Lockdown 2.0: leading remote workers? Marshal your 4Cs
This time around, the most successful leaders are spelling “lockdown” with four Cs. (And no, they’re not Covid, Constant Calls, and “Cripes, not this again.”)
The mental and financial effects of the first wave – along with seasonal depression and the prospect of a socially-distanced Christmas – are likely to make riding the second one harder, not easier. And for leaders, it’s not just about getting people through lockdown; it’s about preparing them for a long-term future of remote and flexible working.
But the bad news is also the good news. “Not again” means we’ve done this before. The first lockdown gave us four important learnings that we can and must apply if our teams are to survive and thrive. These are the four Cs of lockdown leadership.
Clarity and intentionality are vital when you’re communicating with a distant team. Part of that is just practical: without the kind of casual checking-in that happens in the office, people who don’t know exactly what’s wanted of them and what the priorities are can waste days barking up the wrong tree.
Part of it, though, is emotional. People are waking up every day wondering if today will be the day they lose their jobs. Being communicative, and reassuring them that you’ll keep them in the loop, helps to ease that worry.
“Connection” doesn’t just mean one-way communication from the top down. Nor does it mean slogging through endless Zoom meetings.
Junior leaders tend to struggle without the ability to keep an eye on workers at the office and intuit when someone needs help. In the first lockdown, some overcompensated, booking upwards of 30 hours of virtual meetings a week.
Research by TCS has found that frequent 1:1 chats with your direct reports get better results than frequent group meetings.Limit time in group meetings by using templates for different meeting types, and don’t let routine status updates overwhelm useful discussion.
Encourage collaboration by bringing people from different teams together to work on small projects. But do remember that it’s about encouraging collaboration, not forcing it. One of the keys to keeping remote workers engaged is to give them autonomy and treat them like adults. Once an atmosphere of collaboration is established, people can and will find their own opportunities to work together. Virtual tools can help a collaborative work culture develop faster, but only if workers are given the flexibility to find their own ways of using them.
Looking further ahead, once lockdown is over, leaders will need to make decisions about hybrid work practices. A 2015 article by Nancy Dixon for the Drucker Forum introduced the “oscillation principle” for remote working: “isolate to concentrate; convene to collaborate”. In other words, we need to ask which types of work will go better in the workplace, and which are more suited to remote or hybrid working.
Watch out for signs of stress or distress in your team, check proactively on how people are feeling, and be ready to step up and provide support if needed. Protect against burnout by helping individuals and teams manage their energy – and most importantly, remember to manage your own.