For a year now the whole world is going through the COVID-19 pandemic that brought over dismal, destruction, disaster, quarantines, lockdowns, and physical distancing. It brought with it the economic downturns and general business hiccups.
COVID-19 created a unique crisis for businesses and most of us found ourselves working remotely from home. Though work from home, particularly in the IT sector, had been on the rise even before the pandemic, it has now increased substantially. For most people in the IT sector, the office has become a place wheresoever their technology is. Employees around the world have this new confidence in working from home as it has proved to be flexible, more performance oriented, more productive, and available-even-at-odd-hours. According to the President of the Global Workplace Analytics about 25-30% of the American workforce will be working-from-home multiple days a week by the end of 2021. A January report published by the Statista Research Department explains that 16% of respondents are full-time teleworkers and 33% prefer to work at home more frequently across countries like Australia, Canada, the UK, and the USA.
Even the post-COVID-19 workplace is not going to be same as before; the organisations will evolve, adapt, and turn challenges into opportunities by collaborating with people; by helping them to maintain their home offices. Lenovo’s global research report of 20,262 employees worldwide has revealed that 74% of employees from India will continue to work from home more than they did before the pandemic. So, leaders specifically would need to display higher competence in leading their teams, whether they have a team of one or of hundreds.
I spoke with Sandra Colhando, Co-founder of TransformMe Learning and CXO Coach, and with Prabhjeet Oberoi, General Manager at AdvantageGo, who shared with me how can leaders and managers take inspiring actions and instil confidence in their team members. They shared that the most essential for all the leaders is the safety and well-being of their people, whilst ensuring that they respond to the psychological, physiological and socio-technical challenges, effectively.
I ask Sandra questions particularly for women in senior positions.
RT: Any tips for female leaders to deal with stress and pressure rising from both personal and professional commitments?
SC: ‘Balance’ is linear and not concurrent. What I mean is that you don’t need to rise in all your roles simultaneously. You rise in one and dip (take a break) in the other, and then come back up, like a see-saw we so enjoyed as kids. There will be times when the see-saw is parallel to the ground (where our personal & professional roles are aligned perfectly at the same time), but that’s only for a few moments. Its natural tendency is to rise up and down—that’s the balance. So, give yourself a break from trying to rise and be best in all our roles that we perform.
RT: What do you think female managers can do to ensure better managing both their personal and professional lives without hassle when working from home for such a long period?
SC: Create Boundaries! I am running my office from home for past 8 years. I started when my second baby was born; she and my business have grown together. What I have learnt from my initial struggle of doing it all, is that I can’t do it all; and that I have to set time and boundaries for my personal and professional roles. My kids & my partner know when I am on a virtual meeting or a call; they do not disturb me at all. In return when my work is over and I step outside my desk, I give them 100% of my attention!
RT: What is that their husbands and family can do to assist them to not get distracted when working for office and what is that their male colleagues can do not to bother them when they must spend time with family?
SC: Open and clear communication to all parties whether family or colleagues is the key to set boundaries and expectations. Before that, stop feeling GUILTY, know what true balance means and claim your space confidently. I often notice we (women) don’t ask, but expect our male peers/partners to understand. Ask. Persist. And you should Gain!
Prabhjeet focuses more on the leadership response to the evolving crisis for everyone.
RT: Do you think working from home is good for business or going to work/office ensures better productivity?
PO: I call it WFA—Work From Anywhere! Working shouldn’t be restricted only to home or office. At the end of the day, it is just an eco-system that you need to create around yourself for better productivity. Whether it is WFH (Work From Home), WFO (Work From Office), or WFA (Work From Anywhere); WORK is common in all the three actions. However, if given a choice between WFH and WFO, I should suggest 20-80 rule; one day a week WFO and the rest of the days WFH! Work from home gives people a great sense of independence as they can plan their day and own it completely. On the other hand, going to office once a week will provide opportunities for team togetherness. The only disadvantage that I see is that sometimes people get carried away while working remotely. They know when to start working, but forget to sign-off in time; stretching themselves beyond office hours. This might burst-up in form of depression and anxiety. For female employees, it becomes more difficult as they need to take care of both home and office. Anyway, I personally believe that WFH is much better as it allows you to streamline your to-do lists more efficiently. If matched up with improved lifestyle, then you can do complete justice to work from anywhere!
RT: What ways would you suggest to leaders to ensure better communication and stronger relations with their teams while working remotely?
PO: I think ‘communication’ is the most vital in remote working environment and you should choose your mode of communication wisely. All communication consists of primarily two things—information and action. To share information, you may choose to send a mail, but if you expect immediate action to be taken, then do call the person directly and talk through it. Chat mediums can be used for informal yet official communication. I would further like to suggest that you don’t paint all communication as urgent communication. Stay natural, because your way of communication directly impacts your relationship with your team mate. Always be conscious regarding your communication in these trying times, while ensuring that you garner compassion, clarity, authenticity, and agility. Also do cut down unnecessary meetings as they are the worst time-killers. Go for selective meetings where your participation matters.
RT: How can a leader encourage people who might procrastinate and help them be more creative?
PO: Leaders can be innovative. The first technique is not to eat the entire elephant in one go; rather, help your teams to divide bigger tasks into smaller tasks of say, 15 minutes. Finish each task one by one while having fun; completing tasks will give you a sense of achievement. The other technique is where leaders can understand their team’s daily patterns and identify their distractions. They must then eliminate distractions by focusing on a task at one point of time. Elimination of distractions gradually and automatically enhances your team’s daily patterns. Most importantly, leaders can help their teams by focusing on their strengths than on their areas-of-improvements. When you focus on the latter, then people usually give up and fell into the trap of procrastination as they believe it might take ages for them to augment their skills. When you focus on weaknesses, people tend to procrastinate as they avoid advancement. So, the real leaders focus more on strengths of their teams.
Going forward, many organisations are realising the benefits of work-from-home and so, leaders and managers will need to work more with their teams to coach and recoach and to address the emerging needs of the changing workplace.
Leaders/Managers will need to:
- Lead with empathy. Work and home lives have changes drastically. Teams are juggling between meeting a deadline, taking a call, and facilitating online learning for their children. By being acquainted of your team’s circumstances, you can manage things more efficiently.
- Trust their teams. You might have to adopt a new management style where you give more autonomy to your teams. You may communicate regularly; say once or twice a week, but do not micromanage their execution.
- Learn for the foreseeable future: You may need to learn that future will be technology driven and digitised and so, you should ensure enabled, connected, and empowered digital environments to your teams. Ensure flexibility and agility.
- Be more open-minded and promote a sense of belonging: Teleworking can increase the feelings of isolation and so, it becomes the mangers’/leaders’ responsibilities to ensure that each team member is connected, respected, and treated fairly.