How does distance change the relationship between a manager and an employee?
M.C.: During lockdown, as in normal times, people expect a consistent level of support from their manager. For their part, the managers who hadn’t established any contact routine with their teams, and who were happy just to say ‘my door is always open’, have all been forced to look again at their management style. It seems that the Lockdown happens to be a great opportunity for optimising a company’s routines. It’s the kind of issue that a sales director might have to face, for example. They need to make time to talk to the sales team about business, carry out performance monitoring or suggest times for an informal chat… Distance places an extra emphasis on the quality of these conversations. It is therefore important to clearly distinguish each type of contact with staff, according to the desired objective.
What are the most common mistakes faced by remote managers?
M.C.: The main mistake would be to focus only on operational aspects. Typically, managers tend to concentrate only on negative aspects, just to save time, and don’t bear in mind all the investment that has been made by the staff. As a result, employees may gradually become less motivated about their work. So, it’s important to give highlight on value of the work being carried out remotely, and to make that connection between the work of an employee and the company’s reason of being.
How can managers demonstrate their leadership qualities?
M.C.: Every manager have to keep their team moving forward. But leadership is not something you can impose on people, and certainly not by distance. Employees will not respond to a manager who tries to lead people by force. You have to be inspiring to your team – which is where the difficulty lies!
Steve Jobs wasn’t necessarily a manager, but he inspired his teams, so they moved forward. He embodied the whole reason for the company’s existence and he was respected for that. The manager has to provide a sense of purpose, and also deal with the pressure, by focusing their employees on a limited number of areas for priority action.
Which tools are essential to be good at managing remotely?
M.C.: Tools, on their own, don’t really count for much. It’s more a question of knowing how managers can use them to optimise the relationship with their teams. I’ve noticed the realisation by many companies of the value of videoconferencing equipment, for example. Until now, some people had adopted a strategy of bypassing or avoiding technology altogether. Lockdown is forcing them to use it, albeit with varying degrees of success.
Can you continue to manage your team when some of them are short-time working?
M.C.: From a legal point of view, it’s important to underline the fact that a manager cannot ask someone to carry out a task during a furlough period. But on the other hand, there is no reason why you cannot keep in touch. As a manager, it’s a good idea to reach out to teams to see how people are doing personally, and to talk to them about their well-being, the worries they might have about their job or how their company is doing. Having done that, the employee is free to respond – or not – to the message. There is no obligation to do so, but at least managers are fulfilling their role of building connections with people.
What’s your advice for maintaining team spirit?
M.C.: Empower your employees. Treat them like adults, involve them in building this long-distance relationship and you’ll realise that they can be very creative. It’s possible, for example, to have organise an afterwork through video-conference, or to set up a chat session to talk informally to your team. Times like this are even more important when people are working remotely, because people remain social animals, after all. A working relationship is not just the responsibility of the employer or the manager, it has to be built together.