Leading A Remote Team, With Love

This article is for you if you are faced with leading a remote team.  Especially if that is new for you.

Who is working at home?

Of course, there are those who cannot work from home under any circumstances.  Medical and emergency services.  And retailers – and those who restock the shelves.  This probably needs a whole separate article.

Then there are those people who already work from home occasionally, or often. Or all the time.  They already have set routines and are wondering what all the fuss is about.

New to Home Working

Finally, there are those for whom this is a novelty.

There may be some who think it is a chance for a release from being managed and will think about how they can use it to the best advantage.

But the vast majority will welcome being trusted.  They will be slightly nervous about the logistics.  And they will be keen to make it work so they can continue to do it sometimes in future.

What are people feeling?

People will be distracted and interrupted by family around them.  Some people will be sharing all sorts of advice – some of it fake – about coronavirus. Others will never mention coronavirus and will be “burying their heads”.

We all have concerns at the moment and we need to balance everything in our lives. We need to get work done to ensure we continue to have a job/business at the end of this crisis.  And we are also caring about ourselves and our families.  In particular, we are worrying about the more vulnerable people in our immediate circle.

Leading a remote team during the current situation

We need to balance the needs of our customers, clients, suppliers and teams, with our own needs, concerns and emotions.

Managers and leaders are critical in helping business to continue and the people within the business to carry on. Managers are key to keeping everyone updated. Their role is to help bring a sense of calm, rationality and peace.  In short – this is the ideal chance to manifest love and leadership.

We need to offer help, support and compassion. Whilst at the same time delivering value, maintaining services and processes.

How to cope with leading a remote team

You might think you are too busy and have too much work to deal with all this.  But managing your team is THE MOST important part of your job.  The people make the business and you cannot afford to lose them or their goodwill.

It helps if you recognise that there are many different reactions.  Others may not feel the same way you do, or as their colleagues do.

The principles of leading a remote team are no different from managing a team in person. The most important thing for a manager is to keep in regular contact with the team (phone, email, messenger, zoom, facetime, skype).  Listen to what they are (or are not) telling you.  Offer practical solutions where possible.

Have you thought about team meetings?  These are more important than ever, to weld a team together and enable them to collaborate.  You can set a regular time and date and hold the meeting by zoom or skype – some method where they can actually see each other is best.  And encourage them to contact each other regularly and keep you all in the loop.

Dealing with the negatives

Where things can’t be changed, be honest, but understanding.  Try to help people to come to terms with things which are impossible to change. Don’t promise things you can’t deliver.

People are going to be struggling with all kinds of anxieties.  It is helpful if you canlag up counselling or other help which is available.  Many companies provide a counselling service, but if not, there are plenty of charities which can help in a wide range of situations.

One major difficulty which many will face is financial.  Even if your workplace is still able to function remotely, many cannot.  This means that your team may have partners who are unable to work through illness.  Or they may have been laid off or moved to shorter hours.  This puts more pressure on your team members who may have become the only wage earner in a household.  So again, it is helpful if you can provide information about financial advice or help  which is available

We need to be aware of potential mental health issues.  People will be feeling isolated, or trapped. They may be facing financial difficulties and/or relationship difficulties.  They may be anxious, frightened, worried about falling sick.  Or they may be anxious about vulnerable relatives or children.  This makes your regular contact even more important.

Celebrating the positives

It is even more important than usual to remember to thank people.  We all need some recognition for what we do  – even if it is just “part of the job”.  This is even more important when you are leading a remote team.  They need to know they are not invisible and that you notice things they are doing.

The world goes on and people have birthdays and other causes to celebrate.  So help them to enjoy their special occasions.  We need to have fun days to enjoy even more than usual.  Celebrate team and individual “wins”.  Give them a reason to keep positive.

Finally, it is helpful to get the team to think about their personal wellbeing.  Encourage fresh air, exercise, healthy eating, even just standing in the garden to look at trees and greenery.  Taking a regular break is really important.  We all tend to get stuck behind our computer, head down and involved and the day flies past without a break.  This is not healthy or productive.

What are the likely reactions to homeworking?

Some people will have only just found this “freedom” and so might spend all their time scrolling though social media and not getting anything done.  But this novelty will soon wear off and the vast majority will knuckle down to work in a few days.

At the other end of the scale, some will be really conscientious – to a ridiculous degree.  They will  want to prove themselves reliable and trustworthy. So they are likely to work solidly without a break – and that is almost a worse problem to manage!

I am already seeing some people who are in a real state of anxiety.  They have been infected by the media and social media and the general scaremongering which is rife at present.  They panic about every news bulletin, social media post, etc and so can’t settle to anything.

Of course, this situation is different from “normal” working at home.  People may have their kids and partners at home. Tthe house is crowded. There is no privacy.  They are keen to get some work done, but it isn’t really practical.

Finally – and of the most concern – there are some people who will withdraw into themselves and go silent.  They are unable to face their fears and anxieties.  They do not have a network around them who can help them to have some perspective. So they internalise it all and withdraw more and more.

As time goes on, things will change

  • Some will get used to it and settle into a routine.
  • Others will find living with their partner so closely doesn’t work, and they will find their own way to manage – move into the shed or a caravan. I predict (sadly) that all this enforced closeness to our loved ones may force a temporary increase in the divorce rate.
  • Some will hate it and can’t wait to get back to normal.
  • There will definitely be a few who continue to need support to stop them becoming more and more isolated.
  • Some (I suspect quite a large majority) will find they love working from home, at least for some of the time, and will demand that it continues when workplaces reopen. I foresee that the world of work may see some permanent changes.

…. And finally…

These are strange and unsettling times for us all (and I really mean “all”).  The whole world is facing this crisis and I find that quite comforting.  Brought together in adversity.  Maybe, maybe not.  But the point is that we are all having to get used to things which are outside our comfort zone and don’t feel familiar.  So reach out to someone if you need some help – there are plenty of others going through the same things you are!

 

If you think this article is useful and you would like to talk about dealing with this  – then contact me for a no-obligation chat.

Jill Aburrow runs an HR strategic consultancy business – JMA HR .  She provides strategic HR advice and support to businesses who want to improve loyalty, growth and profit. Why not join the JMA HR mailing list?  Jill has been a professional strategic HR advisor for over two decades. She is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (FCIPD) and has a Post Graduate Certificate in Employment Law.

 

How To Plan A Happy Workplace Christmas

Christmas should be a really happy time of year.  It is a holiday period and we all look forward to a break from work.

Or do we?

For some people, Christmas is a nightmare.  For others it can just be a time of chaos and confusion.  Some think it is no different than any other time of year.  Others wish it would all just be over quickly.  Some want it to be Christmas all the time.

Employers have an added dimension.  We need to try and keep productive, but allow our staff some leeway and time to enjoy themselves.  But what should we allow, or not allow?  What are the pitfalls that face us as Christmas approaches?  How can we make sure our business doesn’t suffer over the holiday period, but our employees have a great time?

How should employers start to plan for Christmas in the workplace?

There are so many things to think about which can make working at Christmas either great or horrible.  It can be your most successful time of year, or your slackest time.  Of course, you may not always be able to plan which of these is the case.

Do your employees want to be at work at Christmas?  Or not?  Do you have enough volunteers to cover peak times?  Or do you need to work out a rota?  Can you allow everyone to take time off or holiday over the period?  Maybe you need to stop all annual leave.  What about time off for religious festivals?  What about time off to support family activities (school carol concerts, nativity plays)?

Have you thought about cultural diversity?  Your staff may not all want to celebrate Christmas or to have time off.  It maybe the case that they prefer to keep their annual leave for other occasions, or to have time off for other religious or cultural activities.  Can you accommodate all of these wishes?

Time out at Christmas

One contentious issue is time off work.  Do you want to close the business down for a few days?  And can you afford to do so?  If so, does everyone who works there want to have time off forced on them, or would they rather work over the holiday period?  If you are shutting down, has everyone got to use up annual leave?  Have they got enough annual leave?  Will you give extra time off?

Will you let people leave early on Christmas Eve, or do you expect them to work the full day?  Is your business going to be shut on Christmas Day, or will you be open as usual.  If it is the latter, how will you organise who works on that day?

Celebrations

Things you need to consider under the heading of celebrations are many and varied.

Your employees may want to have an office party, or a meal out.  You need to consider whether this should be in their own time or whether you will give additional time off.  You might want to contribute to the cost.

What about music in the workplace?  Some people like to have Christmas music while they work.  Others hate it.  Some like the popular Christmas music which is played on the radio and in shops all through December.  Others would prefer classical or religious music or carols.     Will you allow music all the time, or only at certain times, or not at all?

Many people like to bake cakes and food at Christmas and bring sweets, chocolates, cake or other food into the workplace.  Are you happy for that, or do you need to lay down some rules?  What about drinks?  You may not normally allow alcohol in work, but would you make an exception at Christmas time?  If so, what rules will you set around it?

Gifts and Giving

People like to give cards and presents to each other at Christmas and that, of course, is a personal decision.  But some workplaces organise a “secret santa” where each person receives a gift.  Of course this can be fun, but again you may need to set some rules about cost or type of gift.  Some people may choose not to take part and that is fine, but you need to make sure they are not made to feel uncomfortable about that decision.  I have been on the receiving end of some fairly questionable gifts through secret santa.  People think it is funny to give an offensive gift when it is done anonymously and it can be very difficult if it is not properly controlled.

This might be a good time of year to make some corporate contributions to a local charity or to encourage employees to volunteer to help others in some way.  Your employees and clients will be very supportive of you if you can give a little extra at this time of year.

Getting to Work and Flexible Working

Whether or not you already have a culture of flexible working, this might be a good time of year to relax the rules.

In the UK, the weather can be bad at this time of year and the days are short.  We have darker mornings and earlier evenings.  Travel can be difficult for people in the dark and in poor weather.  In the final run up to Christmas, there is the additional worry of drunk driving as many people have too much alcohol and don’t realise that one extra glass can make their driving very dangerous.

People have children who are taking part in seasonal activities and parents may well want to be able to take time out to attend a carol concert or school play. School holidays are an additional problem for parents to deal with and they may need some flexibility to manage childcare.   Or people may have other caring responsibilities, hospital visits or older people to consider.  Unfortunately, these arrangements can become more difficult at holiday times.

Strained Relationships

Christmas should be a time to relax and enjoy ourselves. But for many, the stress just piles on us before and during the holiday period.  There is so much to organise, so many calls on our time and our money. We sometimes dread spending time with difficult family relationships or unwelcome guests and we put pressure on ourselves.  All of these things can cause major health and wellbeing issues.

Additionally, the increased likelihood of colds, flu and seasonal illnesses.  Not to mention self-inflicted problems from too much alcohol or too little sleep.

All of these things are generalisations and will not affect many of us.  But they will definitely affect a large proportion of our workforce.

Giving employees their best Christmas ever

Christmas needs careful planning – as with so many other things in the world of work!

As always, if you want to give your employees the best Christmas present, then consult with them about what works and what doesn’t work.  You will never please everybody all the time.  But if you know what the majority of people want, then you have half a chance of giving them a happy Christmas at work.

And who will benefit most from that?  The employer, of course.

This could be your best Christmas ever!

If you think this article is useful and you would like any strategic HR support or information  on dealing with this  – or any other people-related issue in your business – contact us for a no-obligation chat.

Jill Aburrow runs an HR strategic consultancy business – JMA HR .  She provides strategic HR advice and support to businesses who want to improve loyalty, growth and profit. Why not join the JMA HR mailing list?  Jill has been a professional strategic HR advisor for over two decades. She is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (FCIPD) and has a Post Graduate Certificate in Employment Law.

Will Flexible Working Rebound On My Business?

What is flexible working?

Flexible working just means that the employer is able to accommodate a range of working arrangements.  Some people may prefer the traditional 9 to 5.30  in the workplace every day, with an hour’s break at lunchtime.  Others may prefer to arrive or leave earlier or later than those hours.  Some may prefer to work elsewhere occasionally, or regularly.  Flexible working means different things to different people.  But the more flexible you can be, the more productivity you will get from your employees.

In employment terms, flexible working might encompass a whole range of things.  These can include flexi-time, flexible working hours; working from home, either regularly or occasionally.  Or it might mean working from another location.  Flexibility for employees might include fitting round family and caring responsibilities.  For example people might want to finish early and make up hours at other times.  Or they might need to work round the school run.  It can mean they don’t need to watch the clock.  They can stop feeling guilty for arriving later or leaving earlier than colleagues.

Why is flexibility important for my business?

Allowing individuals to have flexible work arrangements which suit their needs gives them the chance to do their work when they feel most able to. This means they will be more productive.  There are other benefits for the employer, as well.  You may be able to cover a longer working day with a variety of people.  Some may prefer an early start and some want to finish late.  So you have a better chance of someone being available when your customers need your services.

Your reputation as a good employer will spread and you may find it is easier to recruit and to retain the staff you have got.  The people who work for you are likely to feel more trusted and valued and so will put in more effort for you.

You may even find that absence is reduced if people feel more able to work from home if they have a cold or upset stomach.

Recruitment as a flexible employer

Previous articles have talked about employing older workers or carers and both these groups of people will benefit from flexibility in the workplace.  Research shows that older people would be very appreciative of flexible working hours.  Working with these needs would widely increase your pool of available employees.

Beware, though, of advertising that you are an employer who offers flexibility, and then not allowing people to work flexibly.  This can be seriously detrimental to your reputation and employer brand.  If the operations of your business are such that you cannot allow flexibility, then it is far better to admit that openly.  Explain the situation to potential employees, giving the reason why.  You may lose a few candidates as a result, but the benefit is that employees will know what to expect.  So they will only accept a role if they feel suited to your environment.

How do I make flexibility work?

The most important factor in a successful employer/employee relationship is trust.  If you build a culture of trust within your business, then you will be able to introduce flexible working and know that your employees will not take advantage of you.

As managers, we often find it hard to trust our employees to get on with the work when we are not watching them.  My experience is that most people can be trusted.  If you give them that trust, they will bend over backwards to avoid taking advantage.

You need to get across the message that you trust your employees to do their job and behave like adults.  They also need to understand that the work is their responsibility and that you will judge them by the results they achieve, rather than the hours they do.  Interestingly, having the conversation and allowing them to work flexibly will increase their commitment.  They know what is good and don’t want to risk losing it.  In fact, most people work longer, and harder, when trusted to be flexible.

What if I can’t allow flexible working?

Where people request flexible working in some form or other, then try to accommodate such requests wherever possible.  This means that on the occasions when you really cannot allow some flexible working, people will understand that there is a good reason why.  If you do have to turn down such a request, then make sure the individual understands the reason why it cannot be allowed.

If you are going to give people trust and autonomy, without checking up on them, then you also need to establish regular contact.  Make sure you build in team events and training opportunities.  Arrange regular meetings (in person or otherwise).  This will prevent people feeling abandoned, unloved , forgotten or not needed.   It will also prevent them from heading off down a different work path than the one you need.

On the odd occasion you may find that someone has betrayed your trust and has not produced the required work, or has clearly been taking advantage.  In those cases,  make sure you deal promptly and strongly with the issue.  This prevents any resentment or repetition from colleagues.

Final Word

I am a great advocate of trust in the workplace.  If you want employees to flourish in your workplace, then equip them with the skills and tools they need.  Then give them the freedom (and support) to fly.  If you allow flexible working, they will return your trust in spades.  You will then find that you have a motivated, productive and happy workforce.

If you think this article is useful and you would like more advice on dealing with this  – or any other people-related issue in your business – please join our mailing list, or contact us for further guidance.