This case study is about an American owned, global organisation providing IT services to clients primarily in English speaking countries. I have been working with this client for over 15 years with several groups who front the customer and provide support for IT services on a 24/7 basis. I have also worked with, for an equal period of time the management team responsible for the customer facing teams. Each of the managers has grown up through the system and been promoted from within, therefore had little or no management and leadership experience when joining the team. The department head has also worked her way up the organisation to leading a team of 10 managers in the customer support role.
The department head has wonderful emotional intelligence, knowing her team members extremely well she is supportive, interested, motivated and very good at what she does. She understands the challenges having worked on the “rock face”, and therefore is able to guide, direct, encourage and empathise as needed according to the individual circumstances of her team members.
Due to the COVID19 pandemic, as with all other businesses, all team members work remotely from their homes. The head of department was particularly concerned about the adaptation of her team to the new situation, whilst also being acutely aware of her own difficulties, challenges and changing emotions. Her team members were experiencing difficulties in re-orienting to the limited space that they have available to both live and work. Several of them experienced change in their circadian rhythm, wanting to sleep during the day and work at night. Others were struggling with the constant desire to eat, not through boredom due to lack of things to do, but to provide comfort for their roller-coaster emotions. These “forced” changes were resulting in the inability to connect to their team members as they were lacking in confidence to lead assertively, thinking that they may be faced with situations that they simply have no answer for. This lack of confidence further impacted their ability to show and share empathy and nurture to maintain the expected service levels for clients, whilst maintaining productivity levels and handling anxiety, depressive feelings and a full range of emotions.
In response to the request to assist team members with managing themselves and their teams in “lockdown”, four on-line sessions of 1.5 hours were agreed. The content of the sessions was decided through a set of questions sent to all the managers. From the responses, I was able to categorise the difficulties they were experiencing into three main areas:
- Working from home – how to structure the day, manage interruptions and be productive
- Motivating and inspiring individuals and the team whilst working remotely
- Wellbeing of self and team members
These areas were defined into the following goals, with each session having desired outcomes:
- To work effectively and productively from a non-designated workspace through the creation of a routine and framework within which to work
- To communicate effectively using technology to support connectedness and the feeling of being part of a bigger team
- To inspire individuals and teams working remotely to maintain productivity and expected levels of customer service.
The list of points generated through the questionnaire was used as a guideline to ensure points were being addressed and that participant actions and behaviour changes were effectively achieving the desired outcome. The first session primarily addressed the workspace and the framework to meet this different work regime as well as how to create a process or routine that helps to achieve the needed level of productivity and leadership, whilst at the same time finding a work-life balance, to avoid the tendency to work simply because the possibility is there, sacrificing taking time to get some exercise. One of the points raised was around a new expectation from head office, “that now you work at home you can be available 24/7” and how to handle this in a constructive and assertive manner.
All sessions ended with 5-10 minutes to practice a physical exercise or some mindfulness techniques to help in maintaining good, clear focus and to stretch and energise the mind and body.
The second and third sessions were dedicated to leadership in remote and restricted circumstances. Especially focusing on communication amongst themselves as well as with their own teams in combination with inspiration and motivation of team members, themselves knowing how difficult the transfer to a remote working space has been. The sessions were based on Emotional Intelligence and how to apply the skills effectively in these circumstances. The combined modules gave the opportunity for participants to assess themselves as leaders against the EQ model and find solutions of how to work with their team members to address difficulties of lack of motivation, disinterest, anxiety, fatigue and feelings of isolation due to “lockdown”, having to deal with complaints of customers who themselves are in “lockdown” and feeling their own tension and anxiety.
In the third session, I used a real-life case study of a company that has had to make 500 people redundant and the way the CEO addressed the issue with those leaving and those staying. This powerful example of emotional intelligence in action, provided the depth of feeling, empathy and acknowledgement that even the most difficult decisions can be delivered using empathy, clear direction and nurturing leadership to lay the foundation for loyalty despite a hard, unpopular decision and action. Between these two sessions, participants were asked to complete an e-learning module on “The Art of Self-Empowerment” that reminded them of the need to feel self-empowered and how to maintain this irrelevant of the circumstance they are facing.
The last session addressed physical and mental wellbeing including aspects of nutrition, movement and exercise in a confined space.
Overall the on-line training was a success. Participants were able to see the “wood in the trees” and create a working structure that suited each one of them in their personal circumstances. The outcomes included finding new ways of connecting with team members, and being able to handle difficult conversations confidently and assertively despite not sitting in the same room together.
My learning through this experience:
- Sessions to be a maximum of three hours and if three hours to have a break in the middle.
- Participants were encouraged to make some preparation for each session using the simple questionnaire format. Those that did the work, gained more from each session.
- Participants shared their wins at the beginning of each session and if desirable their non-wins which were then discussed as to how the situation might have been handled differently.
- These sessions provided a level of security in the group that had become snowed under chaos and last minute changes to working processes to accommodate home working.
- Open conversation was re-ignited and re-aligned on the virtual platform.
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