After a period of self-reflection recently, I wanted to explore how much the pandemic has changed the way I approach working with and managing my team. I like to think that over the years I have developed as a manager and would certainly not consider myself a “micro-manager”, the only caveat to that is when I am working with people who prefer that style. I feel I have always tried to offer more flexibility to my team than my peers, but since returning to the office environment following the pandemic, I question whether I have moved too far the other way? Does it mean I miss things? Does it mean that newer staff do not get all the support they need? Has it effected our team culture negatively?
I am not sure I have all the answers, but my team certainly seem to enjoy the flexibility. We have achieved our best results in over 20 years, and I feel that some time away from my team has given me more time to look at strategy, where the skills gaps are and the “brain space” to assess.
I decided to poll other team leaders to see if they felt that they had changed their styles and 88% of people had. Around a third said these were minor changes, but over half of those polled said they had become considerably different – a huge percentage!
So, what were the finding from running the poll:
1 / Missing the opportunity for instant feedback
Most managers highlighted that one thing they miss is the opportunity to give instant feedback to their team as regularly (either positive or negative). Part of the way we have learnt to manage has always been to give advice or feedback to team members as we watch a task unfold before our eyes. Many of the managers acknowledged that losing this opportunity had some pitfalls, however, they had set more ‘official’ time aside for reviews in the hope that this would compensate. There were though some managers that felt having too much time structured and time allocated was less useful as they prefer to have more ad-hoc catch up’s, this said although those in this category were reluctant to be formal in terms of putting allocated time in a diary, they did feel that they were perhaps making a point of checking in more regularly.
2 / Information sharing
In many job roles (especially ours), there is no real substitute for sitting with other members of the team and sharing information. Again, much of this occurs in an informal setting where you are just doing your role, or even in the kitchen over lunch. Team leaders have had to come up with ways to try and ensure that home working has not removed this aspect, and many felt that by setting up video meeting, encouraging the use of email to share information or having “chat groups” that these allowed for a much easier flow of information and for conversations to still be happening.
3 / Leading from the front
Many leaders will have been taught to lead from the front and on days where the team are not together this can be more difficult to demonstrate. It seems that most people feel they are now perhaps using reporting tools more and are more inclined to produce reports more regularly. With some this is to ensure work is being carried out but overwhelming many people really were using them not to be “big brother” but more to see the skills gap and hence where their teams may need additional support and training. In addition, regular calls to offer to help with workload or tricky tasks has seemed to have helped leaders to be viewed positively from their teams.
4 / Being on top of wellbeing
It is often when you are face-to-face with someone that you will notice a downturn in their mental health or other changes in wellbeing. This is another area where being apart could lead to management challenges. Responses to our poll showed several tactics to ensure that not too much was going through the cracks. The most basic but potentially most effective were just a couple of short Teams meetings on a one-on-one basis per week. In these meetings they made sure that they not only discussed work, but checked in on how the person was feeling, and what they had been up to on a personal level.
5 / Change of working patterns
With Hybrid now being a popular way of working for most businesses it has afforded people more flexibility around the working hours as well, hence the 9-5 / 9-5:30 or even 9-6 seems to have been mixed up and people are able to go off drop children off / pick children up / attend to other commitment / go to gym and then start work earlier or later. In general, it has not appeared that this has had any impact, work is still being done and people are committed because they are being given this flexibility.
6 / Managing performance
Some managers mentioned that they have had to adapt their management style when it comes to managing over achievers / under performers. This used to be done face-to-face in a meeting room but now it’s done more so than not on Teams - this presents its own challenges. There is more difficulty in reading body language to allow managers to be agile in their delivery for one thing and the opportunity to see someone back at their desk after a difficult conversation is also lost.
I think a lot of people are still trying to figure some of these things out and with 54% of respondents saying they have had to make considerable change and 35% stating they have had to make some changes, one thing is evident and that is we have all had to adapt and change to varying degrees.
Thanks to all those that contributed, called and wanted to have a chat about it as well.