The Covid 19 pandemic has forced most companies to unwillingly embrace remote work and distributed teams. Leaders, people managers and employees themselves were completely unprepared for this sudden change. While everyone has tried to adapt as well as possible, the world of work as we know it, has dramatically changed. As the days go by, the possibility of return to a “full normal” seems further and further away. People managers and employees are beginning to get weary and this is already beginning to create widespread mental health issues in ways we never could have imagined!
This post, is the first of a series where we will discuss what is broken and what leaders and managers can do to make it better for their teams.
In-person interaction with our colleagues is something we have all taken for granted. It has always been “normal” to have corridor conversations, chats over coffee and casual catch ups over lunch. Even the much loathed “team meetings” are now sorely missed. The biggest casualty of remote work has been “connection”. The social and professional interactions that we have every day with our colleagues, that helps us feel part of something larger than ourselves. Not having this has led to many people feeling isolated and alone, leading to depression, anxiety and panic. It is affecting their mental health and in the long term will likely impact their general health, productivity and overall well being.
After the initial spike of joy at the flexibility of working from home, many people are struggling to stay motivated at work. Companies are beginning to downsize. Colleagues are getting impacted. While impacted people are shocked., the people left behind are fearful that they may be next. Despite best efforts, leaders and people managers are not able to allay fears. We are struggling to use phone and video conferencing effectively to deal with human emotion- especially when we are all learning to do this for the first time! In addition, there is rising demands on each employee, as companies have to do more with less and this is starting to take a toll.
Managers used to the “normal” ways of tracking progress and holding people accountable are struggling to lead remote and distributed teams. Many haven’t built “trust” in the past and this is resulting in micromanagement. Managers feel that they have no control over outcomes and employees feel overwhelmed with excessive oversight and constant follow up from their managers. The situation is made worse with managers expecting their team to be “always available” and call all hours of the day!
Working from home was a luxury that is unfamiliar for most of us. Our home infrastructure was not set up for it and neither was our physical working space at home. Video calls mean that our co-workers get a “look-in” into our personal space. Something that not everyone is comfortable with! In addition, the extended work hours expected by managers and peers means that people are on call all the time, completely blurring lines between personal and work time. Mandatory remote work has effectively taken away the joy of flexible work for most people!
To manage teams better, many managers are running more meetings than before. Managers have a long way to go in mastering the way to lead completely remote and distributed teams. As a result, most of these meetings and calls they run are “tell” or “update” calls- where they are either telling the team/ individual what needs to be done or getting an update on what has been done. Unfortunately, virtual meetings also mean people can multi-task without any one finding out. Team members are just not feeling heard- either by their managers or their peers! Two way conversation and discussion had fallen by the way side. As a result, employees are feeling more unheard and unseen than ever before, resulting in a steep fall in engagement!
But it’s not all gloom and doom! Fortunately, all of the above issues are solvable! The suddenness and persistence of the pandemic has caught most organizations completely by surprise. But it is still early days and we can easily turn this around quickly.
Watch this space! Over the next few weeks we will talk about “how to fix what’s broken”!