Candy Candappa suggests some ways to re-think your management style in the light of enforced remote working. Let us have your thoughts below – are you really ready for remote working? and how can your team continue to provide expected levels of service delivery?

I’ve spent much of the last 20 years managing teams I couldn’t see and often who I never meet. Usually those teams are in different countries spanning time zones, corporations and cultures.

To be successful you have to develop a management method that understands the individuals and their workstyle, provides clarity on goals, builds a way of working that allows them to make their fullest contribution.

As we live through the restrictions of the Coronavirus pandemic, we have to find a way to effectively manage remote, distributed, “working from home” teams. This may be new to you… it may also be new to your team members.

But the challenge is more than a logistical one. The balance of productivity management versus people management has shifted and we need to do more to support our teams.

Things to consider…

Be understanding. Be kind.
Before Coronavirus our expectation was that our teams would manage their personal life challenges around their work and that we would only need to support them by relaxing the “way of working” rules under unusual circumstances.

Now our teams are having to cope with multiple stressors. We are living and working in a continuous exceptional circumstance and as managers we have to understand that our team is probably having to deal with a number of the following:

  • Concerns about the health of themselves and their families – especially elderly or vulnerable relatives who may be distant, isolated or who may have come to stay
  • Concerns if their partner or adult children are key workers still working outside of the home and hence at greater risk of catching the virus
  • Financial and job security worries
  • Food & medicine shortages
  • Loss of access to regular medical treatment or planned procedures
  • Supporting children at home or in exam years or away studying or whose own finances and job security are at risk
  • Working from home when they aren’t used to it or don’t have a space or uninterrupted time to do it, especially if they have children now at home
  • Not having access to their normal “de-stressors” – e.g. their clubs or pubs or sports or cultural venues or simply the camaraderie of the workplace.

Despite their commitment to their work, your team members have many other calls on their time. You should consider how you can help them establish a new work/life balance. Helping them do this will be difficult for you – especially as each person’s circumstances will be different and you have to find a bespoke solution for each one of them.

You need to spend more of your time on supporting them than you would normally.

You need to be creative.

Most of all – you need to be kind.

If you manage managers…

Accept that their productivity will be different as they support their staff.

Create time for your managers – review the way your managers spend their time. Can meetings or reports be shortened, simplified or dispensed with?

If you don’t already do it, provide clarity on goals. Produce a plan for what must be achieved each week. Have them report back weekly on what was achieved, what they are planning for next week and where they need your help.

The report format could be verbal – in a 1-2-1 call you hold with them or, if you prefer more structure, a simple document or slide with bullet points for you to discuss.

Consider having a regular (multiple times a week) short, unstructured call with all your managers for them to share what they have found works and doesn’t work as they establish the new way of working for their teams.

As managers we usually spend more time focussing on what is “red” than what is “green”. Take time to celebrate successes. Make sure the whole team is aware of things going well or getting better or getting done.

If you manage a team…

Stress that you will succeed as a team. Accept that individual productivity will fluctuate. Make it easier for team members to ask for help. Ask team members to “cover” for one another by re-allocating tasks when necessary. Accept that some will be better placed to “step up” than others.

Create time for your team – review the way your team members spend their time. Can meetings or reports be shortened, simplified or dispensed with?

If you can, set up a cross-team instant message chat window to run all day. Expect activity levels to have a cycle dependent on your day’s rhythm. Often there is a spike in the morning as people check status from yesterday and establish their work demands for the day. It can then lull until a deadline approaches or a task finishes or a problem occurs.

Consider having a daily “stand-up” call where all hands briefly report on progress yesterday, plan for the day and request help needed.

In the first couple of weeks, try to find time to speak directly with each team member every couple of days. If their previous work style involved regular discussions with you, find a way to replicate that e.g. by having an IM chat open with each of them.

Make yourself available to your team – let them know you will help.

Remember to regularly thank your team as a group and as individuals – they need to know they are succeeding to navigate these difficult times.

Candy is an innovative and results-focused IT and programme management executive with experience across diverse markets.

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