Leading After A Pandemic: 3 Lessons Learned

COVID19 was an unforeseen circumstance for the world, changing everything overnight. These are the three most important lessons that the quarantine times taught me about leading a team.

Written by Philipp Köhn, CPO of RYDE. Co-written by Sheena Rajgarhia, Community Manager at RYDE.

Photo by Edwin Hooper on Unsplash

Coronavirus changed everything, including leading teams. Leading after a pandemic is, of course, different and challenging, but today I am here to share my three lessons learned since it started. I am Chief Product Officer at RYDE, and I currently manage an international team in Berlin, in addition to some people working remotely in other European countries.

Switching technically to “home-office-mode” was quite easy for us, as we’re working 100% in the cloud since 2019 and onboarded the team to MS Teams. But there were other roadblocks: lack of face to face communication and quality time with your peers (the obvious ones) and feeling of insecurity due to unstable world scenario (the not obvious one) — all very important for a healthy and united team.

The typical days turned into quarantined times, testing economics, leadership, team spirit, and compassion strengths. The pandemic demanded an overnight change in the leadership style for multiple organizations, and we were no exception.

These are the few things I identified as those that helped us stay strong and keep working actively as a team, supporting each other.

Lesson 1: Balancing the Independence

The shift into home-office sounds easy, but it represents a challenge for people who are not used to doing it, demanding a more considerable effort to keep the right work-life balance. At this time, it is the manager’s responsibility to help understand the perspective of its team and give them the independence to work.

As soon as you can delegate responsibilities, you realize its importance and how it can felicitate each individual’s growth into a successful and happy team player (remote or not). Your team must understand what the company, department and individual goals are and how to get there — and to make sure that they do so, they need to have the independence to choose how — not only for their benefit but for your own good.

Working from home may bring out issues such as lack of concentration, homely responsibilities. As a manager, you must make sure your team feels empowered and confident enough with their tasks even when they are far off, having the freedom to find their ideal workflow, as long as they can deliver and fulfill deadlines.

This can go as far as trusting your team members to fully organize the workday on their own without having to get approvals for any time-off during the working week. I don’t mind if you have a doctor appointment or need to get a new haircut, as long as I can trust you will deliver your tasks on time.

If you have a team that fully understands the goals and deadlines and can productively work in the given team — you can save over micromanagement. Achieving that gave me a lot of new freedom in working and more free time to tackle additional projects.

With giving independence, you show trust and understanding. This brings a better sense of responsibility and community into the team, as well as motivation to do better and thrive. It further leads to less stress on achievement and can help increase productivity and contribute to creating a happier and reliable professional environment.

The uncertain times may take a toll on everyone’s mental health and might impact the team’s overall performance. Now more than ever, I believe a team must have a “safe place” where they feel trusted and supported. Only in such space can you have motivated and passionate teams that accomplish the unimaginable in such times.

In my experience of leading a remote team, a more autonomous environment leads to a happier employee, which leads to better results. If provided with clear guidelines, structured timelines, and expectations, it can only flourish your team’s creative thought process and generate better outputs.

Lesson 2: Transparency to communicate what you need

If you aim to establish a healthier workplace, you must have a transparent communication. An open company, with a frank communication background, tends to produce a positive environment for everyone. Communication should not be a one-way street — it should be able to be a fruitful conversation — a “sparring”, you might say.

According to my experience, I have realized that catering to your team’s happiness is not a day’s task. It is a long-term goal that can be achieved by applying persistent efforts.

In times like these, it is even more important to communicate about the good and the bad. It creates a certain sense of accountability of the manager and helps build the feeling of community within the teams — the so-called sentiment of “we’re all in this together.” The more individuals feel like part of a particular group, the more responsibility they take to make a good impact within this group.

The more transparent I am about my expectations, judgments, and mistakes, the more it boosts my team’s morale, resulting in better engagement and honest feedback from my peers. This leads to a reliable space where people feel they have a safe space to speak up about mistakes to fix instead of hiding them.

I always aim to create a trustworthy and competent environment which can be achieved only through transparent communications, no matter where we stand. Regular digital check-ins, steering meetings, and digital coffee breaks help a lot!

Lesson 3: Clarity to achieve what you want (and how)

Transparency and independence need to be facilitated with clarity to the team. The remote working environment requires to function with 100% clarity from the ends of a manager and as a team member.

Clarity of vision and mission of the organization. You can never lose sight of why you do what you do, especially during uncertain times.

Clarity of objectives and tasks. Remote work is still working. Make sure the goals, duties, and expected outcomes are clear.

Clarity of expectations. The expectations should not surpass and be ignored in the situation.

Clarity of responsibilities. The manager holds the responsibility towards leading a united team, and team members by supporting the growth of the organization with their performance.

In my experience, the clearer I am vocally, and in my behavior, the better results I gained out of my team during the self-quarantined or lockdown times. The communication may have turned over digitally, but this does not mean there is no communication. The lack of face to face contact requires more clarity and description — in other words, more detailed and better briefings (every service provider’s dream!).

Better briefings not only guide them to perform their tasks efficiently but also helps me to measure the OKRs. It is the manager’s responsibility to pursue this as one of the key “mantras” to not only produce and run a high performance giving team but also to make sure that the achieved goals support their growth and confidence in the role.

This is a crucial time, if not the most, to stand by your team as a real team. If done combining both brain and heart, we will come out of this more robust than ever before! This is the time to inspire and grow, to build trust, and to produce the unexpected.

Shine on with your peers and not to forget; we are all in this together.

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