Life is certainly different for many of us right now. With uncertainty, social distancing and concern for the wellbeing of ourselves, family and friends there is much to occupy our minds. And there are big challenges for our work too. With life in lockdown due to the Coronavirus, we take a look at the change in mindset required by managers as they skipper their home-working teams through uncharted territory.
Andrew Hill wrote a good piece in the FT last week singing the praises of the ‘underrated, overburdened, oft-maligned middle managers’, many of whom will emerge as the heroes of the day as they take on the important daily ‘operational decisions upon which national, not just corporate, welfare depends.’ It was good to see this hitting the mainstream media – and not before time.
In just a short week or two, we are already learning that managing teams in the current climate requires a change in mindset. We have asked a few friends of simply-communicate to help us understand exactly what that looks like.
Belonging – I matter
“The sense of belonging, of being connected to other humans, is a basic, fundamental human need,” Alex Smith, a leadership coach told us. “We are hardwired as humans to thrive on being connected to others so first and foremost, managers have to find ways to satisfy this need. In the current lockdown managers need to increase – to ‘dial up’ – effort on connectivity at both an informal and formal level, embracing the very many technologies available.” And as Carol Kinsey Goman noted in her excellent piece in Forbes magazine, ‘When your goal is to make people feel included and connected, it helps to add the human elements that richer mediums like telephoning or videoconferencing offer.’
Alex continues: “Managers may have to make more personalised agreements with different team members about what expectations there are around communication and connectivity. As one leader described to me this morning, ‘My Introverts are “happy as” and I risk them becoming invisible, and my Extroverts are in danger of taking up all my time!’
One of the recommended disciplines of doing isolation healthily is to have structure and routine built into the day, with clearer boundaries between work and home time. Alex agrees, “This is absolutely key for managers if they are to look after themselves too. My advice is to build formal and informal connectivity into these structures and routines and let team members know what the expectations are.”
Tips for Belonging & Connectivity
- Build in time for one-to-one contact as well as group chat.
- Where possible use technology that is already familiar – too much new stuff can add to the sense of overwhelm.
- Take time to settle into a meeting. You are literally looking into their lives – their bedrooms, their kitchens, their home offices, their children, their pets, their choice of art on the walls. This is not normal for many so talk about their personal ‘bubble’. Care about how they really are feeling about it all. Unless you establish this human connection, they are unlikely to be truly ‘present’ for any work at hand.
- Encourage virtual coffee breaks, lunches, drinks and celebrations. Don’t make them mandatory though, but make sure someone is there to ‘host’ them.
Meaning – Work matters
Yes, the world is a bit topsy-turvy at the moment, but despite the various competing demands on our time, for many, work is a genuinely welcome anchor right now. Alex again, “Managers need to get creative about how they can help bring a sense of meaning to work, enabling their people to be clear on the value they bring and the ways in which their contribution matters. There has never been a better time to get good at showing sincere gratitude, appreciation and recognition.”
This fabulous snippet from Jonathan Phillips, Head of Consultancy at simply-communicate, reinforces Alex’s thoughts: “Businesses need to give their employees permission to find their feet in these extraordinary circumstances. With employees becoming teachers, carers and full-time parents, the day job is a welcome distraction but not the priority. Businesses should not expect 8-10 hours of productive daily work and they need to make this clear to help maintain employee wellbeing and engagement. As one employer put in an email I saw this week: ‘If you have young children at home because the schools are closed or have other caring responsibilities and are working at home, we know that you may be unable to commit to a full day of work. We understand that and thank you for your best efforts. Do what you can, ask for help and take care of your family.’ For now, we all have other critical priorities. Our employers need to recognise this and communicate it.”
Growth – I’m learning
In terms of what we might get out of this strange period, our mindset choice is vital. This could be seen as a period full of opportunity and possibility – some of us have already adopted a Growth Mindset. For others, it’s more reactive, playing it safe, just getting by – or a Fixed Mindset. Alex, who does a lot of work with large public sector organisations told us: “I have spoken with Public Sector leaders here who report on last week being able to get things done far quicker than ever because fewer permissions – whether real or imagined – were needed. They report that colleagues were inclined to be far more collaborative across boundaries with the new context opening up actions that may have not been acceptable in past. They are already seeing this time as full of opportunity.”
It’s fair to say that the excitement and adrenaline-fuelled productivity of last week may not be sustainable, but as things settle it may well be worth thinking about what you and your business intends to learn and develop through this period and therefore what data would you want to capture along the way? What questions would you be asking if you were able, at the other end of this crisis, to really see what has been learned, what changes have been beneficial and what you might choose to hold on to?
Alex suggests that there is one question that we can all ask: “’What have I/we stopped doing?’ I have used it for many years in my work with developing teams. It opens up new possibilities, time for reflection, space for growth, refined focus … surely we need all of that right now?”
All week we have been picking up on the changing expectations around work and how people are implementing their own strategies for coping best. One leader has adopted a daily commute. i.e. a walk before work and walk after work to help define the transition between work and home life. Some are strict around working hours while others are dipping in and out depending on the competing demands in the household. What is abundantly clear is that everyone needs some ‘me time’ and all managers must ensure their team members are looking after themselves first and foremost. Managers need to be very clear about what they expect of their people re attendance, availability and visibility. These issues are fundamental to team harmony and individual well-being so understanding these issues in the new current context may well need discussing.
Helen Boardman, Employee Culture and Communications Consultant working with a large UK engineering company said, “We’ve been leading with compassion and pragmatism. You can’t expect people to home school / supervise children and get a 35 hour week done in the evenings / weekends. That’s adding more stress to the situation and that’s the last thing people need. So, we’ve been talking about trust and results-based working, continual re-prioritisation, lots of quick feedback check ins and leading with values (e.g. ‘make a positive impact’, ‘always adapt’, ‘innovate to succeed’). We are trying to use this situation to accelerate the shift away from presenteeism towards flexible working that we’d started anyway. Now it’s just supersized!”
4 home-working mindset shifts for managers:
Get the support you need
Everyone working in internal communications is facing challenges unprecedented in our careers. So the more we can share problems, experiences and solutions the better it will be for all of us, for our teams and for the health and prosperity of all those we have a responsibility for.
When we are busy making sure our teams are doing alright, it can be less easy to connect or keep connected with our own vital peer networks. One message has been loud and clear from the many we have been working with this week, they need a safe place to share, to be understood and supported. With the current situation, it’s easy to feel uncertain about what lies ahead. But what we know at simply is that having a great support network around you is key, and there’s always time to learn and develop together, now more than ever.
Every week since the crisis broke we have been holding a one hour meet-up with our simplynetwork members about how they are responding to the challenges of the Coronavirus outbreak inside their own organisations. We share the pain and inspiration thrown up by these exceptional circumstances. If you would like to join the network please do get in touch with simply’s Stew Donovan.