Like many other aspects of business, leadership is going through a transformation in the age of the pandemic. With nearly everyone working remotely, impromptu water cooler chats are being replaced by video conferences, makeshift home offices have turned into coordinated online staff rooms, and brainstorming sessions must now contend with issues like privacy and attendance tracking.
This is a time of momentous change, and that’s exactly what makes or breaks a leader. So, there’s no better opportunity to showcase your leadership skills. But first things first: Do you understand the nature of the challenges your employees could be facing? Let’s look at some of the common pitfalls of having people work from their home office.
Three Challenges of Working Remotely
Supervision. The sense of distance between employees and their bosses can quickly leap from geographical to emotional. Some employees thrive when they are left to their own devices. But for others, productivity and motivation levels drop without face-to-face support and guidance from managers.
Information. There’s so much technology can do to help people synchronize. Thus, important information can fall through the cracks. And technology can sometimes make matters worse. For instance, people can interpret emails or messages as disrespectful or unprofessional because they don’t know what the sender’s tone, style, or frame of mind was at the time of writing. So, they can’t put their words into context.
Social aspects. Being apart from their colleagues can make employees feel that they’re losing that sense of belonging. And having close family members nearby can distract them from work, even with a dedicated workspace or home office. Let’s face it; people’s childcare arrangements have flown out the window. And most people working remotely now juggle with extra care responsibilities for relatives and friends.
Five Lockdown Leadership Tips for Working Remotely
The challenges above may or may not apply to your organization. So, you must look at your employees’ specific challenges, be they told or untold. Armed with this information, you can start to focus on ways to address them individually. Here are five universal lockdown leadership tips for those working remotely:
As the global death toll rises and people fear for their future, reach out to employees more. Give them peace of mind about their positions within the company. In times like these, when employment anxiety makes them reassess their career choices, a sense of job safety and stability will see people through.
Your organization should take this opportunity to be transparent, forthcoming, and reliable. If you inspire a sense of trust and ethical leadership now, employees will consider working for you long-term. Even if they are temporarily laid off or furloughed, and also if they have better work opportunities elsewhere, they will weigh stability against new perks.
When should you discuss these issues? Spare some time for these conversations before or after conferences, addressing your employees’ concerns individually if needed.
Look to the Future
Now is an excellent time to reassess your Paid Time Off (PTO) policy. Even after this pandemic dwindles, it’s safe to assume that it will reoccur until treatment is widely available. And other new viruses may very well be disruptive to businesses in the years to come.
The lockdown is taking a huge toll on all people, with some caring for their children, their elderly, neighbors, and/or vulnerable friends at the same time. So, working hours will need to be flexible enough to adapt to every health crisis. Paid leave is the ethical option for people who need to self-quarantine, whether they are full-time employees, hourly workers, or independent contractors.
Give it some serious thought, because your actions today will affect more than the number of jobseekers tomorrow. It will also have an impact on the health and job security of their loved ones, and the reputation your company has when the dust settles.
Evolve and Let Evolve
If your company now relies solely on employees working remotely in a makeshift home office, you will understand the importance of maintaining the status quo. But if you rely on people who work on-site and are happy to do so, don’t rest on your laurels. Even the slightest chance of developing the disease can put them off work.
So, if you can’t move to larger premises with lower density and footfall, offer them alternating shifts. Some may happily consider working alone, even if it’s at unsocial hours. But don’t stop there. Retrofit working areas so that they keep a distance. Bring in equipment made of naturally antimicrobial material, such as copper. Or at least invest in large room dividers and screens.
Make it easy for them to follow CDC guidelines, and don’t underestimate your responsibility and accountability in the event of an outbreak at work. Whatever your employees want to try for their safety (e.g., wear homemade protective gear, collect documents from the office when there’s nobody around, sterilize shared equipment even if it’s routinely disinfected), enable them to do so, as long as their actions don’t go against CDC advice.
Never Mind Naysay
This is no time for you or the employees to descend into panic. Let’s face it: there are skeptics in every workplace. But leadership means you need to be the voice of reason, however unpopular this may make you at work. Showcase your critical thinking skills and let others understand your reasoning.
Don’t be afraid to be a myth-buster if the myth is interfering with your employee’s safety and effectiveness at work. You may need to explain what a rational approach should look like, but without alienating staff.
After all, everyone self-indulges in make-believe now and then. So, stick to the facts, put your best foot forward, and get everyone on board. To minimize the spread of disinformation, set rules about the way news should be shared while people are working remotely from a home office.
Be Communicative and Consistent
There’s no better way to convey the same message at the same time to large groups of people than through a Zoom, Microsoft Teams or Google Meet (Hangouts) conference. When it comes to setting the agenda, providing resources, coordinating, giving advice, and sharing feedback, an online meeting is the best way to ensure consistency.
Thanks to cutting-edge video technology, you can download and double-check meeting minutes, manage milestones, delegate more efficiently, and focus on the outcome, rather than the hours people put in. And software like Asana and Trello can help you visualize progress and reassign tasks accordingly. But you can also have daily check-ins with each employee, scheduling one-on-one calls for those who don’t work as part of a team. And you can always set up a company forum if people don’t like to use Slack channels and other group messaging tools.
So, if you feel like you’re losing control because you’re in your home office and everyone is working remotely, there are ways to put this technology to good use. Whatever tools you make available to your employees, be sure to set some rules of engagement early on, so that information is shared efficiently.
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By Fernando Ortiz-Barbachano
President & CEO
Barbachano International (BIP) is the premier executive search and leadership advisory firm in the Americas (USA, Mexico, Latin America, & Canada) with a focus on diversity and multicultural target markets. Since 1992, BIP and its affiliates have served over 50% of Fortune 500 Companies and have been recognized by Forbes as a Top 40 executive search firm. Outplacement and Executive Coaching services are provided by our sister allied company Challenger Gray & Christmas. We are supported by our NPAworldwide partner offices in over 50 countries.