maintain a good level of performance in the organisation, at this uncertain time.

6 Steps for a successful mindset

Having a successful mindset often makes a difference between achieving your goals and not.  Our mindset can literally spur us on to achieve or completely hold us back. Therefore, developing a mindset for success, is key. But how can you do this?

1. Be realistic about what you can achieve

Having stretching goals is important for us to grow. However, there is a difference between stretching and impossible. Ensure you have goals which inspire you, but not so high that you are unlikely to ever achieve them. 

The interesting thing with mindset is that if we have goals which we believe we can achieve, it encourages us to take the action required to get there (and sometimes this can be BIG action). However, if we have goals which we don’t believe we can achieve, it does hold us back – why take big, risky action when the rewards are unlikely? Therefore, it leads us to either take small action, gaining little results or no action at all – fulfilling your belief that you won’t achieve it! Therefore, having goals that feel realistic to you or aligning your mindset so you do believe you can do them, is the first step to success. 

2. Challenge yourself

As I said in the previous point, it’s good to have stretching goals. By that I mean, goals that will take you outside of your comfort zone.  If we only operate from our comfort zone, we are unlikely to see improvements. But when we push ourselves and make us feel a bit uncomfortable, we are growing as a person and we are taking bigger action than what we are used to. This is where the magic happens – because you will see results!

3. Draw on your experience

When we’re finding things tricky, or when we have those moments of self-doubt think about the experience you have gained over the years, and draw on that to give you confidence to move forward. That brilliant essay you wrote at college will give you the skills to write a great blog, or business plan; or that feeling of unstoppable confidence you had whilst riding your motorbike, or being with friends, will give you the energy you need to have a difficult conversation or pick up the phone to do the dreaded, cold-calling. Just because you haven’t done the exact thing before, doesn’t mean you don’t have the resources – in fact, all of your resources are perfectly transferrable, including your emotional state. So think about that time, remember what it felt like and then take the action that’s needed! 

4. Say positive things to yourself

It is difficult to have a positive or successful mindset when we are negative in our thinking. This negativity might be saying, that we’re not good enough, that we’re not successful or that there is not a chance of us achieving our goals.  These thoughts are often products of previous experience, what others have said, or just years of saying those things to ourselves. But the positive thing is that if we change our thinking, we can change our beliefs.  Therefore, if we tell ourselves positive things such as, “I can do this!”, “I am worthy of success”, “I believe in my abilities” then we are much more likely to have the positive, growth mindset for success. So being successful starts with being kind to yourself.  

5. Find your tribe

As well as being kind to yourself, it’s important to keep company that also inspires you and supports you on your journey to success. It can be difficult if we are surrounded by negativity to take positive action; but when others support us, gives us good honest advice, and helps us, we are much more likely to be successful. Therefore, pick your network carefully.

6. Reflect regularly

Taking the time to reflect on what’s working well for you and what isn’t, will encourage a growth mindset and ensure you are always on the path to self-improvement. It will also develop your confidence. When we think about the things we have done well, it gives us confidence in our abilities and we are likely to do more of it. This will mean that over time, your mindset will become much more powerful and this is when your success becomes unstoppable!

Resilience – a personal story

A saying that I heard some time ago is, that resilience is a bit like a pair of old fashioned scales: it’s all about balance. So you have your resilience and protective factors and one end and that gives you the ability to cope with those pressures and stresses that come in on a day to day basis, on the other side. If your resilience outweighs your stressors, then all is good – if not, that’s when problems begin. And the thing is, what this tells us, is that it doesn’t matter how resilient you are, if the pressure is building and building, we all have a breaking point.  

Well in March 2012, I discovered mine…

I had been working in the NHS for a number of year, following a path which led me up the career ladder very quickly. I was doing a job I loved (mostly), working full time, heading up big team. At home I had a husband and two young children, so life should have been pretty perfect. However, the reality was very different. My children were not great sleepers as babies, meaning I was often going to work on 2 hours sleep; having to use all my energy to get through the day, make important decisions and be there for my team. When I was home, I was exhausted, trying to be present for my children, run the house, be a good wife. I never felt that what I did was good enough – when I was at work, I felt guilty for all things I had failed to do with the family; when at home I felt guilty that I hadn’t managed to get all my work done, so I was regularly doing my emails at 2am, just to catch up (my insomnia was really useful for that!). 

I knew the situation wasn’t sustainable, but other Managers put in long hours too, and there was very little sympathy for Managers with big workloads, it was just part of the job, so I kept going, until I literally broke. 

It wasn’t an overnight thing; in reality over the years, having young children meant I regularly picked up their bugs (a sign my immune system was low). But then I started getting ill when they weren’t, and then I had a domino effect of illness: a sickness bug, followed by a sore throat, then sinusitis which felt like I had been beaten up all over; repeat and repeat again – and no break in between. I knew there was a problem and I had to make a decision – do I go back into work and try and pretend this isn’t happening, knowing that my health and performance were compromised, or did I admit there was a problem and take the road of recovery? It was a tough call as Senior Leaders didn’t admit to stress, but I eventually made the right decision and I was signed off work, taking two months out while I recovered. 

But I knew during my recovery that physically recovering and going back to the same situation was not going to help. I needed to address my workload, as well as my personal resilience and build good habits so I could be strong, deal with the day to day, and when under higher pressure, deal with it, and bounce back. 

So I used my time wisely, to work on my physical health, through good nutrition and good exercise habits; to support my emotional wellbeing: understanding emotional triggers and how to deal with these, as well as techniques to manager my emotions; and my mindset, to ensure that my blip didn’t define me, but instead became a positive learning experience. I was then able to deal with the biggest trigger – the workload, which was both at work and at home. 

I returned to work, but after a year decided to leave. This was not a negative thing – actually the power of self-reflection meant that I decided to focus on my coaching and training skills full-time. So now I am in the privileged position of helping others: mostly leaders who are struggling in some way, to help them achieve resilience, achieve the right work environment through good leadership and make them stronger than before.

If you would like a chat about supporting you or your organisation, then please contact me at [email protected]

Connecting with our purpose

It’s fair to say, it’s been a difficult year for all. 

I started the year, full of ambition for making 2020 the year where I built on my business. I was well aware that my youngest son was starting secondary school, meaning I no longer had to take him to, or pick him up from, school (or after school football, rugby or the millions of other clubs they get involved in at primary!). This provided my with the opportunity to spend more time on my business and to focus on offering more to my existing clients, and gaining new ones. 

Of course, life had other plans. From early March my training bookings started to disappear from my diary, and many of my coaching clients wanted to postpone our sessions until we could meet face-to-face; and the work I’d had planned went out of the window. I initially felt helpless as a lot of my clients were frontline staff, whose attention needed to be on the pandemic, and not having training – but I also recognised that many needed, or would in the future, need, my support. 

Having a period of quiet gave me time and it led me to question everything. I always had a sense of purpose with my job; that I was helping others to be more successful leaders and this was supporting their teams and organisations to be successful too; but this didn’t feel quite as important for once. Instead I recognised that the clients I worked with and cared about, were struggling on a more emotional level – it could be considered leadership issues per se, but actually this was about resilience and mental health as well. 

By keeping in touch with my clients, regularly asking them how they were and offering my help; I was able to help them and in turn, reconnect with my purpose. I was suddenly really helping by: 

  • Supporting people with burn-out who needed help getting back on their feet, before dealing more effectively with the issues which had led to that situations; 
  • I was supporting Managers who were struggling to manage the conflicting requirements to get their workplace Covid secure (with little guidance), as well as support staff and care for residents or patients; 
  • I helped people with operational issues when they were feeling stuck; 
  • I helped teams and colleagues develop peer support, so they could help each other and feel like they belonged when they were working remotely; 
  • I became a valued source of connection when people were struggling with being alone;
  • and most of all, I provided emotional support and helped people get their sense of self back. 

The feedback from clients and organisations I have worked with has been so positive, as by helping staff in this way they have overcome adversity and begun to thrive.

We are just one month away from the end of the year and like many, I will be pleased to see the back of it because of the impact, stress and despair that the year has seen. However, with life, comes lessons. This year has taught me is what is really important: cherishing our health and families, the value of connection, the importance of resilience and mental health because it impacts upon everything; and most of all caring for, and supporting others. I for one, feel blessed that I have been involved with work that has really made a difference; and if I thought I had purpose before, I now feel I have strengthened this, and my work has never felt more important.