14 Apr 2020

How to manage your team from afar

We are living through a time of enormous uncertainty, and nowhere more so than in the world of work. If, like many people, you are physically separated from your colleagues at the moment, maintaining morale and communicating effectively can be a challenge.

But you owe it to them to make this period as productive for the business – and painless for them – as possible. Debrett's Academy director Rupert Wesson shares some advice for leading from a distance:

  • Be visible and available. Things are tricky right now, but you can help everyone by talking honestly and openly. Take time to talk about how the business is responding, and address individuals’ concerns on a personal level where possible. When any arise that you don’t know the answer to, be honest and show that you have listened and understood. Most importantly, although you will undoubtedly be dealing with more stress and anxiety than before, this shouldn’t be communicated to, or taken out on, your team.
  • Find out how your team are coping. It is important to understand what circumstances your team are operating in. Are they at home alone, or with family? What are their responsibilities as carer or childminder? Are they ill or self-isolating? Knowing a little bit about people outside of work will help you to be a better, more supportive leader.
  • Be flexible. The current circumstances mean that this is not working from home as we knew it. Some of your team will be balancing their day job with being teachers and carers, naturally putting a strain on their time. If you are prepared to be flexible, they will be too. Find out what time works best for calls and meetings, and anticipate possible interruptions or distractions from small children.
  • Be careful how you communicate. While it's no longer possible to speak to team members in person, be wary of relying on email if you're having to discuss a sensitive issue or deliver constructive criticism. Email can be a blunt instrument when it comes to expressing anything difficult or contentious, so schedule a call instead. You can always follow up by email if you need written confirmation of what has been discussed.
  • Stay busy. Aim to keep your team busy, but not pointlessly so. Once you have collectively identified your goals, allow the team to have a say in working out their own agenda. If they have identified tasks that will support the business, ask them about their outputs and timelines. Find out if they need any assistance from you along the way, and offer direction to those who find this challenging. Don’t allow your own stress to transform you into a dictator or micro-manager (or both), which will be emotionally draining and unproductive for everyone involved.
  • Finally, try not to worry. Plan for the future of your team or business in a way that is realistic and honest. The best bosses are pragmatic optimists. Be positive and remember to recognise the achievements and resilience of team members under such difficult and unusual circumstances.

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