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Management

How can leaders stay connected to their teams while working remotely? Communication and understanding, explains Patrick Gallen, is key to successfully navigating these uncertain times. The current global pandemic has the majority of us working from home and, for some, this is a new practice. However, remote working has been around for years in certain sectors, and those leaders have learned lessons, sometimes the hard way, about what works and doesn’t. How can we fast-track our development to quickly adapt our remote leadership skills to lead in the current situation? Adjust your mindset First, it is important for leaders to adjust their mindset, and resist the temptation to rule out certain activities just because you can no longer see your team in front of you. Do you normally have a quick morning meeting in the office? Don't cancel it – use technology to connect virtually instead. We all know that a lot of interaction in the office happens at the coffee machine or staff kitchen, so a leader has to think differently about creating opportunities for informal check-ins, as well. Acknowledge the change With schools out, many team members will be juggling work and parenting responsibilities, so make it clear that it’s OK to have some evidence of family life during your calls. This could also be a topic for informal discussion – sharing tips on home schooling, exercise, and keeping sane during this crisis! Sharing hobbies and activities can inject some fun into team discussions. Accommodate flexible time schedules Asking your team about the best time to schedule calls is also a consideration – working patterns have changed in response to this situation, so the regular nine-to-five is no longer the norm. A leader who has spent time thinking about what their team are going through will be much more considerate and accommodating. Understand the tech Those who have been leading remote teams for years know that the technology is critical to their success. Firms that have invested in the tools to connect virtual teams before this crisis are certainly a step ahead of those that are reactively scrambling to try new systems. If you have easy access to Teams, Skype, Zoom, Google Hangouts, or other collaborative tools, then use them! Give business updates A quick check-in and update from everyone on the team helps to avoid duplication of effort, and keeps the team on track and connected with projects. A business update from the leader can also be very reassuring for the team during this time of uncertainty. People are worried about the state of the economy, the business, and the impact on their jobs, so a leader needs to inform the team about how the organisation is coping, provide client updates, etc. An optimistic and honest response is best. Keep it short and sweet To keep everyone fully engaged during virtual team meetings, you may want to keep the meeting shorter and to the point, and vary the speaker. Turn on the webcams, if possible, so that people are not tempted to ‘multi-task’ during the meeting. And, while it is great to connect the entire team, don’t forget about one-to-ones during this period. Having a check-in with each member on their own is very important and provides an opportunity to listen, so that communication is not only one way. Communication is key to successful team working, and this is still the case while working remotely. This takes extra effort on the part of the leader, but will pay dividends to get through this crisis – and you may just find that many of the new ways of working are worth continuing when we eventually get back to a new normal. Patrick Gallen is Partner of People & Change Consulting in Grant Thornton Northern Ireland.

Mar 26, 2020
News

These uncertain times have brought a big change to the way we work, but that shouldn’t stop you from using your leadership skills to successfully manage your team remotely. Moira Dunne tells us how. We’ve all been taken by surprise by the speed of events in relation to COVID-19. Most people are working from home, and for leaders and managers this means a shift in style and approach. However, the skills required are the same leadership skills you use every day in the office, just with a slight adjustment. Use these pointers to help lead your team from a distance. Provide focus As you streamline your business to essentials activities, many decisions will be made at a senior level. Help people adjust to these changes by explaining the reasons behind them and how the changes will impact everyone’s responsibilities.   Discuss priorities with each person. Listen carefully to their ideas and suggestions and agree weekly and daily targets. This will help people stay on track, and is particularly useful if people are finding it hard to focus while working at home. A target combined with a daily check-in will give people a sense of accountability. It can also provide a sense of achievement and productivity as those targets are reached. Provide connection Being available by phone and email to discuss questions or concerns is key. Consider using video for daily check-ins. Group video calls keep everyone connected and can help keep morale up. Tools like Zoom or Whereby are easy to set up and manage. Perhaps someone in your team would take this on as a mini project to get everyone connected. Collaborative tools like Microsoft Teams, Trello or Slack can also be used for updates on group projects and to track the status of tasks.  Provide flexibility Flexibility is key right now. We are all adjusting to these uncertain times and it is important to help your team manage their stress. Adjust your expectations as you set targets. People can’t be expected to work at the same rate or pace as they did in the office. Some may find they get more work done, as they have fewer distractions. But for most, there will be more demands on their time right now, particularly with children off school. Your people may not be available during usual business hours. Be flexible. Allow them to work at different times if the demands of your business can support it. The new normal For many companies and leaders, this transition to remote working will be tough. But there may be some insights into new ways of working for your business in the future. Keep an open mind and an open ear during these uncertain times. Moira Dunne is the Founder of beproductive.ie.

Mar 26, 2020
Management

Can you influence from a distance? Without a doubt, but first you need to consider your environment and what triggers those around you. Liam Dillon tells us how. In a normal working environment, we interact frequently. With the current ongoing crisis, we find ourselves having to work from home and meet up with people virtually to discuss plans and projects. While everyone has their quirks, managing and influencing effectively from a distance can present its own set of problems. Here are five actions managers can take while trying to influence from a distance. This is simple and intuitive stuff but sometimes bad habits surface, especially when faced with such unexpected circumstances. You do not need to be centre stage Take an interest in what your team is saying about projects. It’s important to remember that you will get to say your piece before the conversation is over, but other people need to be heard even if they aren’t leading the team. Listen to the conversation, take in what they’ve said and add to it, passing the turn back to them to elaborate further. By encouraging conversation, you are relaxing the environment for everyone, especially those who can’t see you face-to-face over camera. In fact, studies have shown that those who express an interest in what someone is saying and then follows-up with questions to encourage debate have a higher chance of influencing those around them. Remember personal details Forgetting someone’s name – especially someone on your team – can ruin rapport. Remembering someone’s name has been shown to make people more likely to help you, buy from you, and is seen as a compliment. Let people talk about themselves Whether we want to admit it or not, we love to talk about ourselves, and the last thing anyone wants is to be cut down, especially when they can’t see your face to judge your emotions. The lesson here is that if you want to make those you are trying to influence feel good, get them talking about themselves and their interests. Focus on others When introducing someone to a group, make them feel important by highlighting their skillsets and placing value on their thoughts and opinions. Try asking questions to delve deeper into their thoughts to get a better picture of who they are and what they can bring to the team; by doing this, you are encouraging each person to engage more in the conversation. Find the similarities We prefer people who are like us. We are more likely to become friends with people who we perceive as being similar to us. So, the rationale should be that we are more likely to listen and take into account the opinions of these people.Find the similarities with the people you are influencing: they are more likely to listen and take your opinions into account if they perceive you as being the same as them. To influence is to know the other party, even if you can’t see them for the time being. Liam Dillon is a Senior Consultant with Turlon & Associates.

Mar 26, 2020
News

We all know that stress is bad for us. Given the current global situation, it is essential that we reduce our stress and improve our wellbeing. Tim France tells us how. The current crisis is stressful. We’re worried about ourselves and the people we love getting sick. We’re worried about the economic impact. We’re worried about practical issues, like how to work from home effectively or whether we will have enough milk, bread… or toilet roll. The trouble is, stress is bad for us. Amongst other things, sustained stress compromises our immune systems. So, it’s not just preferable to be able to reduce stress, it’s essential if we are going to fight off a virus. Here are some simple things we can do to reduce stress and improve wellbeing: Limit negative intake Watching endless news about the virus with emotive graphics, graphs and images feeds our fear. It’s important to limit our exposure to all this negativity to maybe just once or twice a day (just not the first thing or last thing!), and to balance negative stories with positive ones. Follow @goodnews_movement on Instagram for some inspirational stories. Get organised Organising your time and work space, planning ahead and scheduling calls and workload removes stress and makes the working day more manageable and enjoyable. Taking time to plan at the beginning of the day or week is one of the simplest and most effective ways to reduce stress down the line.  Create new routines Whether working from home or working with social distancing, we all have to find new ways to live and work. We find routine reassuring and uncertainty stressful. It’s important to create new routines quickly. Look for the positives Human beings always manage to find gold in the dirt. Whether war time or natural disaster, history is full of examples of people creating good things from bad situations. So, whether it’s forging stronger bonds with colleagues, spending more time with family, or becoming a video conferencing ninja, focus on and celebrate the positives that are emerging from this crisis. Stay away from conflict In stressful times, it’s easy for conflicts to arise. If you feel your buttons being pushed, take time to think and cool down before responding. Deal with the facts, not emotions, and work to see the other perspective. Stress breeds conflict and conflict creates more stress. It pays to break that cycle. Take time for yourself “You can’t fill a cup from an empty jug” the saying goes. Much is going to be asked of us all, both personally and professionally over the coming weeks and months, but we can’t keep giving without taking time to refill. Listen carefully to your own needs: do you need to rest? Eat? Exercise? Sleep? Drink water? Simply stare out of the window? Whatever it is, give yourself permission to do it. Make sure you meet your own needs so that you can continue to meet the needs of others. There may be some very challenging times ahead, but by following these simple suggestions, we can reduce stress and boost our immune systems. Tim France is the CEO of Transformative Mind & Body Wellbeing Centre.

Mar 20, 2020
Careers

Working from home has become necessary for many people due to COVID-19. But how can you manage when it comes to working remotely? Eric Fitzpatrick gives us nine tips on how to successfully work remotely without going stir-crazy or losing productivity. The Coronavirus is forcing organisations and workforces to reconsider their current work practices. Non-essential travel has been cancelled, events are being postponed or moved to online platforms and companies and organisations have their staff work remotely from home.   At first glance, working from home can be appealing, but there is a downside to it as well. As someone who has worked from home for more than ten years, the following are worth noting when it comes to remote working.  1. Discipline  The key to working at home is discipline. Be clear about what time you will start and finish. Agree these times with your organisation. You might have more flexibility with your hours than you would in your office but it’s important to be clear about your hours. Build in the times and duration of your breaks. Know that you’ll take a break at 11am for 15 minutes. If you’re not disciplined, 15 minutes could easily become 30 minutes or longer.  2. Get dressed If how you dress is too casual, how you work might be, too. Wear work clothes. Working from home might mean dressing as you would for casual Friday in the office, but dressing for work gets you in the frame of mind for work.  3. Designate a workspace  If you have a home office where you can close the door behind you at the end of the day, great. If not, work from a space where you must be clear at the end of the work day, such as the family dining table. By removing access to the workspace, you remove the temptation to go back to work for a couple of hours in the evening.  4. Work in a room that is bright and airy Working in a dark office with no natural light can reduce productivity and enjoyment.  Create a tidy workspace and an environment that is conducive to effective working. Have a place for everything and place only that which you will need in that workspace. 5. Ditch your mobile Be without your mobile for as much as possible, if not needed for work. Leave it in another room if you’re working on a project from which you don’t want to be interrupted. You can lose up to an hour a day picking up your phone to check social media platforms. Remove the temptation.    6. Skip the chores During your working day, don’t put on a wash, do the weekly shopping, vacuum, change the bed covers, paint the kitchen or replace that lock. You’re being paid to work, not to get ahead of the housework.   7. Keep healthy  If you walk or cycle to work, working from home takes away the opportunity to get that exercise. Can you make time elsewhere to get in some activity? Your kitchen will probably be closer to your workspace that the office canteen is to your office desk. It can be very tempting to take 10 seconds to walk to the kitchen to grab a snack. Working from home, you might find yourself doing less exercise and eating more – a bad combination. Try to manage your activity levels and snack time. 8. Don’t go stir-crazy  Working from home can take a bit of getting used to. You go from working in a busy, noisy office to working in quiet isolation. At first, it seems great, then slowly the walls start to close in. The silence becomes too loud and you find you need people to interact with. Don’t go more than two days without speaking to colleagues or clients. Design your calendar to ensure you have regular contact with the outside world.  9. Turn on the radio Music can be a positive contribution to an effective workspace at home. Played in the background, it can replace the noise of the office and remove some of the quiet isolation.  Working from home can increase productivity, improve your quality of life and may become necessary for many people over the coming weeks or months. Knowing how to manage it can make it as successful as possible.   Eric Fitzpatrick is owner of ARK Speaking and Training.  

Mar 20, 2020
Careers

Working remotely can be a struggle, but the best way to manage it is to figure out what works best for you to be productive. Neil Kelders explains.  You are not alone. We are all facing the same struggles. We need to manage these struggles by taking action. Find what the best ingredients are for you to be productive during an uncertain and stressful time.  Communicate  Ask yourself: what is going to stress me out while working at home? Write out your list and get your partner and kids to do the same and discuss. Address the issues and conflicts that come up and plan to overcome those obstacles.  Calm the storm When you wake up, spend a few minutes sitting with yourself. I meditate but if this isn’t for you, just sit and let your thoughts come, recognise them and let them go, focus on your breathing and the calm around you. Schedule your day around your energy levels  To ensure you don’t stress, you need to work with your body. Some of us are ‘early birds’ so our energy peaks in the morning. Others are ‘night owls’ who achieve more and focus better in the evening. Which are you?  If you’re an early bird, the morning is best for analytical work (figuring problems and planning). As an early bird, energy levels are lower in the late afternoon and evening so use that time for creativity and coming up with new ideas. Night owls work the opposite. Meetings and calls are best scheduled for when you know you’ll have low energy because connecting with people raises energy levels. Use distractions to your advantage Our brain craves novelty. When something unexpected happens (like our phones buzzing, for example) it immediately captures our attention, right? Try to build productivity-enhancing distractions into your day, such as making your: 1. To-do list more visible. Put your to-do list on a brightly coloured pad, so that your eyes are regularly drawn to it throughout the day. When you look away from your monitor, you’ll see the pad and your eyes are immediately drawn to your next goal. 2. Alarm as your assistant. Do you lose yourself in something you love doing and need to be reminded to stop and start doing another task? Your alarm is now your reminder to stay on track. Set end times for your activities. I set my timer for 45-minute sessions. I then take a break, reset the timer and go again for 45 minutes. Try it with your kids, build their structure into yours and take breaks together. Sleep better Better sleep does not start at bedtime. It starts with the choices you make during the day.  Improve sleep by:  replacing your afternoon coffee with a post-lunch walk with family (if not isolating); or using your garden to exercise after work. From a sleep perspective, the ideal time for exercising is five to six hours before bed.  Over the coming days (weeks? months?) you will head a lot of advice, but you need to explore what works for you. We all differ, so don’t become frustrated when advice is not working. Remember to adjust to what will work for you. Consistency is key. This is our reality for now, so do things today that make more time tomorrow. Neil Kelders is a coach and advocate for mental wellness and physical fitness. To receive a free eBook on working from home, email Neil.  

Mar 20, 2020