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.

 

Things You Should Know About Appointing A Manager

Appointing a manager is probably the most important business decision you will ever make.  If you get it right, you will find that your recruitment bill goes down and your staff retention figures go up.   Your customers will love you and return for more business. You will prevent a huge number of sleepless nights and headaches due to people problems in your business.

How can you be sure you have chosen the right people to be managers in your business?

A good example, or a terrible warning?

How do you want your employees, customers, suppliers, ex-employees to remember your business?  Do you want them to feel confident that your company provides the best service, with the least possible difficulty?  Do you want them to know that your team is knowledgeable, friendly, helpful?  Would you like people to say your company is a great business to deal with?  Or if employees said it was the happiest place to work?

Or would you rather that people warned others not to work in your company?  They might say you don’t care about your employees.  Or customers might complain about bad service from a grumpy employee?  How would you feel if your reputation was for a great product, but that people wouldn’t use your company again?

What have these things got to do with appointing  a manager?

Your managers are critical to the reputation of your business.  Even if they never have any customer dealings.  Of if they manage a support function, rather than the front line.   A poor manager will never be able to get the best from the team.  And the resulting problems will have a knock-on effect on other parts of the business.

Your managers can make or break your business. The investment in your managers is the most important investment you will ever make.  And you need to ensure you get a good return on that investment.

So how should you choose a successful manager?

The very worst reason to appoint a manager

I have seen it hundreds of times.  And it is often a disaster.

Someone is really good at the job they do.  They might be achieving far better results than anyone else.  In so many companies, that alone is the reason why they are then promoted to manage a team of people doing that job.  If they are good at the job, then surely that makes them the ideal person to lead others doing that job?  Wrong!  As well as being a good widget maker, they might also have the skills to train other widget makers.  Or they might be empathic, good listeners.  They might be good at decision-making, team leading, communicating, inspiring others.  But just because they are a good widget maker does not guarantee that they are good at those other things too.

I once knew a sales manager who was absolutely brilliant at sales.  He was able to be charming to customers and to achieve seemingly impossible sales figures.  But he was a bully and his team were all terrified of him.  Soon, some very good  sales people left the company.  And the people who needed some development and encouragement never got it.   The team performance started to drop alarmingly.  The team effectiveness spiralled downwards and the sales figures for the team became very low.   Eventually, the CEO took action and the manager was moved.  He was replaced by a manager who had people skills and who could get the best from the team. Magically, the figures started to improve and the team overall became more effective.  Their figures were consistently good – and not reliant on just one good performer.

Tips for appointing a successful manager

The most important skills needed by a successful manager are people skills.  These include things like the ability to communicate and to understand what motivates others.  They need to be able to deal with stressful situations for themselves and their team.  They need to manage conflict and change.  They need to be able to inspire and encourage.

But you don’t need someone who is a soft touch and gives in to every demand made on them.  They must be decisive and able to navigate difficult decision making processes.  Then they need to be able to communicate their decision and the reason.

Additionally, your investment should include initial and ongoing management training.  You cannot throw someone into a management role and expect them to just pick it up by themselves.  Many of the necessary skills can be learnt and developed with practice.

And what about the time to manage people?  Managing a team  can take up an enormous amount of time and energy.  Doing it successfully requires planning and giving time to the team members.  So a team manager cannot also hold down a fulltime job doing other things.  The team manager needs to view managing the team as the major part of their job.  Any other work they can also do is a bonus!  This is another reason not to give your best widget maker the promotion to being the widget team manager.

Planning Ahead

As with every other aspect of your business, my most important piece of advice when appointing a manager is for you to plan ahead.  Design your management structure before you need to create or replace managers.  That way, you can give serious thought to the qualities of the person you are seeking to appoint.

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.

Managing People – And Why You Need To Get It Right

You understand that your employees are key to your business success and you know what are the key ingredients to ensure that morale is high and people are loyal.  You pay well and your staff benefits are as good, or better, than those offered by your competitors.

But you are still having problems recruiting the right people.  Your sickness levels are higher than average, with people constantly taking days off sick.  What is more, you are finding it difficult to keep good people once you have managed to recruit them.

Is there anything you can do to improve things?

Managing people, on a day to day basis, is a challenging task which needs a comprehensive set of skills.  If your managers  do not have the right skills then you are leaving a big part of your business success to chance. This includes you,  if you are managing people yourself.

Choosing Your Managers

When we need to set up a management structure, then our first consideration is who should be promoted into a management position.  Often the choice falls to the person who is the best performer in the team.  This can be a short-sighted way of selecting a manager.  Just because someone is good at the job, does not mean they will be good at managing people who do the job.  Some people do not have the ability to manage people. Others may not have any desire to do so.  There may, of course, be some who want to have the “power” of being a manager, but who have none of the necessary skills..

Skills for Managing People

In order to manage a successful team, managers need to have a variety of skills, and those are not necessarily practical task-related skills.  So the best person for a job may not be the best person to manage others doing that job.

In particular, you need to ensure your managers have a range of more human, so-called “soft” skills.  This includes things like leadership, emotional intelligence, critical thinking, change management.

Some Key Skills for Managers

You might expect a list of the key skills needed to include some of those in the list below.  But others may be more of a surprise. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but covers some of the skills which your people managers need to have.

  • Communication Skills. Every manager needs to be able to communicate with their team members.  This is more complex in these days of remote working and more diversity in the workplace.  Giving and receiving the right messages are both absolutely key to managing a team.
  • Emotional Intelligence. This skill is quoted a great deal as a necessity. A quick look on Social Media shows that Emotional Intelligence is a subject for much discussion. So what is it?  It is difficult to define, but includes things like: keeping an open mind; being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes; compassion and caring; the ability to engender trust;  integrity; honesty; following up on promises; thanking people; engaging with people.
  • Change Management. Any workplace is likely to go through change from time to time.  Sometimes such changes are brought on by external events – eg. legislation.  Or they may come from a changing market or different leadership.  Whatever the reason, people can find it extremely difficult to be productive during periods of change and it is essential that managers have skills to be able to support their teams through it.
  • Stress Management. The mental health of employees is something which is acknowledged more and more in the workplace and managers need to be able to judge stress levels and likely consequences.    They also need to know how to manage employees who have mental (or, indeed, physical) health challenges or issues.
  • Conflict Management. A successful manager needs to be able to resolve conflict between team members. There are likely to be occasions when two people have a difference in opinion and the manager needs to be able to resolve that with a fair and transparent approach.

Managing Time

You may wonder why time management is not included in the list above.  And, of course, it is a critical skill for any busy manager.  But there is also a key role for the Managing Director in this one. You may recruit a new manager, or promote someone into a management role.  But often they are then expected to do their “day job” as well as managing a team of people.  Managing people is a role in itself.

A manager may be able to oversee one or two people as well as doing other work, but they cannot do a good job of managing a whole team of people, as well as having to meet other work deadlines.

This is another reason why it is not a good idea to promote someone to manager because they are good at the work done by the team.  You do not want to lose the skills of a high performing team member.  A good manager will spend a large proportion of their time managing people and so cannot do another full-time job as well.  If you do promote someone, then you need to ensure at least some of their work is taken from them.  This is so  they can concentrate of their management responsibilities.  You also need to invest in some training for them in those required skills.

In conclusion

If you want high performing teams who are productive, loyal and happy at work –  then you need to make sure they are managed properly.  And this does not mean micro-management.

To achieve such growth and productivity for your business, then you need to choose and train your managers carefully.  This will ensure  that they can work with your employees to achieve the best possible results for your business.

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

Good People Managers – Top Tips from JMA HR

Setting a good example

When you are a people manager, others will take their lead from you and follow your example – so make sure you set a good one!   They will copy all your bad habits and characteristics as well as the good ones.  If you stay working until all hours, that is what they will think you expect of them as well.  If you come into work, even when you are feeling lousy, then they will think that is what they need to do as well.

So be enthusiastic about your goals and vision and bring your team along with you.

Show you care

One of the best people managers I have ever known made the effort to visit each member of her team (sometimes virtually, by email or text) and check in with them each day.  That simple gesture – sometimes nothing more than “Good Morning, how are you today?”- endeared her to her team and gave them a chance to raise with her anything which might be bothering them.  It showed she cared about them.

Don’t give out blame or shame

Even when there are disasters – and there always are some – there is always something positive to latch onto.  That is much more healthy than pointing a finger.  Find out what happened and why – that way you can prevent a recurrence. Even if you feel blame is justified, it is rarely helpful to point it out.  How you react can make your team love you or can damage your working relationships for ever – it is your choice.

Be Transparent

Share as much as you can about the vision, goals and direction of the company.  And do it regularly.  Celebrate when things go well and thank people.  Share the bad news, as well.  Your team deserves to know how things stand, and if they feel trusted they will put in the effort to help you recover.

Listen and learn

Communication is a two way street and you need to be able to listen to your team and hear their concerns, frustrations and share their achievements.  People need to feel they can raise anything with you, without fear.  If they can’t talk to you, they will gossip with others and the truth will get garbled.  Communicating in person with them will help them feel valued.  Ask them what they want – they might surprise you.

Invest some time in helping your employees to grow

Invest some time and effort in helping your employees to grow.  You will reap the benefits and they will thank you for it.

Help them to get promoted.   They will stay longer and the Company will benefit.

Set them free and they will fly high

There is no need to micromanage everything and everyone.  When you empower others, give them space and allow them autonomy, then they will surprise you with their achievements. If you are not flexible, they will not trust you and they will become demotivated.

If you let them know they are valued and you trust them, they will soon be reaching for the stars.

Be good at what you do, but even more be a good people manager

People are often promoted to management positions because they have good technical skills.  Which is great.  Your team will be able to use your skills as a point of reference.

But even more important are the “soft” skills which enable you to be a good people manager.  These are the skills which you may not already have when you become a manager.  The good news is that they can be learnt.

The key message for now is that you need to learn them, fast.

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.

 

What is Mediation and How Do I Use it in the Workplace?

Mediation is a formal process to help resolve workplace disputes.  It has to be voluntary – it won’t work if one party or the other has been forced into it.  You must also ensure it is confidential.   Mediation involves an independent third party working with the conflicting parties.  The aim is  to try and find an amicable result which works for everyone.  It can be done internally, using a third party mediator who is not involved in the issue.  You need to ensure the mediator is seen as independent by all parties.  Alternatively, you can use an external mediator, who will definitely be independent.

The Benefits of Mediation

If you have conflict in the workplace it can be extremely disruptive, and not just for the parties involved.  It is crucial for you to manage this conflict before it destroys the smooth running of the organisation.  If you fail to manage it, then it will ultimately have a negative effect on your business.

The conflict could escalate to such an extent that  external organisations become involved (such as ACAS or Employment Tribunals in the UK).   Those organisations actively encourage parties to use mediation as a resolution.

As well as helping to resolve workplace conflicts, successful mediation can improve communication and restore trust.  It enables the parties to feel that their position has been heard and considered.  It enables people to move on from the conflict.

When should we be using mediation in the workplace?

Mediation can be used successfully to resolve issues where two people cannot work together.  I have used it successfully where two people had reached the point where they did not speak to each other, but where they needed to collaborate on a project.  Every time they needed to discuss anything, they just argued, with neither party listening to the other.   They were never going to be friends, but the mediation enabled them to work together in a professional manner.  It achieved a successful outcome for the project.

You can use mediation if your employee has raised a formal grievance.  Or it is sometimes useful if there has been a fairly minor act of misconduct.  Mediation can provide a safe environment to raise these issues.  They can be discussed and resolved without the need for formal action.

You could also use mediation as a formal way of following up any formal proceedings.  It can be a particularly helpful way to improve working relationships so that all parties can move forward.

What happens in mediation?

There is no set way for mediation to take place.  The mediator can discuss the alternative approaches with the individuals and agree what they want to do.  Sometimes, the mediator will discuss the issues separately with each party and then feedback to the other party until they can reach some agreement.  Alternatively, all parties can sit round a table and discuss the issues in an open forum.  The mediator can suggest solutions, or the individual parties can suggest solutions.  External mediators can often suggest practical solutions to complex problems.  The aim is for the parties to come up with outcomes which are appropriate and which work for all.

Mediation is a flexible solution and can often be more successful than having to abide by a decision or instruction from a third party.

The discussions are completely confidential and are not binding.  If an agreed outcome is reached, then that becomes binding.

Are there any disadvantages?

Mediation may not be the right solution for more complex problems, or where there has been a serious breach of conduct.

Mediation does not guarantee a successful resolution, which may make it hard to justify the cost.  If you use an internal mediator, then it is likely to take up  a good deal of their time, at least in the short-term.  This also moves their focus from the role they are employed to do.   Even if you use an external mediator, then it may still not be possible for the parties to reach a workable solution.

Mediation only works when both parties agree to take part in it.  Some people are not prepared to try to achieve an agreed outcome.  They are so entrenched in their view, that they want their “day in court” to prove the rights of their case.

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.

Five Steps Towards Easing The Recruitment Headache

 

One of the key issues faced by business today is recruiting the right person with the right skills and attitude.  There is no magic bullet which achieves this, but there are things which every employer can and should be doing, some of which may not cost much – or anything at all – which could make a huge difference to their workforce and their productivity. The average length an employee spends in any one employment is only about four years and it can cost about a third of an employee’s salary to replace them. Happy and fulfilled employees are more productive, more creative and less likely to leave, or take time off sick.

If you follow these simple steps, you will be on your way to making your Business stand out in the marketplace, so that your employees (and prospective candidates) can see a difference between you and your competitors.

  • We all need to feel valued and to have our efforts recognised.  Think about how much it brightens your day if someone thanks you unexpectedly for something or writes an appreciative rating or note about something you have done.  Just a simple – but genuinely heartfelt – “thank you” can go a long way.  It doesn’t have to be any big award or specific mention in public – just a pause by someone’s work station to let them know you have noticed their input and appreciate it.
  • We all need to feel that we belong to a tribe or are part of a team.  Where employees are in a team, then it is a fairly straightforward task  for the team manager or supervisor to manage and to engender a team spirit.  Where a person works on their own, or is not a team player, then it is more difficult, but even more important that they are made to feel welcome by others in the workplace and that they are included.  We all want to be seen and to feel appreciated.
  • Being an important cog. People need to understand how what they do benefits them, the team and the Company mission.  This needs to be reinforced regularly, so that they can see their contribution is valuable and valued.
  • We all have views and opinions on everything and a different viewpoint can sometimes bring a whole new perspective.  We need to feel that our opinion is sought and valued.  This does not mean that every suggestion has to be acted on or agreed, but if someone has made the (sometimes difficult) effort to put their head above the parapet and make a suggestion about work, then that deserves to be carefully considered and a response given.  If it is an impractical suggestion or there is a reason why it cannot be implemented, then the person who raised it deserves an explanation for that decision.  Implementing a suggestion scheme can be really powerful, as long as all the suggestions are properly considered and responses are given.
  • We all thrive on development, either of our skills, or personal development.  It may not cost a huge amount to provide some training, and it does not need to be complex training.  No matter how experienced someone is in their work, there is always something new to learn, or some new technique or improvement which can be taught.  If a worker feels their employer has invested in their training, and they feel even slightly more qualified as a result, then they are more likely to want to remain with that employer.  To quote Richard Branson “Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough, so they don’t want to”.

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