26 August 2020
What have you found most challenging about leading teams or individuals in the current climate?
In this article, I discuss 5 things we need to be mindful of when leading in a digital world.
1. Email overload
With almost everyone working remotely now, we can’t simply walk over to our colleagues and ask a question or run into people in the hallway and have an impromptu chat. So we’re seeing our inboxes grow…
I found this was the case even when I was working in an office – some people feel more comfortable emailing rather than picking up the phone or walking over to a colleague’s desk.
There’s a few reasons why we should avoid using email all the time:
- miscommunication can happen and we can’t convey tone over email. We are talking to people in the mood that they’re in, not the way we’d like the message shared
- emails don’t build relationships – people do. Connecting with people face-to-face (or using videoconferencing as the next best thing) builds relationships with your team and stakeholders
- according to Forbes, office workers waste up to 2.5 hours reading and replying to emails each day… Is this really an effective use of our time?
While email is important in some instances, as leaders we should be connecting with our team and using emails only when necessary.
2. Regular check ins – and not just about work
We need to be touching base with our team now more than ever. While some people are loving working remotely, others are struggling. It’s up to us as leaders to understand how our team are going and support their needs.
In his article ‘Leadership challenge: How to manage remotely during lockdown’, John French identifies the need for leaders to create emotional safety.
“During this time of tremendous insecurity, it is vital for leaders to connect (virtually) with their employees. One-on-one sessions create the greatest degree of psychological safety. …your employees can never be productive at home unless they are feeling psychologically safe… This crisis demands the “Empathetic leader”. Empathetic leaders show support, concern and appreciation.”
Depending on the individual and the work, we may need to touch base a couple of times a week, or a couple of times a day. Schedule this time into your diary and make it a priority. It doesn’t need to be a 30 minute meeting, it can simply be a 5 minute call in the morning to check in, and another at the end of the day.
Make sure team members know where they can go for support, whether it be the company Mental Health Officer, Employee Assistance Program (which is often also available for family members), or resources provided by your People and Culture group.
If you don’t have these resources available to you, there are other support services you can reach out to. Don’t forget to also prioritise your own mental health.
You can find these and more on the NSW Government website.
3. Getting people engaged in video conference meetings
Engaging the team in online meetings can be challenging. Video conference etiquette should be discussed and confirmed as a team. Basics like muting your microphone unless you’re speaking and having your camera on are essential. You wouldn’t come to a face-to-face meeting and stand behind the door or hide under the table… Make sure you’re showing your beautiful face!
Strategies I’ve used successfully include:
- provide an agenda beforehand and make sure you’re not the only one speaking
- ask people who haven’t contributed if they have any ideas. It can be difficult to speak up online and this gives everyone a chance to have their say
- take turns in chairing the meeting. This helps up-skill team members and get them actively involved
- make it fun with some preassigned roles. Check out this great article from Entrepreneur that talks about having a Chief Fun Officer, Chief Organisational Officer and Chief Events Officer
4. Screen fatigue
The majority of our work is being done in front of a screen. This can cause eye strain, headaches, blurred vision, neck and back pain. We need to switch it up! How?
- Schedule in regular breaks – get up and move every 30 minutes. Set an alarm if you need to, make sure you’re having meal breaks and drink more water (this will get you up to go to the bathroom more often!)
- Have walking meetings. Put your joggers on, stick your headphones in and do your daily catch ups with the team while walking around your block. You’ll get some fresh air, vitamin D and exercise while you’re at it
- Who says we need to be working 9-5 and sitting in front of a computer 8 hours a day? Where possible, schedule your work around the times when you have the most energy for getting things done. Being able to work flexibly makes people happier and more productive. Check out the evidence from the Workplace Gender Equality Agency on working flexibly
5. Set, manage and support flexibility
Pre-Covid, many of us were commuting, spending up to a couple of hours each day getting to the office. Now, a lot of us have this time back – but are we using it wisely?
I hear wonderful stories of parents being able to pick their kids up from school, people going to appointments during the day and using the commute time in the morning to get in a workout, yoga session or meditation. On the flip side I hear of others who are working longer hours, using the extra time to start work early and finish late. Sometimes even jumping on after dinner or putting the kids to bed to get through the work.
Studies have found that people working longer hours actually accomplish less. Working like this increases stress and burnout and reduces your health. Long hours causes impaired sleep, depression, diabetes, drinking, heart disease and increases your chance of having a stroke! When you’re tired, you’re less likely to make good decisions and worse at recognising people’s emotional and social cues. Let’s stop burning the midnight oil because it doesn’t look like there are (m)any benefits…
Unless you’re part of the media department or a senior executive and it’s an urgent matter, there’s no need to be working unreasonable hours. Even then it shouldn’t be a regular occurrence.
In my training program, I offer strategies to manage these challenges as well as:
- fun and innovative ways to keep the team connected and engaged
- how to do performance reviews and performance management online (template included)
- how to manage hours, workloads and productivity
- ways to encourage flexibility and support the team’s and your own wellbeing
- activities to understand personalities and work styles to empower your team and deliver improved results.
Attendees will also receive a workbook with templates, checklists and additional resources to support them to become better leaders in this digital environment.