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How to be the leader your team needs… remotely

View over businesswoman shoulder sit at workplace desk looks at pc screen during group videocall with different age and ethnicity colleagues using application and webcam, distant communication concept
Transparency, humour and humanity are all key ingredients in good leadership. Image: Getty

In a time where employees are largely working from home and teams are physically separated, those of you in leadership positions will be facing extra challenges.

A recent survey conducted by the ABS found that one in ten Australians have felt depressed during the corona shutdown (with women being particularly vulnerable) and a further four out of ten feeling restless or fidgety, while studies have shown that between 25 per cent to 33 per cent of the community have experienced high levels of worry and anxiety during similar pandemics.


Furthermore, a recent review referenced by the Black Dog Institute found that the potential psychological effects of quarantine include depression, PTSD symptoms, confusion, anger, boredom and loneliness.

Now, more than ever, leaders need to communicate and engage their staff with transparency and compassion. But how do you give your team the support they desperately need through your screen?

Communicate, communicate, communicate!

In these unique circumstances, it’s important that business leaders find a way to stay connected, united and maintain the team energy. As a leader, you must communicate clearly, often, and with transparency.

Trust is crucial during a period of crisis so you need to be honest with your employees about how your business is handling the pandemic. If you’re struggling or having a bad day on a personal level, be honest and open about it and encourage your team to do the same. Doing so will form the building blocks for ongoing team loyalty and allow you to lead more effectively.

I’m a huge tech advocate (suprise suprise) and there’s so much out there that’s both user friendly and extremely accessible - so take advantage of it!

Zoom is a fantastic resource for all your team meetings, and Slack can handle those smaller back and forth chats that take place throughout the day (while simultaneously saving you from inbox fatigue).

At The Remarkable Woman, my team and I like to have fun with our online catch ups. We like to kick off our weekly wrap meeting for example, with a fun ice breaker led by a different staff member each week. They’ve ranged from “Show and Tell” to “Two Truths and Lie” to drawing competitions. It’s generated a great sense of camaraderie and a hell of a lot of laughs. As they say, teams that laugh together, stay together.

Most importantly, however, you must now have a strong sense of vision and purpose, and consistently communicate this with your team. This will keep everyone united and on the same page, driving towards the same goal.

You only have to look at New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to see this in action.

Ardern’s directive to “stay home to save lives” succinctly utilises the three key approaches that Jacqueline and Milton Mayfield say are crucial to effective communication: direction-giving, meaning-making and empathy.

Therefore, any communications should give clear instructions on what to do, outline the benefits of doing so, and convey empathy towards the challenges your team may be facing.

Keeping staff engaged through a screen

According to Deloitte’s 2019 Global Human Capital Trends report, 85 per cent of employees around the world are not engaged or are actively disengaged from their jobs - and that’s while they’re in the office!

Now imagine how your employees’ levels of engagement are impacted while working from home and isolated from their peers. Looking a bit grim isn’t it...

The harsh reality is that employees are at a higher risk of disengagement and burnout while working from home, particularly with all the added stresses that the pandemic brings on a personal level.

So, it’s absolutely crucial that you book in a weekly catch-up with your team, and touch base with each team member individually if you can. In addition to keeping on top of what everyone needs to be doing and holding them accountable, you must also give your staff the tools, autonomy and flexibility to get their job done in their home environment.

A fantastic way to do this is to have team members set their own goals for the week. Being told what to do is not empowering, but taking ownership of your tasks and stating your own goals and what you want to get done autonomously is. Therefore, if your team members want to work unusual or flexible hours, give them the freedom to do so as long as they get the job done.

At the same time, I believe that leaders need to place a priority on mental health and wellbeing.

It’s understandable that many of your staff members will be feeling anxious, lonely or depressed over these long months so be aware of the challenges they face and take proactive steps to handle this.

For example, the team at Smiling Mind (a great wellness app), have been conducting daily team meditation sessions and stretching exercises, with CEO Addie Wootten stressing that all leaders should provide “accessible high-quality resources and programs that can support good mental health”.

Keep looking forward

Although many businesses have been rightly hunkering down and trying to weather the storm, it’s important to plan for the future and prepare your long-term strategies. Firstly, set up your operations to manage the day-to-day business effectively. Make sure that your stakeholders and team know what’s happening in terms of any impacts to the business and its functions due to Covid-19 and what their specific roles are under these circumstances.

Once this has been implemented, you need to trust your team to take care of BAU (business as usual) so that you can start planning and preparing for the future and the risks, crises and opportunities that come with it.

Specifically, I recommend conducting a risk assessment and business impact assessment in conjunction with the relevant stakeholders and staff. Ensure you have a plan to respond to any future crisis or risk scenario and communicate the set expectations around this plan with your team and stakeholders. Then keep revisiting those plans and updating them as required and communicating the changes to the team.

Lastly, your natural instinct may be to cut costs, make redundancies and ‘trim the fat’. However, I urge you to remember that this crisis won’t last forever.

You still need to build and grow your company, so identify the indicators that the crisis period is coming to an end and have a plan to accelerate out of your current situation. Don’t forget that this is a time to build team loyalty - if you look after your team through the bad, they’ll look after you in return.

Shivani Gopal is the Founder and CEO of The Remarkable Woman; a women’s mentoring and leadership platform.