27/03/2019 – Business / COVID-19 / Pandemic / Home Working

Remote control

The Covid-19 pandemic is upending the way that businesses operate, with many people now working from home for the foreseeable future. Author Kevin Green – former CEO of the Recruitment & Employment Confederation, and HR Director of Royal Mail – describes how to get the most from your team while they’re working from home.

 

In the current situation, many people will be working from home for potentially a significant period of time. And for most leaders, it’s likely they will be leading a completely remote team for the first time. This scenario has been thrust upon both parties – with little time to think, talk or prepare for this new way of working.

 

It will require managers to operate very differently. We know that much communication is informal when people physically work together. Most good managers understand their people and can pick up on changes by observing their behaviour – yet this becomes more challenging when people work from home. There is, however, a positive opportunity: 80 per cent of people who work remotely say if it’s done well their engagement and morale improves, and 62 per cent say they feel more trusted. This is therefore an opportunity to be grasped.

 

Here are my top tips to energise and motivate your home working team:

 

Live your values

 

In times of change people look to their leaders to provide clarity, support, guidance and direction. True leaders always start by reinforcing why the work the team does is important -the more it’s aligned to a compelling purpose the better. This creates meaning which helps motivate and inspire people to give their best every day. Leaders need to walk the talk, be visible and available to their teams, but they also need to demonstrate energy and the ability to make difficult calls on behalf of the team. Leaders’ values will be tested when they under pressure. It’s relatively easy to live your values when times are easy. However, when success and results hang in the balance an authentic leader will demonstrate what they are prepared to sacrifice. Leadership is about putting your people first.

 

Set clear expectations

 

Set clear expectations about this new way of working. Include your expectations of people’s availability and accountabilities, as well as how often team and one-to-one conversations will take place. My advice is to do the generic scene-setting with the whole team, so that they all hear it together at the same time. Make sure there is plenty of time for questions, and ask for ideas – ‘How do we make this work together?’. Then, have one-to-one conversations with each member of the team about their specific deliverables, and what you’re expecting of them and when. Clarity is important – but giving people the space and opportunity to share ideas, ask questions and explore the issues also avoids misunderstandings later on. Don’t rush the process.

 

Team communication is crucial

 

Team communication is always an important part of a leaders role, but when your team are all working remotely it becomes critical. Recognise that you need to spend more time talking, listening and engaging with your people – it’s important they feel connected. If possible, use video rather than conference calls, but even they are preferable to the dreaded email, which has a tendency to create misunderstanding . The opportunity to use video is a god-send in these circumstances and is so much easier today with the tools available such as Zoom, Skype and Google hangouts. Over 60 per cent of communication is non-verbal, so seeing people as they talk enables you to pick up on non-verbal signals. Keep the team communicating as a whole. I suggest you ensure regular team meetings continue – and to start this new way of working, you may want to do it more regularly than normal (perhaps two or three times per week initially) as this gets people comfortable and allows people to test how it works for them. Beyond that, allow time for small talk – people may feel isolated or even lonely after a few days with little social contact. A good way of doing this is to get everyone to check in and talk about how they’re feeling at the start of the call/meeting. It’s also a good idea to still do creative or brainstorming sessions with the team, asking for ideas or solving problems together – this enables the team to feel connected and that they are making a collective contribution.

 

Encourage connections

 

Apart from the formal calls and meetings, encourage people to have informal calls so they stay connected. We know people feel more engaged and passionate about their work if they have confidants and supporters at work. This may atrophy if it’s not encouraged. People go to their work friends when they need help or want to celebrate or commiserate about things. In the absence of that, work can seem lonely and isolating. It lacks attachment. We may like what we do but we won’t be fully energised or motivated if we don’t have close and supportive relationships at work. In the past week alone, I’ve seen teams have coffee breaks or lunch together, some are even organising yoga sessions or team quizzes – these all help people feel they belong.

 

Remain responsive

 

Finally, as the team’s leader, make sure you are responsive and available. Set time aside in your diary so people know you are happy to catch up on anything. The thing that makes people feel distant is the communication time-lag. If people have to wait hours for a response to something they are working on, they feel it’s not important to their manager. Setting time aside when the team know you’re available instantly makes people feel recognised and listened to. Many of the things proposed here will feel unnatural to start with – but if you persist, then there is no reason why your team shouldn’t be more productive, creative and energised. Out of adversity comes opportunities.

 

Kevin Green, former CEO of the Recruitment & Employment Confederation and HR Director of Royal Mail.  Author of ‘Competitive People Strategy: How to attract, develop and retain staff you need for business success’ https://www.koganpage.com/product/competitive-people-strategy-9780749484545 – published by Kogan Page, £29.99

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