As the world battles against COVID, a lot of focus is being drawn towards guaranteeing the well-being and work-life balance of employees, and how leaders can support their remote team. However, not enough is being said on how this can take a huge toll on leaders, as they’re often overwhelmed with the growing expectations and the drastically increased physical, cognitive and emotional workload.
Just like with the parent-child oxygen mask safety procedure in an aircraft – if leaders do not take proper care of themselves in the first place, they aren’t capable of supporting their team. Below, I share a few tips for companies on how this can be tackled in a remote environment.
Based on the data I’ve analyzed through the Network Perspective platform, leaders might be 200% more overloaded during COVID than before. The experience for leaders drops more than for regular employees – they might have booked 34-44 hours a week for meetings, handle 800 emails a week, and end up working 12 hours a day.
To better illustrate this, let’s consider the following scenario: Anna, a leader at a big fintech company who manages a team of 10 people regularly holds weekly and daily meetings with her team. However, the pandemic strikes and the entire business has to move to the remote work model. Anna tries to continue being there for her people, but by doing so she falls into a trap. Assuming she has 10 employees working for her, she decides to drop or strictly limit the number of team meetings in favor of more 1-on-1 meetings (for example, two meetings per week for each employee). She thinks it’s the only way to make each employee feel cared for, but has so many calls, Slack messages, or email each day she struggles remembering the context of each of these interactions.
Another potential trap and concern for the leader during COVID is that their team might fall apart. Daily team meetings help people bond and discuss their work-related experiences. If leaders remove team meetings in favor of 1-on-1s, they also remove predictability. How so?
If there’s a daily team meeting, employees can assess whether they can wait with any topics until tomorrow. If leaders stop organizing daily team meetings, however, people will start disturbing the deep work time of the leader and each other by calling or sending them messages, as there will be no other way to get through to them quickly.
To enable leaders to maintain the right work-life balance, it’s crucial that they set up regular daily and weekly meetings (both 1-on-1 and intra-team). Do not cut out team meetings in favor of 1-on-1 interactions.
Let’s dive deeper into how leaders can organize daily team interactions. There are three steps I recommend:
If your leaders are successful in the way they conduct team meetings, they will be relieved of the need to provide individual guidance (or, in extreme cases, micro-management).
It’s important to stress that the previously-mentioned team meetings cannot replace (but should supplement) 1-on-1 presence and the personalized attention of a leader. Access to individualized attention from the leader is especially important in turbulent times to allow for vulnerability, compassion, and tension mitigation.
Here are a few recommendations for leaders:
Leaders naturally buffer the negative effect of COVID by increasing interactions with the team which is the source of work overload for them. Still, while human-to-human rituals are super important, you can’t have your leaders overburdened with meetings and disturbed from deep work. Encourage them to practice 15 minute-long daily’s, weekly’s, or bi-weekly with the team, and either weekly or bi-weekly 1-on-1s. By limiting the number of interruptions, leaders will be more capable of focusing their entire attention to the meeting at hand, making it more productive for all engaged parties.