A year ago, my team challenged me to write down everything I did in a day to show the behind the scenes of a managers day. This year due to the Coronavirus global pandemic, so many of us have rushed into figuring out how to do everything from home.
The change from the office to working from home included a quick scramble ensuring the technology all worked. Then we moved into ensuring everyone’s mental well-being was safe, and everyone was thinking of a new exercise routine.
It has been many months, and you could say we are in a bit of rhythm now and working styles have adjusted for the majority of it. I wanted to share what your manager is now doing all day while working from home.
One. Getting themselves organised. The suddenness of change disrupted everyone in many ways. Some companies and roles were disrupted more than others. As a manager, you usually put others before yourself, but in this case, that wasn’t possible. It was one of those moments where if you didn’t put your oxygen mask on first all you would be doing is spreading panic.
It was essential to get set up both physically and mentally at home, considering it will be months. You are quickly changing personal routines as well as work routines to handle the situation. Your team would now have 20 questions each per day where before there might be 20 in total. Without being somewhat productive, there is no way you would be able to support all the ‘what do we need to change’ questions.
The challenge was to be effective with uncertainty.
Two. Increasing openness and empathy. Your more private team members are now giving everyone a look into their lounge rooms, bedrooms or other corners of their homes. If it wasn’t something in the background is was the something else that was making them feel awkward. It could have been the screaming kids, the loud partner on work calls, the friendly pets wanting to see who is on camera and many other things colleagues don’t ordinarily get a glimpse of.
While the team is feeling anxious, embarrassed, and all other types of emotions, it is the manager’s role to reduce their level of stress where possible. The best way to do this is through openness and empathy. Ask a few questions and find the areas that you relate to. If you both have kids, let them know they may hear your kids screaming the house down while homeschooling. Be curious and ask questions about their pets and working from home arrangements. See how you can help make it more comfortable for them to perform their role.
Listen to what they are saying; take note of how they are feeling. Remind them that everyone is in the same situation and everyone’s productivity is down. Each person is in the process of reorganising significant areas of their life. If you are generally a private manager, take a moment to share something you are going through. These unprecedented times are not the time to try and look like you are perfect.
Three. Increasing communication. Where people would be able to bump into each other in the kitchen, now only see their room and their laptop. Their focus has increased on getting work done, so they don’t look lazy. All while dealing with the other distractions in the house and not taking the time to chat to work colleagues.
As a manager, it is your role to set the tone. If you don’t stimulate the conversations and remind people that is it ok to chat about what creative thing they did on the weekend, your team won’t do it on their own, further increasing the feeling of separation. An excellent flowing conversation over a chat app can create an opportunity for new ideas as well as jokes to brighten up the day.
It is not just team conversations that are important. A manager should be reaching out to individuals to check in, say hi, check on their mental well-being. It shouldn’t sound like this “Hi, How are you? So did you see my email about …..”. We all understand the ‘How are you’ is not a real question. Make sure you increase your communication to the team and individuals to make them feel connected and seen when you are not asking them for something.
Four. Reading between the lines. For the majority of the workforce, this is a very different way of working. Where before you could pick up on someone’s body language or tone to know that they are not 100%. Now you need to rely on characters and emojis on screen for most of the day.
The one thing your manager is doing is trying to read through your words to understand if there is something more going on. If you are a manager and you get a hunch, or there is a phrase that doesn’t sound normal. The simplest thing you can do is ask this question “what makes you say that?”. If there is still hesitation, then jump on a video call or phone call and ask some open questions to get them talking.
There could be many things going on in their head. They might be worried they aren’t doing enough work; they might be annoyed at a colleague. Or someone who has a mild mental health issue on a typical day might be experiencing something worse today. So it is worth being there and asking ‘R U OK’ and offering support if needed.
Five. Messaging up and down the organisation. There is an abundance of information coming through on every channel. It is hard for everyone to see everything. Your manager should be able to capture, filter and pass on the vital information that you need to know.
There is also considerable work being completed, but it is harder to see with fewer interactions. Your manager is gathering information in their check-ins to then message upon how well the team is doing or if they need more support in certain areas.
It takes time for your manager to make sure the operational messages are passed on. The escalations are being managed, and the right people are brought in for the right things. As well as ensuring the team wins being showcased and recognised by other leaders in the organisation.
It may feel awkward posting about positive things your team is doing in these uncertain times. What you need to remember is that it is essential to recognise your team’s achievements, so they don’t feel invisible. In particular, those introverts and quiet achievers you have in the team who had fewer troubles working in a quiet space alone.
Six. Creating time to think. One thing I hear people saying more is that they are getting more done now. But are they working on the right tasks, or are they reactive? The current situation has an impact on a large number of industries, customers and customer behaviour. What we were planning to do in January is unlikely looking the same now in June.
Your manager is squeezing in time to think strategically about the new areas of opportunity, areas that are less relevant or are no longer going to have an impact. Now is the time to pivot and adjust the plan to meet the new goals. Then communicate to the team why the change has occurred and what you are all set out to achieve.
If they are trying to answer every message, email and notification, there is a good chance the team will remain in reactive mode. With the rapid pace of change, we can’t rely on reactive mode alone to meet our obligations in our roles.
With the rapid pace of change, we can’t rely on reactive mode alone.
These are six of the big block focus areas that your manager is thinking about and executing week to week. If you find they have too much going on and can’t manage it all. Before being judgemental, reach out and ask them how you can help.
Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not represent the views or opinions of my employer.