Written by Rami Cassis
Face-to-face management skills remain a vital part of the skillset that all business and HR leaders should possess. After all, making important decisions, or carrying out important HR functions such as having a one-to-one redundancy consultation with a staff member, should still be done in person, where possible. It is the very least that a good leader should do when delivering such news to a staff member.
The advent of the Covid pandemic has changed this. With a dispersed workforce mostly working from home, line managers have had no choice but to use tools such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams to consult with staff members that could potentially be based across the country, or even globally.
However, while the technology we have come to rely on has undoubtedly become a business essential over the last 12 months, there are some very real hidden dangers that also accompany it.
Day-to-day business tasks, no matter how distressing, still need to be carried out, even during a global pandemic – indeed, some might say, especially during a global pandemic. With businesses being forced to re-evaluate balance-sheets and having to re-evaluate their future operating costs, those responsible for managing staff may well find they are having to have an increasing number of difficult chats with staff members.
This is where the importance of possessing emotional intelligence comes into its own.
If technology must be the conduit of sharing such news, business and HR leaders should establish some protocols of how to use it properly. Ensure the meeting is set up especially for the task in hand – never simply add the conversation onto the end of another meeting.
Always allow sufficient time for the meeting – do not schedule a simple 15-minute window, because some staff members will need reassurance and will feel the need to ask multiple questions and for the rationale behind the decision, especially one that will impact them badly.
The very least you can do is allow enough one-on-one time with them. Having to rush off to another meeting after a few minutes will simply make them feel worse.
Many business and HR leaders will deal with people from multiple cultures, nationalities, backgrounds, and geographies. These could be located locally to the company’s headquarters or could be dispersed across the world.
An experienced leader will be aware that while some people will be perfectly happy to have potentially difficult conversations using video conferencing platforms, there are some cultures who would much prefer face-to-face interactions. While it may be difficult – if not impossible – to have such face-to-face encounters during a pandemic, knowledge of these cultural nuances should guide you when deciding on your approach.
It is emotional intelligence, blended with cultural nuances, that must be combined to ensure employees retain a sense of being valued, even if the news they are being given might not on the surface reflect this.
It is much easier in an office setting to judge which staff members are performing well, being proactive and fostering good relationships with their team members. However, with remote working now the temporary norm, the ability to carry out in-depth assessments has been vastly reduced.
Despite this being the case, all line managers should remember they must continue to monitor and assess team members. They owe it to them – especially if ongoing promotion cycles remain in place. Staff working remotely are likely to need to know what their targets are more than if they were in the office – working remotely, they will get less opportunity to ask or to seek clarification.
You might need to bring in new ways of measuring performance and you might need to re-write the assessment process, but if it needs to be done, it should be an option.
We have all had to adapt to working remotely and using the various online meeting technology platforms that have become synonymous with everyday business. Even strong leaders may have to adapt to managing teams using this technology, but it is an investment that is likely to reap dividends during a time of worry and uncertainty for employees and employers alike.