ponder | 3 things I learnt as a new manager in a remote working world

Promoted during the height of the pandemic, I was catapulted into the virtual world as a “new” manager. Before this promotion, I had been given various informal opportunities to act in a management capacity. However stepping into a management role formally and virtually means there is almost no time for induction, and new challenges may emerge that existing management literature has yet to cover.

I wrote this during my first month of formally being a manager which was a rollercoaster ride, but I was inspired to write this post after reading the book by Julie Zhuo “The making of a manager: what to do when everyone looks to you“, a book that I have consulted almost on a daily basis to help transition as gracefully as possible into being a new manager.

Without further ado, here are the top 3 things I learnt as a new manager, and I hope this will be helpful to you too.

  1. “Leading” can be different to what you were expecting, vision and clarity is key

    I’m going to start with an aspirational learning which is linked to the concept of “leading”. The term “crisis leadership” has been on my mind since I stepped into a formal management role. While there are a different leadership styles within the concept of “crisis leadership”, I have found the words “vision” and “clarity” resonate most strongly with my natural management style.

    Similar to how we look to the government to provide clarity and structure on how we can move through this Pandemic collectively, clarity is important to our team members in moving through their work day. Where once there was space to brainstorm, test our ideas and methods before deciding on a course of action, there is now less time to do so. Psychologically, I found that dealing with the ever changing lockdown restrictions meant that my mind is naturally seeking clarity. What do I need to do? When? How? How we are responding to government announcements right now is very similar to how team members are responding to their manager.

    To this end, I have found it useful to adopt simple strategies such as daily check-ins, and end-of-day progress updates or weekly email updates to provide space for communicating with clarity. These simple strategies also allow the team to see: what are the next steps, where are we headed overall and what is on our plate today to get us to where we need to go.

    Something else I had to learn very quickly was to back myself, because no many how big or small your project is, leading during a Pandemic means there is no room for self-doubt. Team members look to you for a cause of action, so you need to formulate a vision in mind quickly. From there, break down the vision into actionable steps and start delegating. Where there was room for experiment, trial and error pre-Pandemic, now there is limited time. So the earlier you can learn to back yourself, the clearer vision you are able to provide to the rest of the team.

    However, backing yourself does not mean one has to work alone. Rather, I have found that backing myself can mean knowing who to consult, and reaching out for guidance. The difference is in the way I ask for guidance. Where I use to as “what would you like me to do with X”, now I frame my questions as “I’m thinking of doing this with X, what do you think?”

    Another unexpected aspect of leadership I found is being a counsel to my superiors. The Pandemic has brought out vulnerabilities and reminded us that we are all human. During this time, I have tried to act as a pillar of strength or a sounding board fo various team members senior to me. As long as this is done respectfully, it is great appreciated by the other party.
  2. Empower team members through active listening

    One of my first new projects is to manage a team of introverts and every morning we meet for a quick 15-minutes daily check-in. One would think, that when a group of introverts are sitting in a meeting, the meeting can be filled with silence that can only be resolved where one member “drives” the conversation.

    On the contrary, I found that all I had to do was drive the conversation during our very first check-in where I explained the purpose of the check-in, and set out the structure of how check-ins will be run. From then on, sitting back and giving a brief moment for the conversation to pause can actually empower team members to actively contribute to the conversation.

    Boundaries in rank can be blurred when working virtually, so that virtual meetings can feel more like an equal round table. This can also empower team members to be more bold in speaking their views, and all you have to do is consider pausing and giving them time.
  3. Consider the behaviours to model virtually and setting boundaries

    In the office, we can physically observe the behaviours that leaders model. But when working virtually, modelling behaviours means actively communicating and setting boundaries in the virtual office.

    One of the first behaviours that I became conscious of was if I stay online past “close of business”, my team members may feel obliged to stay online too. Or if I message a team member during lunch hour, they may feel obliged to respond straight away, or apologise for not responding immediately. This did not sit right with me, as I know the importance of taking mental breaks particular during a time such as a pandemic where we are constantly bombarded with information, emotions and the need to action something ASAP in response to changes. As one team member described to me, “since remote working, it’s like everyone expects you to be on tap”. This is simply not sustainable.

    So in trying to actively model different behaviour, I have found it helpful to actively communicate to team members about my boundaries. Saying “have a good evening, I’m logging off now” at close of business is the equivalent of packing your bags and waving goodbye to a colleague in the office. Recognising when someone is on “away” status during lunch-hour, I would send them an email rather than an instant message so they can get back to me when they are back from lunch. I have also restricted myself from responding to work emails on a weekend, no matter how tempted I am to check and respond to emails on a Sunday (it’s so easy right, when you’re just sitting around the house and can pick up your phone or work laptop whenever you like).

    Of course, this is dependent upon the urgency of the actual task, and the boundaries may vary day-to-day depending on project needs. But overall, these small acts can help team members understand how to set their own boundaries as well.

    *****

Being a “new” manager is not easy, but it is a rewarding transition for any professionals with ambitions of taking their career into future leadership roles. It teaches valuable lessons about decision-making, listening, mentoring, negotiating, finding work/life balance and finding one’s vision which are all important stepping stones in any corporate career.

To those that have read this post as a “new” manager, I really hope this helps you in your transition.

Good luck!

A

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