Leadership during quarantine

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The quarantine caused by the New Coronavirus has caused a short-circuit in home-office adoption discussions in many businesses. What, before, existed only as discussions and conjectures in some companies became reality overnight, without proper planning for companies and infrastructure for employees.

Although our company has produced a lot in the last months, we can’t say it has been an easy path — in fact, we have all needed some level of adaptation. As a manager of a large team, I hired employees, evaluated and gave difficult feedback via conference, observed periods of euphoria and depression of some employees, low productivity of others, difficulties with family routines and children.

I also learned to celebrate in a digital way, because it is necessary to mark team achievements and victories, even from home. In some of these situations, the challenge was even greater, because we can’t observe non-verbal communication cues from others, since there are people who prefer not to open the computer camera during meetings and conversations.

Considering this context, how to lead people, evaluate performance and ensure deliveries while being physically distant from each other? Looking back, I can see that a little creativity and an extra dose of effort allowed us to get this far. Therefore, I would like to share a little of my experience in this period, through five actions taken in the pandemic:

1 – Daily team meetings

The isolation experienced in recent months has direct impact in the feeling of belonging to a group, especially for new recruits of a company. It also generates difficulties in team relationship and performance evaluation.

The Agile methodologies’ daily meetings and Extreme Programming methodology’s standup meetings are ways to share the achievements of the members of a team, their upcoming challenges and possible obstacles. In order to do this, these methodologies use three very objective questions:

  • What did you do yesterday?
  • What will you do tomorrow?
  • Is anything blocking you progress?

Moving daily meetings from face-to-face to digital proved to be an essential tool for monitoring team activities, since it allows managers to observe the progress (or not) of team members’ activities and, consequently, of the project itself.

If any impediments to the activities of any employee arise, the daily meeting is the ideal environment for the team to become aware of the problem and move to solve it, helping the impacted member.

Since our teams are large — one of them has nine members, for instance — we were unable to follow the 15-minute recommendation for the meetings, so they tend last 30 minutes. If there is an impediment that requires longer analysis and may stretch the meeting, the team arranges to act later, so that the meeting can proceed.

It is also possible to detect performance problems of employees, when they are unable to perform their activities regularly, indicating that greater action needs to be taken to identify and solve the problem. In this case, the first action to be taken is a personal conversation with the collaborator, the so-called One-on-One (1:1) meetings (described in detail in the next section).

On the other hand, during meetings, it is also possible to identify key players in the group, those contribute more to the team, who are more willing to help colleagues.

Due to social distancing, daily meetings also took on the purpose of inclusion and integration. In these months of social distancing, we have gained many new employees and daily meetings have been the best time to integrate them, both into the projects and into the teams.

For this to happen, in addition to technical discussions, we devoted a few minutes of our meetings to chatting. Some days, we exchange technical discussions for a coffee with relaxed conversations.

2 – Team mood monitoring

While working in the office, we notice when a colleague does not have a good day or is facing a difficult period. However, with the team social distancing, working from home, it is not possible to have this same vision easily, which can affect the execution of the project or the relationships among team members.

In light of this, we looked for alternatives to sense the team’s mood and act when necessary. The first attempt to get this information was an activity (hastily idealized) based on memes from social media, which sought to assess how each employee was feeling that week.

In this activity, every two weeks, after lunch on Fridays, the image below was sent to the employees and they would answer which image best represented their week.

 

From this activity, despite its relaxed way, it was possible to monitor people tired of the routine of doing everything in the same environment; sad because of social distancing, without contact with others; and team members with back pain from not having an adequate structure to work from home.

We also heard people showing happiness at being able to deliver, even in such a new situation. Once these moods were reported, the next step were individual conversations (One-on-One), to deepen the subject and find ways to help team members in need.

Afterwards, there was an institutional move to test a people management platform that already had the weekly mood report feature. On Friday afternoons, in the same model adopted with the meme activity, the management platform sends an email to employees, asking them to report how their week was.

From the email, employees log into the tool to report what was good and bad during that week. The tool itself allowed individual meetings to be scheduled, by both leaders and employees.

With this tool, it was possible to detect people tired by the high load of activities; people worried about family members with COVID-19; and people saddened by pets’ health problems, which affected their ability to concentrate.

Regardless of how the information is collected — whether through a meme activity or a specialized tool — sensing the mood of employees has been essential to direct actions that can help the team, increase engagement and create healthy and productive connections in this home-office period.

3 – One-on-One meetings (1:1)

One-on-One meetings are periodic meetings between leader and team members, working off the notion that management of any nature is based on people. In these meetings, there are several objectives: to get to know the employee better, talk about performance and train and delegate activities.

One-on-One meetings should not be held only when possible, there should be commitment and regularity in them, with schedules in the leader and team member’s calendars. They are also carried out based on demands raised in daily meetings and through the mood monitoring tools.

With an established relationship and knowing each employee better, we can identify their preferences and needs — for example, one employee might feel more comfortable in a position of greater stability, while others are always looking for new challenges.

Doing 1:1 meetings was already important in the face-to-face environment of offices, because it strengthened the ties between leader and team members. With Coronavirus social distancing and adoption of the home-office as a post-pandemic work environment, the need for relationships and communication is even more crucial.

For example, from the mood report, it was possible to schedule an unplanned One-on-One meeting and better understand the concern of an employee whose parents had contracted COVID-19, allowing management to guide them on the company protocol for employees in contact with contaminated people, among other things.

If there wasn’t an open channel for this employee to raise their concerns safely, the time to detect employee problems would certainly be longer or the problem could go undetected, remaining without solution and with unpredictable consequences.

4 – Celebrations

Under normal conditions, when we deliver a project or have good results, we hold team celebrations, such as lunches, happy hours, ice cream etc. With the need for social distancing, this is no longer possible. However, as teams continue to deliver good results, we still need to celebrate the results achieved.

To meet this demand, we have moved celebrations to a digital environment, holding regional celebrations, children’s day, lunches and happy hours in virtual gatherings. In the case of festa junina, a Brazilian regional celebration, we had employees dressing up, playing bingo and having typical food and drinks. In other situations, we had lunch and happy hours together, in front of the computer screen, using conference tools.

For food and beverages, Venturus provided meal delivery app vouchers to employees, so that they could order their food and drinks at the time of the gatherings. On another front, teams organized themselves and threw spontaneous online get-togethers, such as breakfasts and online games.

All of these initiatives look to provide activities to the team that, before, occurred in person, but, now, need a new model due to the social distancing:

  • Onboarding of new members: due to the period of social distancing, new employees did not have the opportunity to meet their colleagues or work together in the office. For this reason, moments of relaxation and celebration were important in the process of introducing new employees to their teams’ dynamics;
  • Team spirit: in addition to project activities, moments of relaxation and celebration help people to get to know each other outside the work context, strengthening relationships in the team. For example, it is at such moments that colleagues talk about football, TV shows, games etc. and discover common interests;
  • Achievement recognition: despite the change in work format, our teams continued to deliver results, similar to our previous operations. Celebrating is a way to recognize and thank our employees’ adaptability and deliveries.

5 – Psychological safety

In a time where people are impacted by illness, by the intense coexistence with family members at home and by the impossibility of having a normal life, it is natural for people to express different needs from those raised when working in the office.

Some of the new needs expressed by our workers were: support for remote schooling for their kids during working hours; the need to prepare meals; stress caused by the pandemic etc.

In this scenario, it is important that people feel comfortable expressing their needs and weaknesses to their leader and/or team. According to professor and writer William A. Kahn, in his 1990 article on psychological conditions for engagement in the work environment, psychological safety is a person’s ability to show and position themselves without fear of negative consequences to their image, status or career. He cites four factors that influence psychological safety: interpersonal relationships, dynamics in groups and intergroups, management style and company rules.

To ensure the psychological safety of the team, we use the framework described in this article (daily meetings, 1:1 meetings, mood monitoring), in addition to the factors cited by Kahn, not only as tools, but as free spaces for employees to express their needs.

For example, a team member felt free to express their difficulty in dealing with intense living conditions with their children during work hours and how this was impacting their relationship with their children as well as their work performance. With this in mind, it was possible to draw up a plan to help them, with weekly meetings for follow-up, as well as a referral for this collaborator to enroll in Venturus’ psychological support program.

Having a psychological safe environment is not simple. It requires attention, effort, and constant empathy from leadership to make people feel safe. This requires skills such as self-confidence and self-knowledge from leaders, showing their vulnerabilities, similar to their members’ and making them feel comfortable exposing their needs. When there is an environment of freedom and sharing, leadership needs capability to act on the needs expressed by employees.

In view of the difficulties arising out of quarantine, we have tried several initiatives to provide the best possible working environment for our employees: daily team meetings in order to assess employee involvement and performance, as well as project status; team mood monitoring; One-on-One meetings to monitor the mood of each employee, get to know them better and to act in the face of their needs; gatherings to unite the team and celebrate results.

Finally, we sought to provide psychological safety, so that employees knew that the mistakes are part of the process and all felt secure to move forward in this uncertain period.

If you are interested in knowing more about how we work and how we are dealing with the effects of the pandemic, it will be a pleasure to introduce our company in more detail.

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Campinas / SP - Brasil

Estrada Giuseppina Vianelli di Napolli, nº 1.185
Condomínio GlobalTech Campinas
Polo II de Alta Tecnologia
CEP 13086-530 – Campinas – SP
+55 (19) 3755-8600

+55 (19) 3755-8600
contato@venturus.org.br

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