By Sally Percy
Leaders play a vital role in boosting team morale. GETTY
Leaders around the world have been suddenly plunged into managing remote teams as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. To add to the pressure of having to manage remotely, they are anxious and overwhelmed themselves while being expected to motivate staff who feel exactly the same. In fact, a survey by employee insights company Inpulse has found that 61% of employees feel anxious, distracted or stressed as a result of the disruption that the virus has caused.
So how can leaders effectively manage remote teams in this era of panic and uncertainty? Here experts from around Europe share their thoughts.
1. Learn from how doctors and nurses about how to deal with anxiety
“My top tip for leaders today would be to learn from how nurses and doctors deal with emergency situations, with unpredictable outcomes, and especially how they alleviate fear and anxiety,” says Katleen De Stobbeleir, professor of leadership at Vlerick Business School in Belgium. “Fear and anxiety can drive people to become self-focused, paralyzing them so that they are prevented from continuing to work productively.”
She highlights two ways in which emergency workers alleviate anxiety and get people to keep ‘moving’. The first is to give clear instructions and prepare the patient step by step. The second is to provide them with some distraction. In a work context, this might be a new project or an online chat. “It’s not necessarily about being a reassuring voice or about asking questions that probe into the feelings of followers,” says De Stobbelier, “since this may actually feed the anxiety. It’s about giving clear directions and next steps so that people have focus and something to hold on to.”
2. Set an example
“Being an example has always been a major feature of leadership,” says Tessa Melkonian, professor of organizational behavior and management at emlyon business school in France. “But now, in a period of utmost uncertainty, people need – more than ever – to find an example in their managers and leaders.”
We are right in the middle of what Time magazine calls “the world’s largest work-from-home experiment”. According to Gallup research conducted among more than 10,000 followers, what people need from their leaders is trust, compassion, stability and hope. “The only way to meet these basic follower needs when you cannot be around them is to over-communicate,” explains Mandy Hübener, a program director at German business school ESMT Berlin and an expert in organizational culture.
She continues: “Constant communication builds trust and is critical not only for successful remote working but also for making it through a crisis like this. Share what you are doing and be exceptionally clear on what you expect from your followers. Respond quickly to questions and concerns. Keep them in the loop about new developments as much as possible and don’t forget to individualize – this requires greater intentionality when done from a distance.”
Hübener also makes the following recommendations: “Ask your team members what they need now to perform best, what concerns they have about their workflow and their emotional response to the situation. Be as present as you possibly can be over calls, emails, WhatsApp and Yammer – whatever is the common way to communicate in your team. Keep the human touch in virtual meetings by using your video stream.”
4. Maintain face-to-face contact
It’s vital that leaders continue to get eyeball-to-eyeball contact with all of their followers, according to Sir Cary Cooper CBE, professor of organizational psychology at Alliance Manchester Business School in the U.K.
“It’s very easy for managers to simply email or give a quick phone call to staff to see how they are getting on, but this only tells half the story,” he explains. “The non-verbal communication is just as important. Through non-verbal communication you can see team members’ emotions, how they are coping, whether they feel isolated and whether they are understanding and dealing with their workload.”
Cooper argues that it’s important for leaders to keep a strong human connection with their teams during these trying times. “Video calls are the best way to keep face-to-face contact, ensure morale is still high and stress to your employees how much you value them.”
5. Be specific in your messaging
“During uncertain times, followers look up for messages from leaders and managers,” says Sankalp Chaturvedi, professor of organizational behavior and leadership at Imperial College Business School. “So these messages should not be generic or vague – they need to be specific and simple.”
He explains that being specific and keeping things simple is even more important when leaders have to deliver negative messages. “In the absence of specific information, employees will start rumors that are not good for their morale or productivity and which have a long-term impact,” he says. “Negative messages have to be direct and not delivered using a traditional sandwich approach wherein messages are framed as ‘positive-negative-positive’ framing.”
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This content was originally published by Forbes Magazine. Original publishers retain all rights. It appears here for a limited time before automated archiving. By Forbes Magazine