Leadership challenges of virtual working

19 Jun 2020 11:00 am

Leadership challenges of virtual working

Many experts have been quick to point out that the current status quo of working from home due to COVID-19 is very different from choosing to transition employees to a flexible, work from home contract. Employees and employers are in fact not merely working from home, but are at home during a crisis, trying to work. Recognising this and seeking opportunities from the current crisis way of working, will help leaders adapt to the challenges of virtual working and come out stronger – with stronger and more resourceful teams – on the other side of the COVID-19 pandemic.

What are the challenges of virtual working through a crisis?

In an ideal work from home situation, the employee has a quiet, established office with an office chair, dedicated desk space, filing system and high-speed internet connectivity with remote access to all of the necessary documentation on the company server or mainframe. In the best scenario, children are either at school, or under the care of a full-time caregiver or housekeeper, allowing the employee to focus on work tasks with efficiency.

However, under COVID-19 lockdown and remote working conditions, many employees are having to juggle children, home schooling, housework and the provision of meals all while balancing on the end of their dining room table or kitchen counter, avoiding sticky fingers on work documents or laptop screens and fitting video calls in during nap times or screen time.

The stress of trying to be productive under these circumstances is not conducive to the ideal work-life balance for most, as they contend with the loss of workplace structure and stability, missing social engagement, difficulties accessing necessary resources and tools, as well as the ongoing fear of job loss due to the economic downturn caused by the pandemic.

How can managers help?

  • Allow employees more flexibility in terms of working hours and provide as much leeway as possible, in terms of deadlines and scope of work. Prioritise essential work, while still maintaining standards.
  • Avoid the temptation to micro-manage employees and show them that you trust them to fulfil their duties as best as is humanly possible during this time. This will help to maintain or even build relationships and work towards more sustainable outcomes.
  • Resource employees and ensure that, despite possible costs involved, they have 24-hour access to infrastructure and tools needed to function effectively in their role, to accommodate flexible work routines based around social and familial needs. Many parents are needing to work at night or in the early morning hours when young family members are asleep. This needs to be accommodated.
  • Have regular check-ins with employees. Do these on a one-to-one basis and in team meets. Allow the freedom of time to chat informally in meetings, prior to getting down to business, or after business has been discussed. Focus on employee mental health, offering whatever support you can avail – whether that involves professional assistance, being their advocate by lobbying medical aids or pension plans on their behalf, etc.
  • Identify, process, and then share your own struggles in an effort to be more approachable and enable employees to connect with you on a personal level, developing team loyalty.
  • Meet people where they are at. People process challenges differently, and where one employee may have started off strong and appeared to be relishing the seclusion, that same employee may succumb to the blues a month later, mourning the loss of personal interaction and connectivity.
  • Finally, offer praise and encouragement. Be real – share wins with your team, praise those who have achieved and encourage those who are battling.

For further insightful guidance around running a successful virtual working environment, visit the LexisNexis Virtual Working Resource page: click here

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