How Covid-19 has evolved the role of the manager

Managing teams has never been easy but with the global move to remote and distributed working, it just got more complex. Some employees are returning to the workplace, but many are choosing to stay fully remote or do a hybrid of both. For managers, this has presented more questions than answers. When we moved from ‘everyone in the office’ to ‘everyone working remote’, it was a challenge, but it was also a level playing field. Today’s melting pot of everything is a real and present managerial challenge. How do I manage in a hybrid distributed environment? How do I ensure an equal employee experience for everyone? How do I know if my remote workers are really working? Will people physically in the office have greater influence/promotion prospects due to visibility? How do I ensure a great team dynamic when some have never even met? How do I onboard new employees in a remote environment? How do I keep my team high performing and avoid burnout? I could go on.

Here are the traits of great managers in a post-Covid era:

Truly know and genuinely care for your team

  • Get to know your people on a whole new level – their motivations, struggles, expectations and career aspirations. Understand their circumstances at home and their preferred style of work. Ask what they need from you to be more successful. Talk less, listen more.
  • Exercise your Duty of Care – Managers have a duty of care to protect the physical and emotional wellbeing of every member of their team, including themselves. Leading with empathy will be one of the most important things you do in 2021/22 to retain staff. Home life is no longer left at home. The ‘Always on generation’ means work comes home and home comes to work. People are also bringing their authentic selves to work, not just the parts you want. When employees come to work today, they bring their skills, strengths and career aspirations, but they also bring their personalities, their insecurities, their worries, their dreams and their emotions. Leading with empathy is the key to managing in this environment. This isn’t about putting people before progress; it’s about putting people first to make greater

Lead with conviction and by example

  • Provide strong leadership and clear direction. Allocate work fairly and remove impediments to productivity through relentless prioritisation. Focus on purpose and each employee’s contribution and progress to that purpose. Coach and mentor, motivate and energise.
  • Take your holidays and don’t email at 3am. As a manager, you set the tone for the whole team. The team is essentially an extension of you. If you don’t take holidays and work around the clock, your team assumes you expect the same of them. Openly encourage people to take time off to recharge and categorically state they are not expected to respond to emails outside their working hours.
  • Go outside your comfort zone – hybrid team management and overheating talent markets mean you will have to say yes to things outside your managerial comfort zone to retain top talent. The pandemic has caused us to challenge conventional thinking but that’s not a bad thing. The hardest part is saying yes; after that it’s about trust and management.
  • Drive Inclusion for all: Build diverse, multi-generational teams – yes! But drive inclusion for all. Create a psychologically safe place for everyone to be vulnerable and seek help when needed. We are all unique and different which is amazing. However, leaning in on differences in terms of needs will make slow progress. Lean in on our similarities. Everyone wants a fulfilling job, to be respected, to have learning opportunities, to be paid fairly and to have a voice.
  • Don’t leave culture to chance – Remember the phrase by Peter Drucker “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”? Your team culture will determine your team’s success so do not leave it to chance. Have a simple, yet effective culture strategy. Create business rituals to boost morale, increase engagement, celebrate success and deepen the bonds between team members. Be intentional about days in the office being for team connection and culture, not more zoom calls.

Empower and enable

  • Address tools and training needs to future-proof your team. They cannot be successful in the future of your organization without this. Training staff is good for them and good for business. Give people the tools and training to get the job done.
  • Give people autonomy over their calendars and work. Calendar autonomy comes naturally to experienced workers but recent grads or new hires may need a mentor or buddy-system to help them carve out productivity time and attend meetings that are the best use of their time.
  • Measure outcomes, not hours. Work is no longer done between 9am and 5pm. It’s no longer about the How or When work gets done, it’s that work gets done. People are most productive at different times and in different ways. If the work is getting done, the employee is doing their job effectively.
  • Communicate often and honestly – 1:1’s with your team are vital. These should be weekly with new employees and bi-weekly thereafter. This is the place to share your expectations of them and their expectations of you. Feedback is also important. Performance reviews should not be annual exercises.
  • Provide Career Paths & Development Plans – Recognise and reward great work. Be sure employees are aware that promotions are also based on performance, not just tenure. Have well-defined career paths for individual contributors as well as people leaders.

If you are thinking, ‘where am I going to find time to do all this?’ you are not alone. However, if you believe your people are your greatest asset, ask yourself if you are spending enough time helping them be successful. You may need to talk to your own manager about your management-to-operations ratio. People management, done effectively, is time consuming. As a manager, the people side should be taking up most of your work time; this is what you were hired to do. If you are a manager of managers, give your managers the space to manage effectively.

Leading teams in a post-covid world will be more an art than a science, more macro than micro and more carrot than stick. Attitudes towards the office will continue to evolve so the story is not written yet, but we cannot expect managers to figure it out on their own.

If you are a people manager today, ask yourself, do I really enjoy leading people? Am I happy and productive when my team are? Can I spot talent in others and am I keen to nurture it? If you have always enjoyed people management, then you will continue to do so. If you’ve answered no to these questions, it’s might be time to consider doing something else, something you love. Managing people is not a job, but a privilege.

About the author: Gillian Bergin, Chairperson it@cork and Senior Consultant, Business Transformation at Dell Technologies.

Gillian Bergin, it@cork Chairperson & Senior Consultant Business Transformation at DELL Technologies. Thought leader in Business Transformation and Change Leadership. Almost 30 years’ experience in large global multinationals in technical, operational and strategic roles. Leading teams through transformational change is a passion of Gillian’s.