Advice abounds for the suddenly remote workers across the globe on how to adjust to the new normal for the foreseeable future, yet leaders of companies and teams – who may have resisted the idea of remote work until now – may need an even greater mindset shift during these trying times.
“As our lives get turned upside down, a complete overhaul and re-fit of leadership is required. Trying to figure out survival strategies that balance commercial crises with guiding teams in a manner that helps the people they lead to navigate this period with as little emotional trauma as possible under the circumstances, is an extraordinary challenge, ” says Debbie Goodman-Bhyat, leadership expert and CEO of Jack Hammer, Africa’s largest independent executive search firm with offices across the continent as well as Los Angeles.
US-based Goodman-Bhyat has been managing her own Cape Town headquartered company remotely for the past year after opening an office in the US, but says that the most important issue for leaders right now is less about getting the logistics right, and more about building a renewed sense of structure, connection and stability.
“Let’s state the obvious – wherever you are in the world, we are all experiencing feelings of fear and uncertainty. No one gets to escape this, which in many ways provides an opportunity for leaders to connect with the people they manage in a very human way.
“As a leader right now, the human factor must be baked into the cake – which may mean letting go of the idea that your team’s productivity should equal the productivity you usually expected when you had bums on seats from 9 to 5. As far as possible, leaders need to communicate fairly and openly with their teams, and allow them to feel empowered to deliver in terms of substance instead of hours clocked.”
Goodman-Bhyat says leaders may need to adjust expectations and accept the changed landscape.
“The output of your team can’t possibly be what it was when all they had to do was manage their own time. So leaders must distil, prioritise and identify the critical and non-critical tasks at hand, helping their teams to figure out what is required for the immediate and near future.
“If you as a leader are still stressing about effective ways to control your team’s time… stop. Now is not a time for command and control. This is a time for trusting that your staff also want the company to survive- and one day again thrive – and that they will do the best they can with what they have under exceptionally trying circumstances.”
Goodman-Bhyat says even as they face uncertainties of their own, leaders of substance will find ways to keep people motivated and focused.
“And to be able to do this effectively, you yourself need to deal with your own state of mind. I see my primary role as getting to grips with reality, taking charge, providing some kind of direction, and supporting my team. In order to do this, it is crucial that I look after my own mental health while being realistic about productivity expectations for myself and my team.”
Goodman-Bhyat says leaders who are struggling should turn to the science.
“Two of the biggest known supporters of mental health and emotional wellbeing, are meditation and exercise. Both these are possible when in isolation, so even if you are not used to exercising or meditation, now is a good time to start. And encourage your team to follow your lead in this to help achieve some balance in terms of their physical, emotional and mental wellbeing.
“The world has changed. The expectation that it is going to be business as usual, just digitally so, needs to change. We don’t know how long this is going to last, but we have to keep the wheels turning even in the face of uncertainty. For now our society’s main job is to contain and flatten, but we must also ensure we have a society to return to once we can leave our homes again.”