Rapid technological change has often been cited as an expensive disruption to how we work. In recent
months, we have learnt just how badly a global pandemic can also disrupt mankind and institutions on a
global scale – immediately reshaping our way of living, interacting, working, and how we do business. The world as we know it, pre-COVID-19 pandemic, has indeed changed in profound ways.
Since the announcement of Malaysia’s first Movement Control Order (MCO) on 16 March 2020 to flatten
the COVID-19 infection curve, working remotely, which used to be just a growing phenomenon, turned into
a business necessity overnight. In a matter of days, the majority of our workforce are untethered from
their office desks – a new normal for businesses and employees alike.
As employees are adapting to their new workplace amid anxieties and uncertainties created by the global
pandemic, business leaders find themselves needing to be equipped with a different set of skills and
knowledge to inspire, provide confidence and lead their team virtually. Besides managing their own
deliverables, leaders must learn to be even more attuned to employees’ physical and emotional well-being
while they struggle with weighty decisions to keep business operations going.
A new study of more than 3,000 workers around the world illustrates the substantial differences in how
managers and employees respond to working remotely:
- 75% of managers are confident they fully understand how their teams are feeling amidst the
current COVID-19 pandemic. However, only 32% of employees say their managers have
specifically asked them how they are feeling.
- In a time in which managers should be increasing communication, 48% of managers admit
they have reduced the frequency of their one-on-one catch ups since transitioning to remote
- Many employees were under the impression that COVID-19 had increased their managers’
workloads and drastically reduced their availability. However, 44% of managers say their
workloads have actually decreased due to COVID-19.
- 61% of managers say their teams are less productive when working remotely, with almost 63%
believing they have to be physically present in order to get the best out of their team. However,
almost 50% of employees surveyed said they feel equally – if not more – engaged and
productive when working from home.
- 54% of respondents want to continue working remotely in some capacity while 40% prefer an
office environment. A mixture of remote and in-office work may be the way of the future.
Source: Research and survey conducted by Enboarder
To address some of the issues identified above, here are some essential tips to assist leaders
in managing their remote employees more effectively:
What Leaders Can Do Right Now
- Lead with empathy and courage. Be of service to others.
- Communicate often and communicate clearly.
- Schedule time into your day to check in with your team.
- Avoid a one-size fits all approach with team members – everyone needs to be treated in a way
that is unique to them, ask them.
- Set clear and reasonable goals – discuss regularly.
- Create a culture of safety. Let the world be uncertain, but let your organisation be a safe place. Approach every situation and concern from a place of empathy.
- Focus on the positives. Celebrate the successes and inject fun into team meetings.
- Stay connected with your whole team and encourage them to stay connected with each other.
Source: Baker Tilly Staple Rhodes (https://bakertillysr.nz/news/leading-people-remotely)
Leaders should take advantage of any communication with their employees as an opportunity
to provide support from afar and positively engage them, be considerate in their approaches
and at times, make personal sacrifices in the team’s best interest. With the continued need to
practice social distancing for the foreseeable future, sustaining this positive momentum is
going to be instrumental in keeping the organisation and its people resilient as they forge ahead
together. What we learn today about leading a remote workforce will likely form one of the best
people practices for the organisation post-MCO.
Amid the many news headlines in this fluid situation, it is ultimately the leadership’s direction
and perspectives that will steer the organisation through these uncertain and demanding times.
In addition to cost-cutting measures, minimising losses, managing cash flows, and preserving
jobs, leaders must also look for the silver lining in the current tempest that is COVID-19.
- Are there any archaic practices which could use a push towards digital transformation?
- What are the limitations in the current processes which require streamlining or reinvention?
- What are the new skills or knowledge that our people need to adapt to the new work
- How can the organisation redefine its workplace learning capability in view of the shift
towards remote learning?
- What are the innovative ways to deliver our goods or services offered to promote growth and
create new revenue streams?
- What organisational initiatives might need to be reassessed or reprioritised post-MCO?
- Are there any aspects of the business continuity strategy that require refining or reinforcement in preparation for the next crisis?
- How can the organisation continue to strengthen its digital backbone for the next level of
- Are remote work practices something the organisation wishes to pursue post-crisis?
Yes, the global pandemic has posed unanticipated challenges to businesses around the world,
but it has also presented corporate leaders with new opportunities and forced us to think
outside the box. As the saying goes, “after the rain, comes the rainbow” – just like how the
pandemic has enabled the earth to push the reset button, it is also the perfect opportunity for
organisations to re-think their value proposition and reframe their future now, for tomorrow.
This article was first published here on 5th May 2020.