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By Liz Sebag-Montefiore, career coach and Director of 10Eighty. 

Working from home is often challenging particularly if there are other family members and other distractions at home

Advantages – potential opportunities to seize when working from home
  • There is an opportunity to thrive in a less structured environment
  • only a small amount of people want to return to working full-time in an office
  • working remotely gives you fewer office distractions, no commuting time and freedom over how you spend your time
  • Working from home, and the move to a virtual workplace for some, has seen the importance of distributed leadership significantly increased. This is characterised by a move away from a command and control mode of working in a centralised infrastructure, to a leadership style where decisions are taken on the ground. Traditionally, leaders were at the organisation’s centre, driving organisational objectives; but being an employee centric operator in a distributed leadership model completely reverses this approach, requiring leaders to align organisational objectives to employee needs. Distributed leadership empowers team members to take decisions as best fits the situation and is predicated on the organisation delegating and trusting employees. It’s illustrated by the Sandhurst model i.e. it’s the operative in the field who makes the decisions not the colonel back at base, who outlined the mission and sent them out.

New ways of working

Leading a team is more challenging than ever when some are in the office and some at home, working alongside colleagues who are shielding and perhaps covering for those on furlough or made redundant. It’s a worrying time for employees and a headache for management and HR to manage and motivate the team; there’s a lot that leaders can do to make it easier for their team and to ensure a sustainable and productive work environment.
Focus on your people
As a leader, being employee centred and ready to sculpt jobs around the employee’s needs, exploiting their strengths and developing the potential of each of them is going to be most beneficial. An employee centric approach requires us as leaders to spend time connecting with our employees – listening, observing, using emotional intelligence and creating bespoke career paths for each team member (the opposite of a one-size-fits-all approach to defining job roles).
To improve engagement at work, as a leader I recognise that in times of uncertainty we need to support each other. It’s important to connect with and understand others, then prioritise the team’s needs and build an environment of trust and support. It’s about nurturing relationships rather than just undertaking tasks. As a leader, it’s important to motivate others to collaborate, develop, and perform, even in difficult times.
Make connections
I like to focus on connecting with the team to create a sense of belonging. When employees feel they are included and that they have a voice within the organisation, I believe they perceive the organisation as caring for them as individuals. Loyalty is two-way street, you get it by giving it.
I like to make everyone responsible for supporting each other and team goals and encourage everyone to value what others bring to the table, advocate for everyone’s voice to be heard, and invest in team growth and development. It’s important to include employee input in organisational values to show workers they have a meaningful role in building an inclusive workplace.
Particularly during the pandemic, and the difficult working conditions it imposes, clear and regular communication is vital. For a workplace to be productive, communications need to be open and positive. Feedback has never been more important, but I try to tailor methods of communication and timing to what works for each member of my team, as different people absorb information in different ways.
Trust and accountability
Trust is crucial when the team is scattered and working remotely; I try to ensure my team doesn’t feel the need to prove they are working all the time. We set clear goals and when I need people to work collaboratively, we set up Zoom facilities and use networking and information-sharing platforms. Trust enhances willingness to cooperate and collaborate and improves the likelihood of my team going the extra mile. Where there is a good level of trust, my team are more likely to be committed to working towards strategic goals.
The key to establishing clear accountability is to set out expectations, goals, and deadlines. We try to provide weekly updates on progress, including ongoing communication about how everyone’s contributions and achievements impact organisational success. One thing I’ve learned is the need to demonstrate accountability through my own availability and commitment to my team.
Leaders create team culture through their own attitudes and behaviours. I try to consider myself as a role model and ask what team culture I’m creating. To build a productive and high-performing team, it’s important to create a culture that’s positive and open to new ideas, creativity, and innovation.
Network for success
Whilst we’re all working from home, at the start of team meetings I enjoy building in a personal element to encourage catch up time, so the team connect with each other despite being physically separated. We now open online meetings with time at the start for colleagues to chat about what’s going on in their lives just as they would do if they were in the office.
I believe celebrating success is important in building engagement, so I try to ensure I acknowledge anyone who deserves a ‘well done’ or ‘thank you’; as I believe a few words go a long way in building rapport. Showing appreciation can boost the confidence of those feeling isolated when working from home and bolster the autonomy and accountability of those who make the organisation a success.

I’ve also spent the year on my own development and last week became an accredited executive coach. I’ve also seen first-hand that a leader needs to look after their own growth and wellbeing in order to support the team. It’s important to prioritise what is needed to maintain my energy levels while dealing with the myriad of challenges our new way of working brings without anxiety or loss of focus.

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