A few years ago, when I was a manager in a large company, I found myself in the middle of the debate between the VP of HR and other executives in the company about an employee request to work from home. It sounded like science fiction, and a strongly opinionated debate developed culminating in the stance that it was a question of trust. For this reason, some people would deserve this opportunity, whereas others wouldn’t. No decisions were made, resulting in the frozen status quo.
Looking back and reflecting on our current pandemic context, it felt like working from home was like granting a promotion for the most trustworthy employees. Before the lockdown, I also remember how hard it could be for my working-mothers friends to find a part-time position in their profession. I negotiated 90 percent part-time in my role a few years ago to enjoy more time with my children.
The paradox is that we are living now in that no-choice environment allowing a social innovation that was a dream for many people. Opinions are clashing around the WFH benefits on a long-term basis. At the root of change-resistance, an HBR survey ("Remote Managers are Having Trust Issues," HBR.com, July 30, 2020) found managers had a lack of self-confidence in managing remotely and needed to learn virtual management. And I believe quick fixes can help managers start building their skill-set and adjust their leadership style.
At the end of the day, it’s a positive change for society, and we need to embrace it. And It’s okay to learn how to be a strong virtual leader because, as Simon Senek says, “leadership is a muscle you practice”, and most of the time, people are not taught how to lead.
1- Look up for the right model of leadership to build your style
I learned this technique from one of my best managers, she called it the chameleon technique and it has the advantage to be super sturdy but straightforward. You have surely crossed the path of leaders and managers you admire, respected leaders who don’t lead with fear but empathy. You might have one or two ideas visualizing their most inspiring behaviors. What about mimicking these difference-making behaviors and picking the best in leaders? Role models inspire and your color-chameleonic selection is the best expression of your crafting values for your leadership style.
2- Be aware of cognitive biases
The positive thing with cognitive biases is we have a cure for it. Once you are aware of them, studies show you can free your mind of their influence by making sure your decisions do not rely on these brain’s shortcuts. Unfortunately, we tend to be psychologically tired during this COVID time because of all the choices we make to assess risk.
For this reason, it’s critical to slow down any major managerial decision. It’s okay to take more time, especially if the choices might impact team morale. More than ever, it’s essential to give the benefit of the doubt to any team members. For example, it might be sensitive to assess performance at the moment for young parents.
3- Stop the vicious circle about being always on
Recent stats are worrisome and prove what we knew, people work longer hours, on the average 10 to 20 percent ("The Implications of Working Without an Office'" HBR.com, July 15, 2020) more than before. And we face a complexity: without the extra hours, the work wouldn’t be done and the result not there. It feeds at the same time the fear of potentially losing the job and the vicious circle to always work more.
For leaders, however, it’s a unique opportunity to build trust by showing care. You always remember who helped you during a crisis. Managers can increase their positive impact now. It starts with the discipline of not overlapping work communication with personal time for everyone. Interestingly, in asynchronous work, we often realize that a few hours don’t make a major difference in work quality. But it needs to be told and expressed by the manager, as clear expectations, to avoid frustration on both sides.
We see that it’s quite hard to shift in a fully virtual environment because it requires a new skill-set for managers. But let’s not forget the purpose, as we are all working on building the best virtual workplace.
Originally published on the Good4Work blog.