Anthony Ariganello, CPHR
President & CEO of CPHR BC & Yukon
Anthony Ariganello is the President and CEO of CPHR BC & Yukon. CPHR BC & Yukon represents over 6,800 members in the Human Resources Profession, providing them with the knowledge, skills, and support to help keep people first in business decisions.
Remote work is not a new idea. After all, companies have been allowing employees to have flexibility in their schedule, where they may work the odd day remotely. However, over the past year, that odd day working from home has become normal due to the COVID-19 global pandemic.
With 90 percent of our employees working remotely now, how I lead our organization has had to alter a bit. No longer are we all in one place where I can drop by someone’s office and talk to them about something that has come up. Now, more than ever, communications with staff need to be strategically planned out.
And I’m not alone in battling the change from a face-to-face world to a mostly virtual one.
A study by the Harvard Business Review in July 2020, showed about 40 percent of supervisors and managers in their study expressed low self-confidence in their ability to manage workers remotely.
If we can’t continue to lead our organizations, our organizations are doomed to eventually fail.
Here are some of the lessons I have learned to being an effective remote leader:
1. Embrace Technology
Technology is a wonderful thing. To be able to just ask “Alexa” a question and get an answer within seconds is something I use each day. Who could have imagined that would be a thing a decade ago?
Other technologies like Zoom and/or Skype have made the lack of face-to-face interaction bearable. I can’t imagine what it would be like to host a managers or staff meeting any other way during the pandemic—conference calls are just so outdated.
While it isn’t the same as face-to-face time, you are able to interact with staff in nearly the same manner.
Other technologies, such as Slack, Microsoft Teams, Trello, email,and the good old telephone also help keep staff and manager in the loop with what is going on with their teams.
2. Set Meeting Times with Staff Who Report to You
I have several staff who report directly to me and what I’ve found is, routine is key to staying on the same page and staying in the know with what people are working on.
I meet with my directors a minimum of once a week to find out what is going on within their teams and provide them feedback on whatever they are working on. I meet with other staff every few weeks as well to provide guidance, and be in the know with what they are working on.
I find it’s best to schedule the meetings in each week at a certain time—say, touch base with the directors every Tuesday at 10 a.m. and with other staff every month as scheduled —because certainty is a wonderful thing during these uncertain times.
3. Update Staff Regularly
We have a fairly small and tight-knit team at CPHR BC &Yukon, and I take pride in the work that they do each day.
With all the uncertainty in the world I think it’s important to get everyone together every few months to connect and talk openly about where we are as an organization.
I’m a big believer in that if you want your staff to be open and transparent with you, you need to be open and transparent with them. And this is more important now than ever with all the doom-and-gloom we see in the news each day—layoffs, rising case numbers, deaths, lockdowns, and so on.
That doom-and-gloom can lead to anxiety and stress within your workforce. That anxiety and stress is not only toxic for the employee themselves, but it also often leads to problems within your organization too.
Now, as I said, we have a small team and it’s easy for us to get together on Zoom every few months—I realize this may not be an option for larger organizations, with hundreds or even thousands of staff.
But hearing from a CEO, no matter the size of your organization, can be reassuring to staff, and boost morale and productivity. My suggestion if you can’t get together on Zoom, record a video message to staff updating them on the organization and send it to them—video is a much better way and more sincere way to connect than email.
4. Trust & Flexibility
Let’s face it, for all of us, nothing about this year has been normal. And because of that, we have all had to adapt our lives in order to ensure we keep ourselves safe, our loved ones safe, and that we are staying productive.
In the past, being productive meant that you were in the office, MondaytoFriday, nine-to-five and everyone could physically see you at your desk doing your job.
It’s time we shifted the definition of productivity. To me, being productive is accomplishing your tasks and executing your responsibilities efficiently within the timeframe of the hours you are scheduled to work.
For some people, that may mean waking up early and getting stuff done before their co-workers are awake, then picking up their child after school at 3 p.m. For others, it may mean taking a longer lunch to go for a walk, then working in the evening when their co-workers are enjoying time with their families or working out at the gym.
As a remote leader, you need to trust that your employees are going to get the work done and give them some flexibility with their schedules to navigate their own way through this pandemic.
Everyone’s life, responsibilities, and values are different and as such, we should be accommodating to employees within reason.
5. Meaningful Connections Should Still Be the Norm
The last point I’d like to make is that we should all try to have some sense for normalcy in our lives during this uncertain time.
Normalcy is great for both your mental health, and your employee’s mental health.
For me, normalcy is getting to see the people I work with, often trying to keep things light by playing a joke, talking about the game last night, or what someone did on the weekend.
While this is tough to do during a pandemic when we are not able to meet face-to-face, I’d like to circle back to my first point of using technology to connect with staff.
Set up Zoom meetings every few weeks just to talk to each other about random things—just because we are apart doesn’t mean we can’t connect in a similar manner like we used to do in the hallways or at the coffee machine.
The Way Forward
While there is hope on the horizon in the form of a vaccine that should see most of us getting back to a more normal routine by sometime this summer, we are sure to take some of these new skills we have learned over the last 12 months forward.
Managing remote workers will surely be an essential skill we use as leaders going forward. The days of employees being in the office, Monday to Friday, nine-to-five are gone.
As leaders, we must ensure we can lead remotely, as I firmly believe that the future of work is a hybrid model that allows employees the flexibility of working remotely, more so than what we were accustomed to in the past.
Studies have shown the benefits of employees working remotely, from the environmental impact due to lack of commuting cars on the roads, to the time savings on commuting to-and-from the office, to the mental health benefits of a better work/life balance and much more.
But I also firmly believe people are social beings. I think a lot of the best ideas organizations come up with originate organically at the water cooler or over coffee. I don’t know how many times I’ve asked someone for feedback in the hallway and left with the answer I’ve been seeking out for the past few days.
We need to see each other for these ideas to be born and organizations to thrive.