Becci Martin from Boo Coaching & Consulting shares her thoughts about Leading Virtually

There have been loads of articles, webinars and podcasts published recently that cover all the top tips for home working, juggling family life and keeping your business going. We have published a few of our own here at Boo and shared our tips and tricks with whoever is reading our blog. I was recently invited to host a one-off webinar with our brilliant buddies CPDme around the topic of leading others virtually. It got me thinking about how to support teams and how to ensure they are cared for when getting together in real life isn’t an option.

Whilst preparing for this webinar I researched what some of our partners are saying and found this helpful resource recently published by the Chartered Management Institute which is a handy download for any leader but especially now. As I ploughed through all the excellent blogs and online guides I kept going back to my own response as a leader, thinking about how I have handled the shift to leading almost entirely virtually and so I am sharing what worked for me and more importantly what is working for my team. Here is what I came up with…

Prioritise wellbeing

It is central to everything we do at Boo so it goes without saying that this is our number one priority for Team Boo!

One of the first things we did as lockdown began was make sure the team all took a week off (using our unlimited paid time off policy) to get settled and sorted at home. I had already ushered the team out of Boo HQ and into home working the week before lockdown so everyone had all the kit needed and had time to get set up. What occurred to me in that week before lockdown was just how scary and chaotic a shift to home working could be on my team and realistically how much could everyone really achieve when trying to settle into an unknown situation with family and caring responsibilities in the midst of a global pandemic?

One of the biggest impacts on our wellbeing at work is how we are led and one of the biggest themes to come out of this situation is mental health and how lockdown and Covid-19 are having a significant impact on the mental health of society in general. There has been an increase in the awareness of and importance of mentally healthy conversations – which is great news. I am a mental health nurse by background and recently rejoined the Covid-19 NMC temporary nursing register to specifically support NHS staff with their mental health during the crisis response and beyond. We have always had a strong emphasis on workplace mental health at Boo and I believe that the mental health impacts of Covid-19 will be damaging and far-reaching so frequently asking how your team really are and then listening to their responses is absolutely necessary.

Last week I sent out little cards to each of the team and their families to say thank you for their support in such challenging times – I did this because it is what I like to experience and I wanted my team to know they are cared for. I am also asking my team how they are and not taking “I’m fine” as a response! Boo has signed the Time to Change employer pledge and we have trained Mental Health First Aiders in the team – I recommend that you create a team of Mental Health First Aiders for your organisation and support them to support others. Don’t be afraid of asking how people are really feeling, we are all on a bit of a roller coaster at the moment so be honest with your team about how you are doing and talk openly about what you are doing to care for yourself.

Trust

I trust my team to do their jobs. I haven’t suddenly just decided to trust them, we have worked on this from the moment each member of my team joined Boo. Creating trust and psychological safety is at the heart of excellent leadership and I know that I work more effectively and am far more creative when I am trusted to deliver and not micro-managed within an inch of my life!

A few months ago, when life was wildly different, I listened to our brilliant happiness ambassador Amy as she was interviewed on Bolton FM. Amy was there to talk about the walking route we had developed through our home town…a little Bolton Wander. However, the DJ caught on to something she said about working for Boo and they got chatting about what it feels like to work at Boo. It was so heartwarming to hear Amy talk about how she felt trusted to do her job, that it made her feel happy and settled and that she was empowered to get on with what she was good at.

I have spoken to friends and family members who do not currently feel like their boss trusts them. They feel like this because they are feeling overwhelmed with daily team meetings, additional 1:1s, requests for updates and a general feeling of being checked up on all whilst trying to adjust to a weird world of home working with kids at home expecting to be homeschooled whilst their bosses expect the same 9-5 hours they did in days gone by!  None of this creates the best conditions for folk to get creative and deliver excellence – try and back off a bit if you can, ask them what will work and start with the belief that your team will do what is needed in a way that suits them.

Building connection

We have taken the time to create the best conditions for our team to thrive over the last few years. Understanding each other’s values and strengths is a brilliant starting point. However, technology has really helped us to build connection in recent years. Resources that have helped us to do this include Zoom (we have been using this successfully for a few years to offer virtual coaching sessions), WhatsApp (we have a social group and a business group), establishing regular catch-ups (aiming for one whole team virtual meeting each week), Trello boards for project management, sending cards and little notes of support and good old fashioned telephone calls.

Communicating with each member of my team has varied and is driven by what they need, their working hours and what work they are focused on. What has been consistent is our use of WhatsApp – this has given us all the opportunity to reach out to the wider team when we need a boost and share helpful links and images. It has proven to be a super practical method of communication that has helped our team to be responsive and react fast to the changing business and customer needs. An example is that 4 weeks or so ago, on a Sunday morning, we were contacted by a customer who needed us to act fast and pull together a wellbeing offer to start immediately for over 3000 employees. I was able to post a message in the group asking if anybody wanted to join a Zoom call to share ideas and pull together a response and plan. The team were given choice – it wasn’t mandated. By the evening we had a proposal for the customer and the whole team were motivated and ready to get started!

I don’t always get this right…I can find myself happily assuming everyone has received my telepathic messages! I need to remind myself that if a major change happens and needs to be communicated I must act fast to tell the team. Trello has helped a lot recently for quickly adding an update on a specific project we are all working on.

Leadership style

My job as a leader is to understand what works for each member of my team and use an approach that matches them. I prefer using a coaching approach but I completely understand that there are times when I need to be far more directive. A tip that I share with leaders on our coaching skills development programme is to simply ask your team what style helps bring out the best in them. Don’t try and figure it out on your own – ask people what they need but don’t be afraid to be directive if the situation requires it. The trick here is to flex your approach depending on the situation, the needs of your colleague and the knowledge and skills they have. I sometimes share the coaching continuum and ask what style suits them best.

Coaching continuum

 

I don’t always get this right! I need my team to tell me honestly if I have missed an opportunity to properly support them – I know I can revert to my happy coaching place when I really should be more tell. Again, spend time creating the right conditions for your team to thrive but if you are in a hurry and are managing newly formed teams in this current situation then simply ask them what style of leadership gets the best out of them and do that!

Learning and growth

Help your team to grow and develop. During the past few weeks, I have encouraged my team to find time to learn something new, catch up with their qualifications, sent links to webinars,  and invited them to help develop new learning resources for Boo. It would have been really easy for me to simply send everyone the same email telling them what they must do but it wouldn’t have made an impact and the team wouldn’t have done what I asked or would have done the minimum required simply because they were told to – it also would have created additional stress with added workload pressures. Leaders should offer choice and create learning opportunities which meet the strengths and specific needs of the individual.

Your job is to create the best conditions for your team to thrive so remember these are simply things that are working at the moment for me and Team Boo, they might not work for all teams but if you lead with kindness and compassion for each team member I think that will be a good start.

If you want to learn more about your team through exploring values why not purchase a pack of our recently launched values cards 🙂

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