To ensure health and safety and minimize the impact of COVID-19 on people’s lives, many companies across the globe have been operating remotely and their employees have been working from home. There were some companies that were prepared to operate remotely and work in virtual mode but then there were others who were forced to quickly adopt these new ways of working to ensure business continuity. One of the biggest challenges for leaders became arranging the workflow and making sure everything runs smoothly. Additionally, while ensuring business continuity and managing workflow, they had to also ensure that employees’ experience doesn’t suffer.
Employers have to retain their best of the best talent and also support their staff and ensure their job security. As Nicolas Dumoulin, Managing Director, Michael Page India in one of the previous interactions with People Matters highlighted, “While some sectors could be under pressure and look at optimizing their cost structures just to stay afloat, retaining talent would also be key.”
To ensure business continuity, to identify opportunities in times of crisis, to innovate, plan and operate new viable business models, companies would need their people and their teams in place. In fact, Dumoulin shared that if all of this settles down, and the situation gets better and the economy bounces back in a few months, employers would need more and more people.
Hence, employee experience becomes more important than ever! The people discussions are still ongoing and the work still continues for most firms. Only the way of working has changed and the mode of communication has become virtual. From hiring, onboarding to day to day work and performance discussions, conversations among employees and leaders continue even amid lockdown. And as companies adjust to the mode of remote working, leaders’ role becomes all the more critical.
Here are a few ways in which you can lead remote teams in this time of crisis with experience at the center:
Create a culture of ownership
The nature of work for each function or role is different. Each employee or professional has their own style and approach to work. For instance, at ThoughtWorks, Sumeet Moghe, Principal Product Manager and Remote Working Group Lead shares, “Developers pair when writing code which means they require a higher degree of collaboration to create great output. Designers and analysts, on the other hand, might appreciate the peace and quiet of working in a state of flow.”
For a smooth employee experience, while working remotely, leaders have to refrain from micro-managing their employees and give them the space and flexibility to work on their deliverables.
The one thing we are all grateful for in this times of crisis is technology. When almost the whole world is in lockdown mode and homebound, technology is allowing everyone to stay connected. While many companies were already on the path of digitization, others that were not were also forced to embrace it.
“The COVID 19 lockdown has certainly forced everyone to look at things from alternate perspectives. For instance, no one ever thought that a function like HR that deals with human interaction, might need to move to virtual mode – including employee interaction, training sessions, exit interviews and even first day induction. Similarly, legal and finance functions are looking at having documents processed remotely. Similarly, all functions requiring in-person interactions are looking at alternate ways of doing business,” shared Sushant Patnaik, Head-HR, Aeris Communications.
Anushree Singh, Country HR Director, India Sub-continent – AkzoNobel India shared a similar sentiment and said, “Our HR strategy and engagement plans for the next few months have been transformed completely into a digital and virtual engagement strategy.”
Eversince the pandemic has taken over the world of work, the demand for collaboration tools and other digital solutions have increased. Besides using solutions like Zoom, Microsoft Teams for regular check ins, internal and external meetings, the demand for digital recruitment and learning solutions have also been on a rise. If you haven’t already then embrace the technologies available in the market, invest your time in quickly learning how you can use them in the context of your business and guide others along the way.
Compassion should be at the core of every conversation
“Empathy is key when managing remote working teams,” said Nagarjun Kandukuru, Business Principal (AI) and Remote Working Group Lead.
Leaders have to recognize that a lot of the employees have moved to remote working without much preparation. They have to help employees’ smoothly transition to this new way of work, whether it includes having more conversations with them and listening and understanding their emotional challenges or helping them set up work-from-home stations.
It is important to acknowledge the anxiety everyone would be dealing at this point of time as well. And the solution for that is not mere meditation virtual sessions but to be there for all, be more understanding than ever before. Leaders have to accept that people are balancing both house chores and work, some might even be caregivers for kids or elderlyparents. Function and project leads have to hence ensure that they are compassionate to each and every employee. The compassion needs to be reflected in each conversation.
“Empower inclusive remote teams where people can work at a flexible pace that is empathetic to personal responsibilities,” suggested Kandukuru.
All work & no play makes Jack a dull boy
“An equally important part of leadership is knowing when to step back and create space for your team to just hang out and let off steam which is important for good mental health,” said Moghe.
The times are tough for all. Uncertainty looms over the world of work, business continuity, job security, there are many factors triggering anxiety among employees. In this difficult phase, remember to celebrate, have fun and engage with your colleagues and teams beyond work as well. It was easier in pre COVID-19 phase, watercooler chats, lunch breaks, after office-hour hangout scenes, off-sites. But now when everyone is separated it has become more important to stay connected and keep these conversations and moments of fun also alive.
Many small and large companies have things like virtual coffee sessions in place. A company Icertis has something called Profound-ish Posts – a new Teams channel to allow employees to share, in 50 words or less: what they and their family are doing together at home. Whether it’s reading a new book, watching a new show, or baking a new recipe! Many are collaborating and creating videos together for various social channels.
When all of this gets over or better, employers and leaders who were resilient, patient, compassionate and were able to prioritize employees’ well being will be remembered. Given the current pandemic the whole world is dealing with, stress is inevitable, but remember not to get carried away by it.
As Maya Angelou, once said, “At the end of the day people won't remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.”