When the president announced a nationwide lockdown in an effort to facilitate social distancing and curb the spread of COVID-19, it meant working from home for many South Africans. This has taken some adjustment, especially for those in leadership positions. Managing a team remotely comes with a whole new set of challenges and, depending on your leadership style, can require a complete shift in perspective. But as all good leaders know, challenges are opportunities for improvement. To help you, we’ve put together some tips on how to be a great leader from home.
Empathy is not an easy skill for everyone but in these unprecedented times, it’s more valuable – and more rewarding – than ever. Remote team management is all about collaboration and working side by side, your organisation’s people are its most valuable resource. It’s important to realise that you don’t necessarily understand their home situation. Some people are navigating endless distractions while others might be struggling with isolation. Try listening to their newfound challenges, express your desire to be supportive in any way, provide solutions and make sure they know they are a valued team member.
Arguably the most important part of remote working is opening and maintaining good lines of communication. It takes consistent work to be on the same page all the time, luckily the technology of today provides us with a variety of options to stay in contact. As a leader, you want to reinforce the message that you’re always contactable, however boundaries should be established and respected – on both sides. Create structure for communication, talk to your team once in the morning to discuss their agenda, and maybe check in at the end of the day to see how they’ve progressed. Keep it brief and informal so it doesn’t feel like interference.
A lot of managers find it difficult to let go of the need to know and control what members of their team are doing or how engaged they are with projects and timelines. It’s natural to be curious, and of course it’s your job to keep everything in check, but it’s really important that you resist the urge to micromanage. Trust is an essential part of a healthy, productive relationship between leaders and their staff, and it’s a key ingredient to successful remote teams. Your team needs to trust that you’re looking out for their best interests, and you need to trust that they are engaged and motivated.
Managing a team of any size is a lot like juggling, and when it comes to working remotely, you have to allow flexible hours while maintaining consistency. You should have a solid plan, but you also need to be open to adjusting strategies. Circumstances aren’t always controllable, load-shedding is a thing, not everyone has a reliable internet connection. Research suggests taking a situational approach to your role as a leader and adapting to the circumstances your team may be facing. Deadlines can be moved, meetings can be rescheduled, and in times like these a little perspective goes a long way. Assume your team are doing the best they can.
Positive reinforcement does wonders for productivity so take the time to recognise your team’s efforts as often as you can. Everyone wants to be appreciated and it’s been proven that employees who feel valued are significantly more likely to have higher levels of energy, motivation and involvement in their work. Working from home can create feelings of a negativity and loneliness and taking a personal interest in your team members will not only help build your relationships with them, it may be helping them through a really challenging time.