The flight, fright, and freeze mode that COVID-19 initially had on us is slowly wearing off. We no longer have that permanent deer in the headlight look on our faces from the impact that it has had on our entire life. The original shock is over, and bit by bit we’re starting to live in this new COVID-19 world.

Some people who previously had to work from home and conduct all their meetings online are beginning to return to work. However, others have either chosen to continue to work from home, or have been asked to. This means that most teams don’t work in the same space. This new way of working doesn’t appeal to everyone. Some will welcome this new working style, while others prefer to be in the same space as the people they work with.

Being physically separated isn’t easy because it impacts communication levels, motivation, engagement, and well-being. These are some of the things which were already difficult to manage before COVID-19 (BC), when we all worked in the same location, but now they’ve become more complicated. As much as we highlight the positive aspect – and there are many – the biggest and most threatening challenge for a leader will be to ensure that his team remains connected. Team members always need to feel that they belong, are part of, and contribute to, the organisation, and that isolation and psychological distancing will not affect them.

I want to share my top three recommendations to ensure that your team remains high performers, and that they experience positive morale, engagement, and job satisfaction.

Three ways to manage your team

We’ve had to let go of all our expectations about the way we operated BC. Previously unthinkable concepts have become a reality, and leaders and team members have had to adapt quickly and come to terms with this new way of working.

  1. Unsynchronised working hours: People are no longer allowed to gather at the same space, and neither do they work similar hours. Even with flexi-time, you could rely on the fact that most of your team were at the office at a certain time during the day. Now, people work different hours which may not coincide with the time that their colleagues are at the office. We need to trust, become more open-minded, and give people the autonomy to work the hours that suit their lifestyle and energy levels. We need to stop micro-managing people, and give them the freedom to craft their jobs, their tasks, and the structure of their day. As a leader, your role is to become more explicit in articulating what needs to be done, and what your expectations are. There will be team members who were dependent on you micro-managing them, and you’ll need to mentor them to become more self-sufficient.
  2. Increase communication and connection levels: As highlighted previously, one of the glaring downsides of working virtually will be the risk that team members may feel socially disconnected from one another. They may feel as if they’re not really a unit that collaborates, shares, and cares for one another. To prevent this from happening, you need to take an extremely active role in staying connected through short text messages, virtual coffee chats, and social events. Make it a daily priority to be in touch with at least one person, and then every week or second week have short check-ins. These meetings are not to be confused with the standard production and update meetings, as they’re about connecting with your team and making sure that they’re feeling emotionally, psychologically, and physically supported.
  3. Provide learning buddies and resources: Many employees are in uncharted territory, and have to learn new technical skills, working routines, and behaviours of working effectively and efficiently, while being physically apart. Support them by creating a buddy system so that they can learn from one another and feel socially connected. Learning together with a peer is less overwhelming, builds trust, and fosters stronger working relationships. Encourage this, and make sure that your team has options available to learn new skills.

The time has come to create a safe learning environment; one in which everyone has a voice to contribute and share their thoughts. Give them the space and the permission to walk this uncharted territory together. No-one has been in this situation before, so we don’t have the answers, but we can discover them together.