Managing people in a virtual world: Supporting managers to perform at their best

When I first wrote about the move over to managing people in a virtual world it was over a year ago. We were navigating changes, thinking this was a temporary situation and that we would all be back to normal before Christmas.

Fast forward to today and we are all in acceptance that we will not be going back to what we thought was ‘normal’ in some ways, for good.

So as people and organisations are now further along the change curve of adapting to this new world of working and managing virtually, we can now look at the challenges faced, and lessons learned from moving to manage people remotely.  In this article I will discuss what has now become important in managing people remotely, skills gaps faced and some skills development for managers that will enable them to perform at their best.

  1. Remaining connected

Whilst some people speak deepening their knowledge and relationship with their team members as a result of being able to ‘see’ into each-others world, others talk of increased isolation and loneliness when it comes to virtual working.  Those casual, informal opportunities to chat with colleagues where you can spot the signs that someone is not ok are less present, and therefore managers need to think about how to create non face-to-face opportunities for connection.  Social connection is an important part of maintaining positive mental health, so within a work context, organisations have been introducing virtual activities to increase social connections. These can be as simple as cyber coffees, virtual lunches, drinks after work, exercise classes together and learning new hobbies together.  From a personal perspective, it is really easy to use the excuse that you have been working online all day as a reason not to connect with people outside of work.  However, from my personal experience, the benefits of recharging my energy and having a laugh with people who truly know and love you, far outweighs the downside of spending another hour online.

  1. Onboarding new starters

Onboarding people into the organisation and to teams needs to be given much more thought than before.  Managers need to think about spending significant quality time with the new team member over the course of their onboarding period and support them with integrating fully into the business.  Often the organizational community covers all those hygiene factors such as being able to access technology, systems and processes; but in the absence of that physical community at the place of work, these things need to be considered more consciously.  As a manager, allocating this time to support with this and allocating a buddy who can just point you in the direction of ‘how things are done around here’ are simple things but are invaluable in helping people feel they belong in their new organisation.

  1. Enabling Flexibility

With a second round of widespread home schooling for at least 6 weeks in England, this requires managers to enable their people to work flexibly.  This will require something different based on factors such as each sector, environment, children’s ages and individual needs. The underlying theme, however, is that people will need to be able to adjust their working rhythm to be able to cope with the various and changing demands on them.  This also applies to those with other caring responsibilities.  There also needs to be flexibility in teams to cover work if someone has to shield, isolate or needs to take time away from work to recover from Covid, or care for those in their family who are recovering.  What contingency plans need to be in place for this within teams?  And are there any single person dependencies that will cause issues to the team and the organization?  This provides managers with the opportunity to review the team and assess whether a programme of multi skilling maybe a useful strategy to mitigate these issues.

4. Motivating people and managing performance

Having regular conversations with team members about how they are doing will be important during this continued time of uncertainty, but a greater focus should be on how they are feeling, rather than what they are doing.  In order for managers to help their team member stay motivated, they need to understand what is important to them from their map of the world in order to give positive feedback that will hold value to the receiver.  Managing performance can be tricky online when there is less visibility of what someone is working on, but requires a focus on outputs and outcomes rather than just time spent doing work.  This requires managers to hone their skills in setting truly SMART objectives where it is clear to both parties what the desired outcome is and how the success will be measured.  Furthermore, continuing to think about people’s development needs is critical.  Moving to remote working on a more permanent basis may have highlighted more significant development needs. It is important for managers to be regularly reviewing what development people need to meet the changing demands of working virtually, both informally and in formal training interventions.

Employees will value how their line manager responds during this time and that will impact how engaged they feel with their organisation and how likely they are to continue their career there.  In a world where many of the geographical barriers to work have been removed, there are more opportunities to move roles and pressure on talent retention. Therefore, organisations and managers need to work harder at ensuring their people feel connected, motivated, engaged and are afforded the flexibility they need to balance their work and personal responsibilities until the end of the pandemic and beyond.

Do your managers have the skills and attributes to create an environment to have these important conversations with their people?  If you want to support your managers in developing their skills in managing their teams remotely contact Connor on 01491 414010 or get in touch using the form below.

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