Six months back when anyone would think of an office setting, it would be all about workstations, conference rooms and cafeterias. Move to the present and this visualization has now altered significantly owing to the work from home arrangements going mainstream. A time when you could physically sit with your team, understand both verbal and nonverbal cues, help them when needed is going to take some time to return.

Can you imagine how much the role of a manager has changed or rather evolved under such circumstances? Amid all the uncertainty, the profile of those in middle management has expanded to include a spectrum of responsibilities. Being a manager in this unpredictable crisis will need some skill enhancement and most importantly, a shift in one’s mindset.

Flexibility is key

The definition of flexibility at work has changed from purely time flexibility to priority-based flexibility. Nalini Sylvester, VP at Fidelity Investments explains this through an interesting example. She says, "I realized that Monday morning huddles at 9 a.m. won’t work during the pandemic. People were not as focused as they were in person and the weekend hangover was more prominent while working from home. Still, the Monday huddle was key to prioritizing work for the rest of the week. As a team we came up with a plan to key in priorities in their Microsoft Teams board and the meeting was pushed for 11 a.m. Since it was a collective decision, everybody did due diligence and held themselves accountable. Being flexible not just with work hours but also with work schedules and focusing on priorities has made the transition to remote working seamless.”

Communication needs to be transparent and focused

Shyamala Natrajan, development manager at a services firm, claims that what she learnt in the first month of remote working about effective communication trumps her 15 years of experience. She says, "team morale needs a constant boost and e-mails alone won’t work."

She scheduled one-on-one with her team members and used those for discussing their personal struggles to meet professional commitments. Since she was aware of the deadlines and workload of each member in the coming months, she helped each of them create a work schedule with periodic breaks. She also gave them the flexibility to work in their own time zones since many had to juggle childcare as well. She was also doubly cautious of how her e-mails would be perceived and strived to keep the channel transparent and approachable.

Team's morale is the real deal breaker!

“We are dealing with a work situation where colleagues cannot head out for coffee breaks or hang out for happy hours and this creates an invisible veil”, says Nikhil Dubey, technical manager at Energizer. “If you want your team to collaborate and work with synergy, it is important to kindle the team spirit. Otherwise you risk every member working in a silo.”

Nikhil arranged a video conferring chat every Friday evening and encouraged the team to invite their families too. This created an incredible sense of belonging and boosted employee morale. Trivia quizzes, virtual coffee hours and happy hours were some of the initiatives that worked wonders. They even had a virtual barbecue that eased the stress of working remotely during the summer. “Acknowledging that remote work creates a strain in team collaboration helps determine a plan of action. If we fail to acknowledge, then we risk the collapse of morale”, he adds.

Small wins matter!

“When dealing with mammoth uncertainty, the thrill of small wins is truly remarkable,” says Fermina Remedios, project manager at Bell Inc. “Constantly working on instilling optimism in the team helps maintain forward momentum. With the constant fear of the rug being pulled beneath our feet, taking time to cherish victories even if they are smaller milestones keeps the wheel churning. In these precarious times, small wins are big trophies,” declares Fermina.

Remote workplaces are here to stay and with companies realizing the potential of having employees work from anywhere, this culture is the beginning of a new era. Being an effective and trusting manager means going above and beyond the traditionally defined roles.

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