How are you currently feeling about working from home? How effective are you right now as a homeworker? We kicked off with these questions in our live panel discussion on the realities of working from home, attended by more than 70 of our apprentices in leadership and management. In the discussion we covered key topics including:
- Individual needs and preferences
- Prioritisation and ways of working
The context for this webinar, the first in a series aimed at providing relevant, real-world support to our apprentices and their teams during this Covid-19 crisis, is a turbulent climate for most of our learners. While many will have been used to working from home intermittently, recent events have enforced a prolonged period of working – and managing teams – solely from home. The impact of that, the speed at which it happened, and the uncertainty about when we will return to our past ways of working leaves a very different set of emotions, challenges and opportunities.
Prior to Covid-19, research showed a positive correlation between homeworking and productivity, yet we are now in a much more complex situation. According to Nicolas Bloom, senior fellow at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research, “We are homeworking alongside our kids, in unsuitable spaces, with no choice and no in-office days. This will create a productivity disaster for firms.” Given the potential impact, we wanted to explore how we can best navigate the challenges and continue steering ourselves and our businesses towards our goals.
So how are today’s homeworkers faring?
Our initial poll revealed a real melee of feelings – a significant number of people said they felt nervous or overwhelmed, while others reported feeling grateful or hopeful. Delving a little deeper would likely show a more complex picture where each of us is feeling a combination of emotions as situations change and we try to adjust.
In response to how effective managers are working at home, we saw a typical bell curve, with the most common answer being 7 on a scale of 1 to 10. It seems that we’re adapting, but there are clearly steps we feel we can take to improve productivity and well-being.
Here are some of the key themes that emerged from the discussion. We hope you find something helpful or thought-provoking here.
It’s important to go on easy on yourself. Words such as ‘unprecedented’ and ‘uncertain’ are at risk of losing their gravitas through overuse, but we are absolutely experiencing something that is new to every single one of us. The world has indeed turned upside down. Re-thinking our own expectations about our daily achievements is necessary to be kind to ourselves. Only then will we be able to turn our attention to our teams and others that we support. Fit your own oxygen mask first.
Tips for self-care:
- Accept that you are doing your best and your best is good enough.
- Burning yourself out won’t benefit you, your family or your business, so don’t overdo it.
- Structure your day. When homeworking, it’s easy to slip into a sense of always being ‘on’ and spend time working out of hours that you wouldn’t normally.
- Create a to-do list that doesn’t give you a headache or anxiety when you look at it. Add some time at the top of that to-do list, that is just for you.
- Find your happy place! Doing something you enjoy each day gives a sense of fulfilment. This could be watching a TV show with children, reading a book, calling a friend.
- Take time to go out for a walk (without the work phone) or do some exercise. Those endorphins are needed now more than ever.
- Manage your own time – self-care activities may not slot neatly around the traditional working day. Build flexibility into your schedule. If you want to log into your email to do some admin once the children are in bed, communicate that with your team and do what works best for you.
- Schedule 15-minute slots to deal with chat pop ups, ‘small request’ interruptions.
- As a leader, put such self-care activities into your diary so you team can see that you are looking after yourself. They are then much more likely to follow your example.
- Make yourself physical boundaries, such as not taking mobile phones to the toilet in case we miss something!
- Bend the rules – sometimes a child doesn’t need to be hidden away if it’s a close colleague that you chat to everyday. They can wave and say hello! Small changes like this can reduce unnecessary pressure points.
- Talk about your ‘ugly truths’ and ‘small successes’ with family, colleagues or friends. This could be during a family meal or virtual get together with friends. It’s a great way to put things into perspective and keep a realistic expectation of ourselves and others.
- Plan your day or week, as best you can in such changeable circumstances. Put the emphasis on what you would like to achieve – not what you feel you have to achieve.
- Be pragmatic – take annual leave when you can. You may not be able to travel anywhere but switching off for a few days is necessary to re-charge. It is very hard to keep going at the pace most of us are doing right now.
Individual needs and preferences
This crisis is making us all think more deeply about our own needs and preferences. This, in turn, can help us become better managers. Take each member of your team as an individual in terms of what communication and support they actually need in order to be able to do their job well. It’s best practice for managing a high performing team, and the current situation is a prompt for managers to check they are nurturing their team members in this way.
Tips for addressing individual needs:
- Learn about the personal situation for each team member. What is their homeworking set up? What are their challenges? How are they feeling? What motivates them? What is going on for them right now?
- Be conscious of neurodiversity and preferences. Does your team member consider themselves to be an introvert or extrovert? Have they made you aware that they are autistic or diagnosed with ADHD, for example? Such awareness could have a positive impact on how you find the best way to communicate and develop your working relationship.
- Explicitly give the team freedom to do what they enjoy doing by encouraging them to schedule that time.
- Give people time to settle into each day – are 9am video calls the best way to start the day for everyone?
- Consider initiatives like daily tea breaks with the team (non work topics only!) or virtual coffee meet ups, as they offer a great way to help people in different situations to connect.
- Don’t make assumptions about what channels people are comfortable with. “One of my favourite coaching questions is ‘What are you assuming about this?’ because to get creative with solutions, we need to become aware of the assumptions we are making and challenging those.” Teresa Roberts
- Try to get the balance right with regard to communicating with the team. Create ways in which people can dip in and out of information. For example, consider setting up an internal Teams channel so people can opt in/opt out of which content and resources they receive.
Trust is the backbone of high performing remote teams. It has to be implicit and genuine. When the whole team is dispersed, perhaps for the first time, finding ways to build that trust is critical to withstand the lack of face-to-face connection.
Tips for building trust:
- It’s easy to flip back into a ‘managing’ mindset – you don’t have oversight of your team, so it’s natural to feel a little more out of control. Be aware of that and demonstrate that you trust your team members.
- Regular contact shouldn’t be to check up on people. It should be for genuine work-based reasons and also to make sure they are ok and have the support they need.
- Recognising team members’ achievements is a great way to build trust and encourage discretionary effort.
- Look for and facilitate opportunities for people to work together, building trust naturally through collaboration and shared goals.
- Even if you thought you had a pretty good team dynamic before this crisis, now is the time to revisit how you all work together. Reinforce what worked well and take the opportunity to work on weak spots now that situations have changed.
- Be respectful and conscious of when you are judging others unnecessarily. Does it really matter if different people are doing things in their own way? Better to understand why they are approaching it in that way and to try to support them.
“I’ve spoken to a number of people that are giving themselves mountains of work to somehow evidence to their manager that they are working and not be seen as skiving. Did you know that your manager is probably in the exact boat as you? With the exact same worries and concerns, as well as worrying about you and your well-being.” Grace Mosuro, Corndel PDE and webinar panellist.
Prioritisation and ways of working
We all adjust to change at differing speeds. As social distancing and our new ways of working continue, it’s important to think about what is within our control in this situation. Perhaps it’s a good time for a re-think about what we focus on our time on, and how we do it.
Tips for re-thinking priorities and ways of working:
- Adopt an opportunity mindset. Lots more doors open during any period of change. Think about what is now a possibility for you and for your team. For example, helping others with a project, sharing knowledge (find that inner tech genius!), encouraging the pooling of ideas and innovation.
- As a leader, now is a good time to re-prioritise business goals. What was top of the agenda at the start of 2020 may now not be the right thing to be focusing on. Revisiting individual and team KPIs will help you focus on what the business needs in the short, medium and long term. This can have a direct impact on productivity by getting your team to work on the right things, at the right time.
- Pay attention to motivation levels. If discretionary effort is starting to drop off because a project doesn’t seem as important, perhaps it’s not the right thing to focus on. Be brave in your decisions around priorities.
- If team members are struggling to stay on track, it can be helpful to set up an ‘accountability buddy’, agreeing actions with someone who is also working on the project or with whom there is a common goal.
- There is an elephant in the room – people are understanding, but there is still pressure to get the job done. Be clear about what needs doing and how the team will support each other, particularly when faced with illness and tricky personal circumstances.
- Others in the household may now be around more than usual – partners, grown up children, young kids, pets. It may feel like they are all being demanding, and this is totally understandable. Look for the plus side of the situation. More time with loved ones, insights into each other’s lives etc
- Privacy and space is now a huge issue for some, and to Nicolas Bloom’s point, can impact productivity. The key is to recognise this risk and re-set the baseline, taking control of as much as we can.
You can listen to the full panel discussion here. Thank you to our panellists and hosts, Mark Byrne, Bobbie Graham, Jina Melnyk, Grace Mosuro, Teresa Roberts and Jane Shannon; and to all of our learners who took the time to join us.