Leading effectively from home

In this current climate, no one knows what tomorrow will bring, let alone the next few weeks or months. But one thing we do know is that there will, at least in the short term, be a fundamental change in the way we work, as the shift to home and remote working becomes more common. And, while the physical process can be relatively straightforward with home access to phones, wi-fi, and laptops, the emotional and mental process is often overlooked, but is just as vital.

So what can leaders do to ensure continuity and connection within their teams and their businesses knowing that, for many knowledge-based functions, there will be a significant reduction in physical, face to face interaction?

Prioritise the important (not just the urgent)

A first practical step is to ensure that enough time is carved out for conversations that are not just about the urgent, but also about the important.The Eisenhower Matrix, a tool designed by US President Dwight D Eisenhower to help prioritise tasks by urgency and importance, can offer some help here. Even in normal times, we all tend to prioritise the urgent – whether or not it’s important – and often forget about what’s important, but feels less urgent. Today, given what is happening around us, it’s even more tempting to focus on the most pressing operational, logistical and financial emergencies. And while these clearly need immediate tending to, we should not lose sight of matters that are just as important. Let’s dive into a few examples.

Maintain the social fabric

The more trivial conversations you might have as a leader are a part of the everyday social fabric of a business. The ability to check in with each other – a head around the door, a coffee, a chat in the lift, those unscheduled water cooler moments – are all a critical part of that continuity of connection which can get lost when working patterns are disrupted. While these conversations may not feel urgent in the short term, they are in fact a critical ingredient, especially so for those who gain energy from these interactions. Quoting a recent Twitter feed “If we all start working from home, we need to check in on the extroverts”, it’s often this group who may begin to struggle once they are suddenly deprived of the many stimuli they ordinarily thrive on. Add to this the social isolation that will inevitably trickle into everyone’s personal life, and whack– you’ve just lost a big chunk of creativity, productivity and engagement from your team and workforce.

Ensuring you create time for social interactions and prioritising video calls over phone calls can go a long way towards ensuring you are bringing everyone (including the extroverts) along with you on your leadership ride.

Tailor your leadership

When time is of the essence, and critical decisions need to be made rapidly, it is easy to fall into the “one size must fit all” leadership trap. Sending emails out to large groups of people, chairing calls with numerous attendees might be unavoidable – but being able to balance this with an ad-hoc approach for each of your direct reports can prove to be an invaluable asset.

Knowing individual strengths, vulnerabilities and personal circumstances can allow you to tailor your leadership style and communication to each of your people, and with that bring out their best.

Communicate clearly

At a time when we are all being bombarded by news, facts, figures, stats, the quality of a leader’s communication will matter significantly more than the quantity. Uncertainty causes even the best of us to lose confidence, focus and engagement.

Setting out clear guidelines and expectations therefore becomes non-negotiable. Ensure that each of your team understands what the “ask” is, and the timing associated with that. Co-create a set of targets, ambitions and define what the standards should look like. Hold your team accountable and check in on progress, ensuring you convey a sense of support throughout.

And above all, communicate with openness and candour. Honesty and authenticity can become your most valuable relationship-building tools, at a time when people all around the world are increasingly questioning the quality of information provided to them.

Strengthen the community

If you are a CEO, a member of an ExCo or a Board, a Partner etc., chances are your calendar will be filled with opportunities to connect with a variety of people across the business, which will offer you several opportunities to feel part of a community that shares clear and up to date information. Individuals who operate two, three or more steps down in the organisational hierarchy often don’t have access to these feeds and, once off-site, might more easily feel isolated from this inner circle.

Establish platforms of communication with the broader community and carve out the time to connect at regular intervals. Turn that weekly Monday morning call into three calls spread throughout the week. Organise daily wrap-ups with your team. Have frequent briefing notes or messages circulated from the top team. Reinforce messaging around your organisational values and vision, focus them on the other side of the precipice, and remind everyone of the behaviours all should expect from each other during these challenging times. Instilling a sense of pride in being part of this community can play a big role in maintaining engagement and loyalty.

Invest in your leaders

Leverage, leverage, leverage. At a time when it’s “all hands on deck”, organisations that develop their leaders early on have a significant advantage. The more “leadership DNA” you can count on in the organisational layers below you, the more leverage you have in order to cascade messages from the top, and maintain broad based engagement, empowerment and focus.

At every level your team is tested in their leadership skills – with the right dose of support now, many may come out of this stronger than before and with a step-change in ability. Consider investing in coaching to enable your top team and leaders across the organisation to lead more effectively and with greater impact. Supporting your leaders through these challenging times will make them feel more valued and respected. And this powerful combination can have lasting positive effects, months and years after COVID-19 ceases to be a threat.