Small business strategist and coach Thomson Training and The Accountancy Practice
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Keeping the wheels turning while everyone is remote working

Welcome to the ‘new normal’. If, like many of us, you've always paid lip service to the mantra 'the only constant is change', then now is the time we are truly going to understand its meaning. But now is also the time to make changes and to adapt.

30th Mar 2020
Small business strategist and coach Thomson Training and The Accountancy Practice
Columnist
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A hamster running in a wheel.
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Many clients will be in trouble. There will be endless distressing phone calls and, inevitably, the income stream for the practice will be diminished. Who knows how long the cash will need to last? There is no way of knowing anything. 

The only way to combat this feeling of uncertainty is to have a framework and structure that creates productive outcomes. Small wins and realistic goals for the day and the weekly outputs which, perhaps,  are below what is usually expected so that people can meet targets. This is vital for wellbeing and keeping a degree of normality. Otherwise, we become untethered.

As this is uncharted territory for all of us. We can’t assume that our seniors know any more than we do in terms of how to handle this situation. We all need to pull together – there is no blueprint. But here are some ideas which I hope will help.

Tolerance and cutting some slack

When in the office, line managers knew how to manage face to face and keep on top of workflow, but this is a whole new scenario for many accountants who were not sole traders.

Managers might even be struggling to manage their own workflow or motivation with many distractions at home, let alone anyone else’s. So help each other and ask the questions if you’re not getting the information you need. 

Agree clear objectives

Ascertain a clear direction of what is expected of you and your direct reports on a day to day basis. Have weekly or project goals too, which are essential if your people are to stay motivated. Working aimlessly without regular feedback is one of the fastest ways to lose impetus. 

Take time to agree on how performance will be measured and agree on some SMART objectives for each type of task (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Timescaled). The sort of framework you might use in your appraisal system would be useful for planning here. It’s time consuming but will be time well invested.​

Keep talking

How often did you have contact in the office with your manager, colleagues and teams? If you can have a brief morning chat one-on-one if necessary with your manager at the start of your day, it will help. 

It’s likely people will prefer more regular contact and this might mean that the manager feels they are spending all their time talking to their teams rather than getting stuck into their own workload. The rules have changed. Survival is going to reveal different priorities. Time spent listening to your people is going to be time well spent, but one-on-one might not be the solution. 

Depending on how many direct reports you have, you could have group Zoom meetings or perhaps using Slack where you can all log in, at the beginning and end of the day to keep team spirits high.

Keep watching

Being able to see each other is a helpful step to prevent isolation. It also means people get dressed and ‘ready for work’ – at least from the waist up! There are many solutions to enable group chat. You could also create dedicated group channels.

Dedicating one channel for the practical work-based chat and another for the ‘fun’ and lighthearted side of life (see 'Reward people publicly') can work well. 

Organise a buddy system

Consider pairing people with a work buddy. Having someone to whom you are accountable can make all the difference as well as providing a sounding board for work questions and general companionship. Ideally, they should be a peer and not a manager so you are able to be open and not worry about looking vulnerable or less able to make decisions.

Remember to have some fun!

Research shows that our brains need play to be able to perform at our best. In these times I would say it’s even more essential. Lighthearted video shares or memes are more important than ever. Don’t see them as a distraction. If you were in the office, there would likely be banter. People miss this when they are home working. 

Reward people publicly

Create a board of achievements in a group or on social media. Perhaps include quotes from clients who are grateful that you’re holding their hand at this time? Or sorting out a tricky situation for them or the company. Look for things to celebrate. This one might take some imagination!

Mental health

Consider encouraging the use of mindfulness and meditation apps. Now more than ever people need to become aware of their reactions and to take time before expressing their frustration and anxieties. Both meditation and mindfulness can be tremendously helpful in reducing anxiety, helping people focus on the now, and reacting in a less extreme manner to the continually chaotic world in which we find ourselves.

Encourage compassion within your team

People are going to react very differently to how they might in the usual office environment. As the weeks continue (here’s hoping businesses can continue to operate) the strain will show. Tempers might flare and there may be outbursts which are uncharacteristic. Be prepared to sidestep and forgive. You will need to lead from the front. The approach of the leader of the company will have a massive bearing here.

Some people will adjust sooner than others, and your role as a manager will be critical in keeping your team on the same page. You might end up feeling more like a counsellor, so if these skills do not feature prominently in your soft skills portfolio, perhaps have a browse online for some tips.

Change management tips

  1. Listen to their fears, don’t assume you’ve got to solve them
  2. Avoid the temptation to offer glib reassurances
  3. Show them empathy and demonstrate in your reaction that their feelings are completely understandable. 
  4. Focus on the now. Don’t try to ‘jolly them along’ but after they’ve offloaded, discuss what they can do today. This hour. While keeping an eye to the future and moving projects and workload forward with an assumption of continuity.

We will come out of this. And we will emerge blinking in the sunlight. There will be adjustments to be made. We need to ride hopefully. 

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