Five tips for leaders managing remote workers during a crisis

Written by
Sankalp Chaturvedi, Imperial College Business School

07 Apr 2020

07 Apr 2020 • by Sankalp Chaturvedi, Imperial College Business School

When managing remote workers in a crisis like coronavirus, leading from the front is important, writes Sankalp Chaturvedi, professor of organisational behaviour and leadership at Imperial College Business School.

With coronavirus escalating worldwide, we are dealing with an unprecedented health emergency and leaders of all kinds must be proactive in dealing with the fall-out. While few business leaders have prepared for such a situation, there are specific lessons from change management and resilient leadership that are likely to prove extremely helpful during the current crisis. 

Here is some advice, gleaned over the years, which could help organisations manage remote teams, increase productivity and boost workers’ morale.

Remain calm and reassure your remote workers.

Your people are worried and anxious. They expect their leaders to have all the answers to every issue that comes up. While you may not have all the answers, it’s vital to stay calm and display confidence so that employees can remain calm too; emotions often spill over from work into home life. This is an opportune time to set an example to your team.

Be proactive: lead from the front.

In uncertain times, leaders must be proactive around planning and organising resources for teams who are working from home. They must show resilience and patience and consider issues from other people’s perspectives. Managing change could be likened to entering a pit of despair, where the fall is steeper than the recovery. Celebrate short-term wins and share positivity. Where you have to make tough decisions or are unable to meet your people’s needs, explain why this is the case.

Frame specific messages for your people.

In the midst of sudden change, staff look for clear messages from leaders and managers. This is particularly true when it comes to delivering bad news. When people lack clear information, rumours will abound, potentially undermining morale and productivity long term. Negative messages should be clear and direct. This is not the time for a 'bad-news sandwich' (positive-negative-positive framing).

Stay connected to your team. 

Being a leader is a challenge and a responsibility. During turbulent situations like coronavirus, leaders need to connect with their teams more than ever. Leaders must act as a role model and support collaboration. Together, everyone achieves more and it's important feel togetherness, even in a virtual sense. It’s also important for leaders to be able to rely on others and feel that they are not alone during a crisis.

Practise active listening and empathy to support the mental health of home workers.

Some companies and individual workers will be more used to remote working than others. But even for those who regularly work from home, the coronavirus lockdown brings with it a range of socio-psychological challenges. Parents providing childcare or home-schooling may struggle with their workload; in the absence of face-to-face contact, those living alone may battle with their mental wellbeing and productivity. Such issues require leaders to listen actively to their people and to demonstrate patience, empathy, and emotional intelligence. Research around communication suggests that pausing for 10 seconds before replying to someone can avoid up to 80% of communication breakdowns.

The gulf between those embracing change and those falling behind is growing.

Changeboard and Future Talent have been providing insights and learning on how to navigate a way through change since 2004. Now, as we enter an unprecedented period of disruption, we are providing you the opportunity to develop the capabilities, behaviours and mindset necessary to survive and ultimately flourish.

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