By Dr. Tomi Wahlström |
I find it almost impossible these days to read or write about anything that does not involve mentioning of the coronavirus pandemic. A lot has changed in the world in just a matter of a few months. Management is not an exception. As more employees are working from home, managers struggle to motivate and engage their teams. Without the ability to conduct face-to-face meetings, managers must now communicate via Zoom sessions, emails, and phone calls. Some managers are able to cope with this better as in many ways this situation is an introvert’s paradise and extrovert’s hell. People leaders may feel the need for human-to-human interaction while task leaders may find that they now have fewer interruptions and more time for reading and writing reports. Employees are obviously experiencing this in the same way. Some of them like working from home while some may see remote work as a true challenge. We are all doing the best we can under the circumstances.
It is possible to manage remote workers effectively. This pandemic does not have to be a cause for productivity losses. However, managing distantly under the pressures and anxieties of this crisis takes special skills. I have personally managed virtual teams for over a decade and learned that it is possible to build and maintain high performing teams while working from home. It takes time and focus, and rethinking of work as whole. It takes a paradigm shift of a kind. One cannot look at time and location in the same way, as one cannot control those dimensions anymore. Everything has to be purely performance based now. Remote workers need specific goals and projects to be assigned to them, and an ability to work on them independently. Managers must be able to work with these employees to carefully calibrate their performance goals, and empower them to work towards them without the need for direct supervision. Employees must also understand their goals and have all the resources and tools needed to reach them. A manager, in this scenario, is a support system rather than a control mechanism. Daily communications should consist of encouraging and empowering employees, and not just briefings on task delivery alone.
Managing remote employees requires trust. Managers who have not cultivated trust previously may find the current situation unbearable. Trust is a complex and multidimensional concept. Employees must be able to not only to trust their managers, but also trust themselves. Similarly, managers must be able to trust their employees as well as their own abilities to manage under these circumstances. They must be able to be authentic and empathic as some employees need holding during these difficult times. That is, they need their managers to care about them and their well-being. They must be able to feel that they are able to talk about their anxieties and frustrations with their managers. After all, we all have fears around this pandemic. This situation influences all of us and we need to express these feelings to release them. Managers must become sort of like counselors in the middle of all this. Managing must become more transformational than transactional. We all must be a bit more vulnerable and trusting.
Remote work may be here to stay even after the pandemic is over. Therefore, managers should adjust fast and learn how to manage remote employees. Sport industry is not an exception as remote work is required in sports organizations as well. When done properly, it can be a cost saver and a productivity booster.
Dr. Tomi Wahlström is Provost at the United States Sports Academy.