Thriving in Transition: Teleworking Tips for Leaders to Maximize Productivity and Sanity

By Lara Coffee, Executive Vice President, Human Resources and Marketing and Communication

In a leadership role within a company, people rely on you for many things: support, advice, industry expertise, a listening ear, and professional wisdom. During uncertain times such as those we are experiencing during the COVID-19 pandemic, a leader’s guiding voice has a renewed sense of importance. Many companies and organizations are currently dealing with the transition to mandatory telework. For some employees, especially introverts, this might feel like a dream, at least initially. Reduced commutes, slowly savoring that morning cup of coffee, having alone time to focus, and staying in cozy clothing are all good things. However, there’s comfort in routines, even if those routines can feel like a grind at times. Part of our routines are social. Seemingly mundane activities like interacting with our colleagues and having face-to-face interactions actually help us get into a work mindset and start the day on the right path. Other parts of our workplace routines are related to space and resources. We are comfortable with our desk and chair arrangements and the physical items around us. We associate things like our photos, pen containers, and the printed company newsletter with our professional foci and goals.

Things are changing rapidly due to the spread of COVID-19. Employees are faced with a transition caused by an uncertain global crisis that impacts us personally and professionally. Many of us are starting to realize that all the little things in our work routine set us up for seamless performance each day. This is a time for company leaders to understand these truths and be proactive about setting their employees us for success throughout each step of the transition.

Communicate and stay connected

I’ve always believed that communication is the responsibility of the communicator. As leaders, we have a duty to set the standard for the quality and frequency of communication whether we’re in the office or when telework is implemented. Sharing information is critical, especially at the beginning when people are trying to solidify their new routines.

While actual face-to-face communication may be suspended for a while, there are many resources out there to help stay connected. Some offices use chat apps such as Slack, which enable more casual, rapid conversation compared to email alone. Others employ video conferencing such as Zoom and instead of saving these resources for large meetings, use them to connect frequently in whatever way is needed. Discuss with your employees the best channels and timeframes for communication on their end and yours. Keep in mind that in addition to your own busy schedule as an executive, your employees also have commitments they need to work around.

Be empathetic and flexible

Most of us are in the same boat. Our social lives are stifled. Many of us are caring for children or supporting relatives in addition to doing our jobs. This is an opportunity for leaders to reveal their compassionate side and relate to employees in a human way. If work hours can be flexed, explain the policy clearly to employees and work with them to find a schedule that meets their needs. Ultimately, results are what matter and if employees are showing the results you expect, then empower them to set their own framework for productivity.

Show your trust

Employees take pride in knowing that their supervisor trusts them to do their job well. Make sure you express your trust and confidence in your employees’ competence. Also, clearly convey how they can strengthen that trust by providing deliverables that reflect your company’s high standards and asking questions if they ever need support or answers. There are always moments where poor decisions or choices need to be addressed. However, if you value your team members, then show them that by cultivating mutual respect and trust and avoiding the trap of micromanagement.

Create a dedicated space

Leaders and their team members alike need to prioritize this, regardless of the size or setup of their homes. A dedicated physical workspace serves two key purposes: making sure work documents and resources stay organized and training the brain to associate the space with professional productivity. There could certainly be barriers, such as having adequate furniture and keeping children out of the space. If your employees are struggling to figure out the right design or location, help them navigate the process and brainstorm ideas together.

In my role at CSCI, I’ve worked with people in all kinds of work situations. Many of our staff work remotely or on client sites while others work at our physical headquarters. We have colleagues working in different time zones and some in military reserves who can be called for duty with little notice. I’ve learned to adapt my leadership style and management practices to the needs of all our employees. When you build relationships based on flexibility, support, and trust, it builds positivity that permeates the entire organization. The COVID-19 pandemic certainly presents an unprecedented challenge for everyone, but if leaders take these tips to heart, they will make the transition to telework as smooth as possible.