This is the write-up from the second in our series of virtual coffee breaks – designed to provide a caffeine-enriched forum for discussion amongst senior executives who might otherwise be going stir-crazy during this period of lockdown.
The topic for this session was: ‘The Art of Distance Management – how to lead, motivate, create cohesion and compensate for lack of interaction’ and our speaker was Andrew Simmonds, consulting lead here at Clustre.
Andrew started the call by summarising feedback he’s received from conversations, over the last couple of weeks, with people in companies, ranging from IBM, who have 350,000 employees globally, to start-ups with fewer than a dozen, and everything in between.
The current situation is not business as usual for anyone. The adjustment’s been most manageable for people already used to working from home, but even for them, and certainly for the vast majority, the last couple of weeks have been the start of a huge social experiment.
The initial focus has been on the practicalities. For example, one Chief Operating Officer has moved his entire organisation, of around 9,000 people, from being office based to working from home, in just 48 hours.
These practicalities have been the immediate concern. But the focus now is moving to the bigger challenge: figuring out how to actually manage our people remotely and there are three common themes emerging:
Not everyone has space to set up a home office, especially younger members of your team, who may live in shared apartments and find it quite stressful to try to work from home. Even more senior folk may find their normally quiet space is now shared with their family.
For many of us, the economic shock of this crisis is quite profound. We have friends or family whose businesses are struggling or whose jobs are on hold. And of course we have the human tragedy of covid-19 itself.
People are used to coming to work and leaving their personal problems at home; but that’s impossible right now. On top of that, we have the added psychological stress of isolation.
So, it’s important, now more than ever, to check in with every member of your team. You may be speaking to them regularly via video conference, but it’s much harder to pick up non-verbal cues over video. So, make sure you ask how they’re doing.
A lot of people are doing this really well, making use of virtual stand-ups or virtual coffee breaks as an effective in keeping everyone connected. If your team already uses slack or other messaging or collaboration tools, these are coming into their own now.
But, in the absence of direct human contact, there’s a risk people become disengaged. Not only do your people not have real contact with you, or with each other, they don’t have real contact with their friends or family either.
The psychological impact of this isolation should not be underestimated and cannot be completely compensated for; we have to accept the reality that this is quite difficult for a lot of us. So, be aware of this and do everything you can to keep your people engaged:
In any leadership setting, regardless of your style, you need to show up, be seen, listen and be heard. These are all more difficult when everyone’s working from home.
What you absolutely don’t want to do, is retreat into managing by email. Even in the best of times, we’ve all seen people whose idea of leadership is a steady stream of motivational emails. This doesn’t work in an office setting and it certainly won’t work now.
What you do need to do is get on the video calls, get on the phone, talk to your people and listen to them. Now, more than ever, is the time to lead by example. Your teams will watch how you operate and take their cue from you.
If you want people to collaborate, make sure you collaborate. If you want people to reach out to clients, make sure that’s what you do and are seen to be doing. The tone you set, in your virtual interactions with your team, is the only real social cue they’re getting right now, so make sure it’s the right tone and positive.
In addition to these three themes, participants on the call shared some of the important lessons they are learning as we all adjust to this new way of working:
If you have found this write-up interesting and would like to register for future Virtual Coffee Breaks or learn more about our other events, lease visit www.clustre.net/category/events/