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How do we lead staff who are working from home?

Alex Thiel, HR Communicator at Allianz Deutschland AG, reports on working from home whilst working from home. In one of his more recent episodes, Alex interviewed Peter Daiber from the HR Department about remote leadership.
Written on 3/1/21

Alex Thiel, HR Communicator at Allianz Deutschland AG, reports on working from home whilst working from home. In his podcast he informs Allianz staff about current issues during the crisis. To do so, he asks experts to call in to share their perspectives. In one of his more recent episodes, Alex interviewed managers about the challenges of leading staff who are working from home. In the following interview, Peter Daiber from the HR Department explains to Alex what experiences he has had in this respect. Look forward to learning from his rich store of experience and to hearing a few pearls of wisdom about remote leadership.

Peter, while dealing with the topic of “New Working”, you devote a lot of attention to leading virtual teams. What is so special about it?

Remote leadership is very challenging. First of all you need to make sure that staff who are not working in the same location are working in a goal-oriented manner and that they are cooperating properly with one another. In addition, it is the job of the manager to demand and to nurture individual responsibility from their staff. This enables skills and potential to be used optimally when staff are working from home. When leading ‘from a distance’, direct steering and control can no longer be done. Nevertheless certain rules and conditions of course have to be complied with. The manager has to ensure that this is happening and, at the same time, reinforce the solidarity within the team.

What tips can you give our managers to help them get used to this new form of leadership as easily as possible?

First of all you need to develop clear rules about working together and communicating with the team, and make sure that these are followed consistently. Moreover, the manager should ensure that the team stays in regular contact. This becomes even more important the more the team is dependent on good cooperation between individual team members to do its work. Different team members also need to be treated differently; for example, the induction of a new member of staff requires a lot of contact and support whereas more experienced team members might interpret too frequent contact from their superior as unwanted control.

What do managers have to consider about their own leadership and behaviour in particular?

This really depends on the type of manager they are. Managers who always want to be there for their staff have the challenge of learning to let go, since they would otherwise be overwhelmed very quickly. Managers who predominantly focus on targets being met and work being done and have a more distant leadership style have to make sure they don’t lose touch with their direct reports. It is important that managers don’t make too many demands on their team and that they provide structure and ensure that work can be done. On the other hand, they have to learn to trust their staff because they can’t always have everything under control by themselves.

During the pandemic, many more staff, and also managers themselves, are permanently working from home. This requires a considerable change of mindset in day-to-day management. How is this possible?

Essentially, the tips I mentioned earlier apply. But in times like these, communication has to be made more essential and done in a more disciplined way. For instance, teams whose work can only be done if they work together need to meet more regularly via digital media to discuss everything that is necessary for their tasks to be completed. This could be once a week but might even require a daily jour fixe. The important thing is to limit the duration of meetings and ensure there is a clear agenda. This means discussing what needs to be discussed to complete the necessary tasks. But keeping in touch should not be neglected either, especially with those team members who need support and who might be working from home for a longer period for the first time. In this case both manager and the entire team need to ensure that nobody disconnects or feels left alone.

Over time, lasting remote leadership takes on a very strong social character, perhaps even more of a caring aspect. Why is this and what would you recommend to managers?

It’s possible that I may no longer see or meet individual colleagues for long periods of time and therefore I can no longer properly gauge how they are feeling. This can, of course, mean that I don’t pick up on crucial changes in time. Are my staff well? Have I observed changes that give me cause for concern? This is why I strongly recommend planning and living social interaction in a much more structured manner. Keep getting in touch and staying in touch. Here, too, your focus needs to be on those employees who need more support and guidance in their day-to-day work.

Thanks to Allianz Deutschland AG for providing the above text. For further articles please visit the Allianz career blog.