The softer side of team leadership in lockdown

How can we best ensure the wellbeing of our people through the current situation?

The ‘comedy’ name that my team have for me is Team Mam. I like to think that it’s because I’m a top pick when someone has a problem; I’m good for a chat and I genuinely care about the team and their wellbeing. It’s got to be that; not that I’m the most likely to ‘give it to them straight’. Yeah, definitely…

We all know the Coronavirus has been a curve ball for the majority of businesses; big changes have happened. Whether it’s been a conscious drive to keep money in the bank, a massive change to remote working, a total cease in all trading or a massive surge in demand. We made a fairly quick decision to have all our teams working remotely and put a group in place to monitor the situation, make sure that the teams were fully informed and taking action appropriately. We have a large array of clients that we continue to deliver work for; the projects are running well and we are all very appreciative that we can continue in this climate.

So we are all working from home and this is likely to be the situation for quite a while.

We, and by that I mean myself and Waterstons as a whole, take our people’s wellbeing as seriously as their career progression. As well as the more common perks like private healthcare, we regularly run programmes and training on great topics like money management, mindfulness and learning how to give and take feedback. We need to come out of this crisis stronger, better and tighter as a team. So how can we best ensure the wellbeing of our people through the current situation?

We are four weeks in now, so it’s a good time to reflect on what we’ve tried, what’s worked and what we could do more of.

Balancing commitments

Our people are delivering for our clients with passion. But how are they juggling their work and life balance?

It’s tough; as someone without children I have no idea how you can juggle a day at work with the distraction from your children being in the same building. But, I do what I can to understand and sympathise with how they are coping.

From a team member who made the fatal mistake of allowing their children a treat to occupy them while they took a client call (who is now trying to undo that habit for fear of giving their child type 2 diabetes), to the colleague who had a conference call with a four year old mounted on their shoulders. I’ve also heard a strong announcement from the background of a call that someone was going for a wee wee!

Understand and be patient, if a catch-up needs to wiggle to let someone deal with a child having a meltdown, you’re going to have a better time if you wait until they have a clear mind.

We have some of the team who are doing split shifts with their partners to fulfil their commitments to their jobs. We might have had to do some serious diary rearrangements but it’s not an insurmountable task.

See the whites of their eyes

We were all a little lazy in the past with our video conferencing. Not everyone used cameras with the calls. We’ve all made a conscious effort to use the cameras to see each other. We use Microsoft Teams in the main and it is a great platform for having group calls.

When we have internal calls, it’s not unusual for children or pets to make appearances and we’re okay with that. We sometimes have a children’s party at the Waterstons office too so it’s nice to see how some of those little ones are growing.

Keep in touch without having an agenda

When you’re working in an office, you have constant communication with the team without having any formal time arranged. Having a coffee, walking past their desk, seeing them looking confused, hearing them have a conversation with someone else. All of these things mean that you can gauge their current mood and status.

Remote working means that we can be lazy and only speak to the team when we want information or work from them. I’m sure every conversation will start with a check-in and some chitchat before you swiftly move on to what the real purpose of the call is. The status of a relationship can quickly change if you are only speaking to someone in a capacity when you want something for them.

Make sure that you do general check-ins with the team without an ulterior motive.

Don’t keep it all about business

We are all there to work, but make sure that you have some social activities. It takes a little imagination but we’re working with what we have. We have a Monday morning catch-up; a coffee get together and a nice chat about our weekend. A volunteer talks for five to ten minutes on something that they find interesting; whether its asteroid mining, prosecco or one of the best frauds in history.

The team have joined up to do some lunchtime online gaming sessions too.

Friday beers; something that we do sporadically in the office is now a weekly event on a Friday at the end of the day. Alcohol is optional, from the person drinking lemonade to the person taking shots, we’ve got them all covered. One of the team sorts out a pub quiz; I’d like to say that I’ve won every week but that would be the total opposite of the truth.

Our main aim is to try a few things, not everyone will be interested in everything so have a few options and let people come to the ones that they are interested in.

Appreciate that this takes its toll on people differently

We have some people in the team who are generally happy with their own company and managing well. We have some really social people who do a lot of activities with a lot of friends. Some people waver from being fine about this to genuinely struggling.

These are stressful times – some people have lost their support network. Some people have genuine concerns about their loved ones.

Don’t assume that everyone is coping and try to read between the lines on how they are interacting.

An outburst or a few tears might be out of character for someone; know that these are extraordinary times and this person most likely just needs to let it out. Let them work through it and then talk it through.

How will we come out of this?

We just don’t know. These are times that we have never seen before.

We will work our hardest to try new things and let the team feel safe, connected and engaged.

I know that at the end of this I will appreciate my time in the office with the team a lot more. I also know that I’ve earned a new respect for my colleagues that work from home most of the time.

Mainly I hope that we all come out of this safe and healthy

Waterstons Coffee Club with Stew Hogg, our Head of Cyber Resilience (11:00 - 12:00)

26 May 2021

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