Managing your team’s performance in the world of remote working

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The response to the Covid-19 pandemic has wrought radical changes to the way businesses work. The need for social isolation to combat the spread of the virus has had a significant impact on the way organisations operate. A need to adjust adds to the pressure on managers to get the best out of their teams – especially in a challenging economic climate.

Marcus Shah, a Partner in our Interim Management – CFO & Finance practice and a specialist within Private Equity, shares his findings from a fascinating conversation with Jana Klimecki. Jana is a Director of Teamclicks, a leadership consulting business, and the Consulting Portfolio Director – Human Capital of Mayfair Equity Partners.

Communication: When poor leadership is not an option

The communication skills that managers and team leaders require to succeed in business have not changed because of the pandemic. However, it is more critical than ever that people master them.

When it comes to performance management, assessment, talent retention and people development, as Jana put it bluntly: “Bad management is not an option anymore.” Teams will justifiably expect that in a difficult time, their leaders will try to improve the way they operate.

There are five key skills that managers need to master in the new workplace forged by the response to Covid-19:

  • Listening to people
  • Being very clear in expressing your expectations
  • Telling colleagues when they are on the right – or wrong – track
  • Giving honest feedback
  • Coaching; not simply by telling people what to do but by encouraging them to learn and develop

It goes without saying that these actions are desirable at any time. But in a world where people work remotely and in isolation, their application is essential.

Clarity of purpose is key to engaging and energising your teams

When managing and appraising the people who work for them, leaders need to be as clear as possible in the way they speak with their teams and discuss what business aims need to be fulfilled.

It is essential that managers understand how individuals’ circumstances will vary when working away from an office. During the pandemic, it has been extremely common to hear people describe themselves as being on an emotional roller-coaster.

Managers must be mindful of people’s circumstances and remember at all times that, as Jana said: “They are engaging with a person, not a resource.”

With regard to the goals of a business, it is essential that all team members are aware of the clear North Star towards which the organisation is navigating. Even if, in a time of flux, it is not clear what the targets are for this week or next, managers should ensure that all staff are aware of the overall direction of the travel, as well as the values of a company.

Performance assessment and biases must move with the times

Assessing the performance of teams and individuals is, on some levels, much harder for managers when their team is no longer gathered in an office.

For instance, it is no longer possible for managers to succumb to the unconscious bias of rating someone highly simply because they conspicuously put in long hours at their desk.

In sectors such as finance, performance assessment will always be closely tied to targets around revenue and P&L. However, in the world of remote work it is essential that managers take a more holistic view of performance.

Rather than simply review the output of an individual by looking at a list of targets hit and projects delivered, a deeper conversation should take place. It is vital that people are encouraged to speak openly about the areas where they feel they are making progress, and others in which they may need help.

This conversation, Jana believes, absolutely must be an open, two-way process that, from a manager’s perspective, covers the following areas:

  • what the team member has done; in effect, their output
  • what behaviours you would like to see them demonstrate
  • what technical skills they have – and still need

None of this works if you are not having great conversations with people and genuinely engaging with them. Telling people to do something is not engagement; authentic engagement is always a two-way process, a dialogue through which you can co-create a strategy or a solution.

It is extremely important that people can feel they own their own development.

Managers need to role-model life balance

It is interesting to note that, in response to the pandemic, nobody is working shorter days. Many people are actually putting in many more hours for their company, almost as if they perceive a need to justify the fact they are working from home.

As a result, people across the nation are exhausted – and that includes managers. That means skills such as self-discipline and taking care of your personal wellbeing become important.

If managers can master those skills, achieve more of a balance and use their time more wisely, they can role-model the right behaviours to their teams.

Of course, it is important to be present in the moment, but that has to be achieved mindfully. There is no value in simply being a hamster on a wheel – and sometimes the most value can be achieved by shutting down your computer.

Empathy: a key skill for managers in the remote world

There is variation in attitude between organisations; some prize empathy highly, while others view it as the opposite of commerciality.

However, we believe empathy is a critical skill. At its heart, empathy is about putting yourself in another person’s shoes, even just for a moment. You will then have a greater ability to understand their experiences, which will in turn add greater value to the business conversations you have.

If people feel you have heard them – not merely as a colleague but as a person – they will feel more valued and, as a result, more engaged.

Ask more questions – and listen to the answers

Openness and communication are clearly key in the modern, post-Covid business context. One of the best ways of stimulating two-way conversations is by leaders throwing questions at their team.

Managers are pre-conditioned to feeling they need to be able to solve all the problems they face, but one thing 2020 taught us is that you have to be able to consult with your team and find out what is, and is not, working for them.

Opening up that dialogue through asking questions, and listening to the answers, will enable a deeper communication and an understanding of who needs support – and how you can work together to support them.

As Jana put it: “The system doesn’t matter if you are not having great conversations with people.” It really does all come down to communication.