The Virtual Manager
While 2020 wasn’t the year any of us expected, 2021 shows great potential to deliver on many anticipated resets. And we’re ready! Ready to move beyond the pandemic, ready to reset company goals, and ready to feel energized for the year ahead.
Companies are talking to employees, industry experts and business partners to get a sense of what those resets will be. One that is generating a lot of discussion is the work from home setting. Early survey results show more than 90% of employees like this new setting for work…and they want to reset on where they work and how they work. While some companies may continue to work fully virtually, most will reset a new normal that isn’t fully back to where we were in 2019 and won’t fully continue as we are today.
But what will continue is a new role: the virtual manager.
When teams began working from home, we coached managers as boundaries around their role became very blurred and unstructured. Overnight, they were managing around and through personal dynamics. And they had to learn how to track work dynamics, personal dynamics and emotional distress over a virtual platform.
We wrote about the big shifts (It’s Getting Personal , March 2020). And we quickly saw that most managers were hesitant with them, some managers were tentative about them, and by the end of the year, all managers adjusted to them.
Managers were coached quickly to lead with empathy and understanding in 2020. Now, the expectations of a manager have reset again in 2021, and managers are still learning to manage virtual Productivity, virtual Connectivity and virtual Collaborability.
While managers still have empathy for dynamics surrounding a work from home setting, there has been a reset on expectations. Many employees worked very consistently through the pandemic; others were more sporadic. The result is managers who are trying to figure out how to allow for flexibility while adding more structure and pressure to deadlines and deliverables.
It means they have to be focused on how they set expectations and clear in how they communicate those expectations. And they will have to balance the pressure that one person’s flexibility puts on another person’s deadline. They will manage some people who come in the office and others who remain at home. They will feel more pressure on their own schedule as they try to adjust to everyone else’s.
We’re helping managers with meeting agendas, difficult conversations and a more structured plan for updates. Everyone is still learning.
Managers worked hard throughout 2020 to connect with virtual employees. It almost doubled the amount of time it takes on their calendars. Most say they never really tracked the hallway chats or drive-by conversations in the office. But they’ve learned to track touchpoints now so that they can balance how often they check in and who they’re checking in with.
The frequency of meetings and checkpoints added some efficiency, but it also diluted some connectivity. It’s hard to force connection at 10am on Tuesday if your employee is distracted or a little less open at that time. Most managers have tried virtual social time. Some ideas work, and some don’t. There are multiple learnings and adjustments around what employees enjoy and what feels forced.
And for managers, some of this felt critical as companies wanted to stay in touch through uncertainty. But productivity and expectations are no longer uncertain. 2021 has been reset. So, what will be enough and what will be too much connection? It will be a blended approach in 2021. And most managers hope that some of the in-person and easier 1:1 connection will return.
We’re helping managers manage their time and their priorities. We’re helping them facilitate an open and candid conversation virtually. But everyone is still learning.
This may be the weakest link for the virtual manager. In addition to keeping individuals connected and productive, a good manager takes responsibility for getting the whole team to high productivity. And every manager says it’s harder to do. They can run efficient meetings and report outs, but they miss the group’s ability to really collaborate together. They need the spontaneous thoughts that come when team members talk often and huddle informally around the more complex opportunities.
There are lots of tools, but teams haven’t settled in easily with many of them. In many cases, the challenge is time. To make virtual work productive, managers and employees became very focused on efficiency. And while you can set aside 30 minutes to get a team up to speed, you can’t force out of the box thinking into a short meeting. When you try to replicate a longer whiteboard session, you hit Zoom fatigue with participants.
We’re helping managers’ rethink the format that they can’t replicate. We’re leveraging ways to create small discussions in large groups and prework before brain work.
And…everyone is still learning.
It’s a dynamic and evolving skill, and our coaching is evolving right with it. We see commonalities in challenges and different approaches to good practices. And once companies commit to their virtual work strategy, we’ll know how expanded a future manager’s skills need to be. For now, we’ve created a format that combines real-time coaching with small group discussion. Our Virtual Manager coaching circles run for six weeks and support real-time issues with tangible tools and solutions. It allows a manager to learn fast from shared group experiences. It drives discussion, camaraderie….and a little fun!
If you’d like a little support during the 2021 resets, reserve your spot in your Virtual Manager cohort here.
And as always, we’re here when you need us!