The ongoing pandemic has brought about a 360 degree change in the ways employees work as well the ways in which they are lead, managed and handled by their team leaders or seniors. In a global scenario, where most of the workforce have had to adjust to working from their homes, the people in-charge of the workforce have had to mould and adapt their leadership skills to suit the online culture wherein their major challenge involved in getting the work done from their teams as a unit, keeping them motivated for uncertain weeks and months, as well as being sensitive to their own personal needs and space as well. Certainly, to lead the team sitting on the cozy couch of the room is nothing less than leading a group of clueless people in the darkness of the night, where one can’t see each other but can hear each other’s voices and work with the only device they have in their hands- smartphones.
Communication – Verbal & Non Verbal
Managing a virtual team accompanies unique problems that one may not see in offices. Effective and fruitful communication is the crucial area here. If this fails all fails. And if this succeeds all things run smoothly. In the words of Derek Lidow, an article contributor at Forbes.com, “it starts with the most fundamental principle of leadership: making people feel they will succeed”. It is important to communicate your vision to encourage your team to get through the crisis. The first and the best mode is through video conferencing. It should be an audio-video call and not just an audio-only call or passive communication methods like emails, messages, and WhatsApp chats. Managers need to regularly see their teams and vice-versa so that the team feels a sense of inclusion and responsibility towards the organization they work at. Video conferences should be conducted in ways that encourage the team members to ask you questions, provide new ideas and inculcate a sense of co-operation between each other. More than just assigning tasks it is about making sure that the tasks are completed in unison and after sufficient number of deliberations and consultations with each other. The role of the team leader is to chalk out the road ahead by emphasizing work priorities on regular basis.
Another crucial skill that must be implemented by leaders is to pay close attention to the non-verbal and any possible signs or prompts that they could sense while having video conferences with their team mates. Any change in the behavior, talking style, or approach towards work should not be taken lightly as this may affect productivity. Positive changes must be appreciated and negative developments addressed skillfully. One can look for signs like an employee showing lesser interest in meetings, talking lesser than usual, not coming up with new ideas and so on. Positive developments could include the employee displaying more enthusiasm in his talks, work, and coming up with new ideas, meeting all deadlines, and being pro-active etc.
It is imperative to reach out to each team member or employee on individual basis so that pressing matters, problems and personal concerns are met with and handled effectively. The leader should actively listen to an employee’s needs and empathize with their day- to- day domestic issues assertively. Any leader would certainly want to ensure that their team mates are able to handle the professional and domestic stressors amicably.
Safeguard – Anxiety causing rumors
Moving on, the person in-charge of their team must ensure that the team is safeguarded from all false news, rumors and uncertainties. This can be done by selecting a team member who will take the responsibility of ensuring the authenticity of every communication that comes their way; the communication that can come through emails, other colleagues, chats and rumors. This will help the team members to manage their anxiety levels well and stay away from wasting time in unnecessary things. On the other hand, the leader or the selected team member must send regular updates of their team’s work and productivity to all the stakeholders who are connected to the organization. This will help establish a sense of trust and bridge the gap between the employees and the higher authorities.
Respect Time Management
Other useful steps that leaders could take to lead better can involve helping the team address their time management issues, give them a weekly off by treating weekends as weekends and not working on Sundays. Once in a while the leader can think of a virtual get together where team members discuss anything and everything but work. This would help to lighten up the atmosphere and bring in the necessary social breaks required. The leader may also tell their team mates as to how should they can be a backup for each other in times of personal or sudden crisis. For instance, if a particular team member is not well then another can chip in for them by taking some of their workload, which, upon mutual agreement could later be exchanged or adjusted by the previously ill person who would then take the load of the person who helped them. This helps to build up a productive and fully operational remote workforce. Contingencies are effectively dealt with and deadlines are met successfully.
In conclusion, it can be confidently summarized that leading from home, though definitely a challenging task, can be managed and done successfully when a few simple steps are followed with conscientiousness and sensitivity. Being assertive empathetically, ensuring that the team stays motivated and delegating tasks effectively, making the team work in a cooperative and communicative manner, and keeping all the invested parties in the loop through regular updates are some of the key methods that can be used to lead from home successfully.
Great leaders believe that they work for the team, average leaders believe their team works for them – Alexander Den Heijer
By Fatema Abbas