8 Ways to Ease Team Pressures While Working Remotely
In the past few months since the lockdown was announced, several companies have gone into work from home (WFH) mode and see that it’s working for them. Saving on travel time and costs for employees and office space costs for employers, it seems like a win-win. About two-thirds of the 4.3 million IT-BPO workforce across the country have moved to this model to keep services uninterrupted during the lockdown, and several say it can work for them permanently. But this has come with its own set of challenges.
Even as large companies like Facebook, Twitter as well as homegrown companies like TCS, embrace the idea of remote working, the absence of personal, face-to-face interaction definitely has an impact on the mental and physical well-being.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, while extending remote working for the IT giant till October this year, warned of the serious consequences of making remote work permanent, and was quoted saying it is just “replacing one dogma with another dogma”.
WFH also poses additional challenges from inadequate infrastructure (like ergonomic furniture, good connectivity), a struggle to fix a good time schedule, and the added pressures of juggling home and work.
This situation is new for everybody and is just unfolding, and requires all of us to go into re-learning mode. It needs time.
But to begin with, here are 8 ways to ease the pressures on you and your team in the WFH scenario:
1. Follow up only when time is up:
In some western cultures, trust is task-based. In India, trust is relationship-based. In virtual working, trust between people becomes even more important whether it is with a colleague, customer or manager. The first mistake we make that adds a lot of pressure on employees is – frequent follow-ups. It conveys the message that you lack trust (in the person’s ability to complete the task) and hence you need to follow-up.
If a task is assigned to an employee and you have not heard back even after the agreed time is over, only then follow up. This means that you have to factor in any challenges or delays that may come up. It does not make sense to follow up frequently as it may lead to frustration. This applies for a regular work scenario as well. So curb the itch to micromanage, and avoid checking in too soon.
As the manager of an employee who is unable to deliver work on time try to understand ‘what could you have done to help complete the task on time?’ rather than ‘what caused the delay?’ This will further build trust and strengthen the working relationship.
2. Set interim milestones:
While following up too often is be a no-no, the work, goals and timelines can be split into smaller units that are achievable and will also ease the pressure of having to deliver on one large target.
When we break large goals into smaller milestones, each milestone becomes a reason for motivation, a sense of accomplishment, a reason to take a short break, to give or receive an appreciation. With so much pressure to keep delivering, employees also need to feel good. They need acknowledgement, appreciation, a moral boost more now than ever before.
Setting interim milestones will enable the team to move forward with purpose, also to stay motivated and positive. As a manager, through this approach, you will be able to track systematic progress, keep everybody in the loop and also avoid delays.
3. Don’t commit to timelines on behalf of others:
You may have experienced while working from home that certain tasks now take lesser time than usual and certain others have taken longer than usual. For instance, on a normal day, you could turn around a creative copy for your client in a day, chances are the team might need a little more time given that they are dispersed, distracted and stretched. On the other hand, you may feel that you are able to give more time to ideate with the team on the copy than you usually did.
The timelines of usual work that we know are evolving and rather than having to send work late to the client, for a few months, engage with the team to establish a realistic time frame, and keep a buffer time before committing to a deadline. While we may come back to the pre-COVID way of work, these new time benchmarks may apply even in a regular work scenario.
As a manager of the team that is undergoing this evolution, pay extra attention details (i.e. the smaller tasks), often they get left out while creating a new system and then the system backfires as all tasks are not taken into consideration.
4. Avoid reprimanding unless absolutely necessary:
Reprimanding is the topmost reason why workplace conflicts arise. In my experience, reprimanding is anyways challenging for most managers and it even more challenging when not done face-to-face. When working remotely, reprimanding can result in what I call a ‘series of misinterpretations’ that can be detrimental to your team spirit. It’s the classic scenario for ‘he-said-she-said’ kind of conflicts.
No, don’t become lenient; be wise in choosing your battles. Continuing the previous example, timelines are not as sacrosanct as the outcome itself and quality of work. While meeting deadlines are important, and have been the top priority of any project so far, in the upheaval of WFH should some deadlines be missed, for instance, a days delay in replying to a follow-up mail or delay in joining a con call, try to accommodating about it and not pull up the team member at every instance.
5. Avoid discussing personal circumstances on a group call:
We are aware of all challenges people are facing under these circumstances. So it is important to be gender-sensitive, culture-sensitive, background sensitive and all of which you would apply in a regular work scenario.
For example, don’t single out a woman employee to ask how she is managing the cleaning and cooking especially when there are several male employees present on the call. It signals an unconscious bias and must be avoided.
It is important to be aware and maintain that. Theoretical we know this, equality is important, but believe me, subconsciously we hold many stereotypes and we have to be mindful that they don’t slip away, not even casually in current times.
As a manager, keep the call professional, and always make sure you inform all your team members that you are available to your team when required in case they want to connect individually. Not saying that you don’t care for your team. Be empathic, just not always in a group. Make an effort to reach out to each team member at least once in a while.
6. Offer help when you have some time at hand:
The current situation has further blurred the hierarchy in the workplace. Hybrid roles, and stretching out of one’s comfort zone and taking on things that are not traditionally defined under your role are going to be more common.
So, something that you may have not had to do as a manager earlier, like drafting a proposal for instance, or given the current flux, stepping in on a call to help your team members with a client. The point is, if you can take up some additional task which will take some load off your team members.
As a manager of a team, this will enable you to focus on team building, trust-building and improve speed in delivery of work whilst replacing the time you would have spent following up.
7. Ask for help:
There may be times when due to other priorities one is not able to do as much in terms of delivering work. For example, your neighbours have tested positive for COVID-19 and the entire floor has been asked to go on quarantine for 14 days to avoid contact.
At such time ask for help. You or anyone else in this situation may not be able to deliver the same amount of work in the same about of time. Holding on to work that is likely to be delayed will only cause pile-up and eventually lead to stress and conflict.
Don’t hesitate to ask your team members to step up on certain tasks for you. This will also be exemplary for others who might find it difficult to offload work due to guilt or fear.
As the manager of the employee who is seeking help, take quick action. Reassign the work if required, and offer all and any support in that regard to the people involved.
8. Don’t take teammates for granted:
In the WFH situation, many people found initially that they were working more number of hours, and were getting calls and emails at odd hours. Also, there was no time for lunch or a dinner break, and this was becoming tough. As the weeks rolled, with feedback, many organisations became aware of this and have been more vigilant to maintain these boundaries and work time.
Calling an employee after work hours or during lunch or dinner time, acknowledging that the employee may have other things to wind up at home (some chores) and yet extending the discussion can be very insensitive. This won’t go down well in the long run.
As a manager of the team, you need to set the right example by respecting and maintaining your teams’ boundaries even when they work remotely.
COVID-19 has brought about a change in mindset in the professional community, that organisations have been struggling to embrace for some time now. It now seems to be the only way forward.
We may have to come full circle in very little time – from initial resistance to acceptance, to burn out before reaching a sustained state; and have seen the outcomes and benefits of flexibility in work. For this to continue, we all have to strive to effectively manage our teams and our employees.
At Yellow Spark, we help you rethink, redraft and implement employee-centric policies that transform your work culture. To know more write to firstname.lastname@example.org
Author Profile: Deepam Yogi is an adventurer at heart, socially conscious in her gut and professionally a strategic consultant. She co-founded Yellow Spark to support organisations to build workplaces that people love being a part of. Deepam describes herself as a shy yet opinionated writer and firmly believes that most answers to complex issues lie in simple communication.