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.

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