Over the course of the past year, the coronavirus has turned the working world on its head. Implementing protective measures means introducing new ways of working, which present management in particular with a range of new and often considerable challenges. In this context, it is important to assess how leadership can remain effective when staff are required to work from home.
One in five managers already had experience in managing teams remotely before the coronavirus pandemic. They often have employees working in different locations or travelling sales reps they seldom meet in person. The current requirement to work from home didn’t really change much for these managers, as they were able to use their experience.
However, remote work suddenly presented a huge challenge for managers that were used to having direct daily contact with their teams and the benefits of on-site team management. The enforced switch to remote work means direct face-to-face contact and just having that proximity to your team – two of the most important aspects of management – are no longer an option. And managers who until now had based their approach on the idea that “trust is good, control is better” were forced to rethink their leadership strategy. There is no doubt that remote work can only function properly if it is based on trust.
The measures listed below can be useful for remote management and managing staff working from home:
1. Trust is good, control is a thing of the past
Of course, it is still important to ensure that work output can be measured and monitored. Managers can foster trust by asking their team members what tools they need to work from home effectively. The needs of employees should be given serious consideration, and individual requests should be accommodated if possible. Leading through trust means seeing employees as people who act autonomously and independently, and who are capable of making decisions that benefit the company.
2. Informal meetings
Short, informal virtual meetings are a good way to ensure a continuation of casual exchanges between managers and team members. Attendance of these meetings should not be mandatory, as they are designed to replace office small talk and conversations in the break room. Team members who would usually take a coffee break together in the office can now do it online. The focus here should be on informal conversations rather than job-related topics.
3. Digital communication
Making sure that one-to-one chats and team meetings still take place regularly requires a disciplined approach. Regular scheduled talks with all members of the team are essential. Employees need guidance, especially when they are working from home. It is essential to give them opportunities to discuss tasks and targets, and to talk openly about any personal issues they may be experiencing.
Regular conversations are a key element of effective relationship management – open communication is a fundamental requirement.
4. Management methods – face to face
It is more difficult for remote teams to coordinate processes and collaborate effectively. Managers of remote teams therefore need to focus in particular on coordinating and delegating.
Management by exception is a more effective approach in the current situation. With this method, the team essentially manages itself as long as everything runs smoothly and according to plan. Team members only consult their managers for assistance if something unexpected happens or problems arise. They then discuss the situation and work on finding the right solution.
5. Availability – working hours
Managers need to keep a particularly close eye on the working hours of their team members. People working from home often tend to work longer hours, miss lunch breaks and continue working in spite of illness. It is therefore crucial that managers not only make employees aware of these issues, but also lead by example.
6. Empathy antennae
Working from home requires a high level of mental agility, discipline, structure and effective time management, and this can become overwhelming for some members of staff. Prudent managers are therefore advised to assess how each member of staff is coping with the situation during one-to-one meetings. Paying closer attention to their choice of words, their general behaviour and how they communicate is also a good idea. Managers must address any changes they notice in the behaviour of their staff directly. Managers are there to listen, to take the problems of their staff seriously and to support them.
Managers who succeed in striking a balance between motivation, satisfaction, productivity and performance for teams working remotely in the current situation also make an important contribution to helping overcome this crisis. Furthermore, they help to create lasting added value for the company.
Considering the increased psychological strain placed on staff working from home, remote management that fosters health is becoming increasingly important. A survey conducted by the University of Basel found that the number of people showing symptoms of depression has risen from 9% to 18% since spring 2020. The University of Zurich participated in an international study that analysed changes in the symptoms reported by people with mental health conditions during the first wave of the coronavirus. Two-thirds of the women and around half of the men in the study reported an increase in symptoms that indicate depression.
The approaches discussed in this article give managers the tools to recognise when team members who work from home are struggling. However, managers also need to be more proactive in asking their team members how they are coping, as they can no longer rely on body language as an indicator.
At elipsLife, we are very aware of the bigger challenge posed by the current situation, and we understand the connection between remote management and management that fosters health. We therefore offer support for our clients and their managers in the form of training sessions and workshops.
- Marco Cereghetti, Corporate Health & Case Manager elipsLife CH/LI
- Alexandra Moser, Head Care Management CH/LI