Have you found yourself wondering lately:

  • Can I effectively lead my team when we’re exclusively teleworking?
  • Can I be fully productive in a telework environment?
  • How do I stay connected to remote colleagues and work collaboratively?
  • How do I run an effective on-line meeting?

COVID-19 is having a significant impact on our personal and professional lives. There is a great deal of uncertainty about what the future holds, and with that uncertainty comes angst and worry.

A good way to deal with uncertainty is to focus on what we’re able to control. One of the things within our control is how we manage our workplace, both as leaders and employees. The decision to shift to full telework may be beyond our control, but the manner in which we react to it is within our control.

Telework has already proven itself to be a viable alternative to conventional work. Over the years CI International has been delivering telework training, we’ve found four fundamental principles that enable telework teams to be effective:

A focus on results, and not on activities
Clear identification of communications protocols and expectations
Intentionality about being visible
Enhanced Responsiveness

Here’s the thing about these four elements: we should be doing this in all work environments. Everyone wants to know what results are expected and appreciate not being micro-managed; all offices should have clearly established communications protocols and expectations; the accomplishment of employees should be open and visible; and employees should hold themselves to a level of responsiveness that meets the needs of the team.

Telework isn’t something to be endured, but something which can enhance the organization’s ability to be successful. However, building a successful telework environment doesn’t happen by accident. An intentionality is required, particularly in giving employees the tools to be successful in a new and changing environment.

CI International has four telework webinars available that address the key elements noted above. These 2-hour sessions build the necessary level of competence and expertise for employee to thrive in a remote environment and ensure the organization continues to successfully achieve both short-term goals and the long-term mission. These instructor-led sessions are delivered in an engaging, interactive format that allows for discussion, questions, and activities. Those workshops are described below.

Leading in a Telework Environment
Many front-line leaders are anxious and uncertain about telework programs, fearing loss of control over employees’ daily work and lacking trust in their subordinates’ ability to work without direct supervision. This workshop will focus on building the leadership skills, trust and confidence to manage a successful telework program.

Objectives:

  • Gain tools to more effectively lead in a telework environment
  • Raise “hot button” concerns managers have regarding telework and identify strategies to resolve telework problems
  • Learn the four best practices of successful telework and how to apply them as a manager
  • Establish effective communication protocols and strategies

Making Telework Work
This online workshop gives both managers and employees the knowledge, skills, tools and confidence to make your telework program a success. The workshop is particularly effective for intact teams so they can build a common understanding and mutual support for the shift to telework. Participants will leave with action plans under each objective and with practical tools they can put to use immediately after the workshop.

Objectives:

  • Identify the benefits and challenges of telework
  • Understand the importance of performance management in making telework successful
  • Learn to stay visible, responsive and connected in a telework environment
  • Establish effective communication strategies for telework

Conducting Effective Virtual Meetings
This workshop provides practical tools and skills for planning, leading, and participating
in a virtual meeting. Workshop participants will gain insight into how to maximize meeting platform software and tap the collective wisdom of the group to gather data, make decisions, and develop effective action plans to make the decisions reached in the meeting a reality.
Objectives:

  • Collect ideas for successfully planning a virtual meeting
  • Learn how to run an effective meeting using meeting technology
  • Develop techniques to increase group participation

Staying Connected in a Telework Environment
This workshop focuses primarily on the use and function of applications to enable team members to collaborate most effectively. The class will focus on three primary areas of technology tools; 1) document and data collaboration 2) communication collaboration and 3) meeting collaboration. Users will be provided options in how and when to utilize these tools.

Objectives:

  • Learn to effectively use collaboration tools to stay connected
  • Understand the different collaboration tools that are available and their appropriate uses for team members
  • Understand how to improve document and data collaboration
  • Discuss appropriate use and protocol for utilizing communication tools such as email, phone, text, IM, hangouts, discussion forums and social media

Resilience:
1. the ability to become strong, healthy, or successful again after something bad happens
2. the ability of something to return to its original shape after it has been pulled, stretched, pressed, bent, etc.

It’s a typical work day. You begin working on email at 8:00. Suddenly it’s 9:30 and you’re rushing to get to that 10:00 meeting. Because the client is late and there is too much to discuss, you don’t get out of the meeting until noon. You grab a sandwich and get back to the office, check email and voice mail, return phone calls. The time is now 2:00. Your colleague, Sally, comes in to report a disaster with a client. You leave everything behind for an emergency meeting to deal with the crisis. At 3:00 you finally settle in to begin work on your to-do list, but your colleague John comes by—he is so funny, and has a great story to share with you about his weekend. You glance at your watch and now it’s 3:30; you’d better check email again. At 4:00 you look at your list and the papers on your desk and begin doing those small tasks that can be done quickly. At 5:30 you race out of the office to pick up your kids. At 9:00 pm you check email again to see if anything urgent has happened. At 11:00 you lie in bed, feeling exhausted and a bit unsure of what you accomplished that day–but you sure were busy!

Each of us has a different idea of what makes for a perfect day, but for most of us it includes being able to accomplish our top priorities, and having both the time to build relationships with colleagues and clients and the time to deal with unexpected urgencies. Most of us want to go home at a reasonable hour, leaving all work behind and feeling satisfied, organized and motivated for the next day. The key is to strike the right balance between planning your day, and quickly adapting to the external influences that threaten our plan. That’s resilience—the ability to have your day stretched out of the shape you originally planned for it, and yet be able to bounce back and still accomplish your goals.

The first step in creating a perfect day is having a clear vision of what you want it to look like. You can’t take control of your daily work life unless you know exactly how you want to change it. Here are some questions to ask yourself to help create that vision:

1. What would you accomplish in a ‘perfect’ day?

2. How many hours would you work daily?

3. What individuals (both internally and externally) would you further develop business       relationships with?

4. How much uninterrupted time would you have during the day?

5. How much time would you spend corresponding by email and phone?

6. What other aspects would make it a ‘perfect’ day?

7. How would you feel at the end of day?

Now use your calendar as your guide. Block time out for email and phone, relationship building and uninterrupted task time. With each and every request for your work time commitments, there should be clear negotiation on the appropriateness of the task and time it will take place. Thus you are not really saying no; you are merely negotiating how you say yes. Perhaps the two-hour meeting someone has sent you an invite for should really only require your presence for an hour; perhaps the committee you’ve been asked to chair would more appropriately be led by someone else and merely advised by you. Be assertive in your negotiations and more proactive and intentional in planning your day, and you will build resilience to better manage the inevitable time management challenges that come your way.

“But that’s ridiculous!” Ralph sputtered, interrupting Mariah in mid-sentence. “I’ve been following the same reporting procedure for ten years! How can it suddenly be wrong?”

“It’s not so much that it’s ‘wrong,’” Mariah explained patiently. “It’s just that we need to be more thorough. Our public has changed over the past decade and they demand more information, faster, and with a wider scope. Most of what goes into your reports could be found on the internet.”

“You seem to have a bias against me,” Ralph responded, barely controlling his anger. “I’ve noticed it since the day I was moved into your branch. You treat me differently than the other public information specialists and I’m not the only one who has noticed it.”

As managers and supervisors, we’ve all been there before. An employee has been performing below standard on a particular task for as long as anyone in the agency can remember. Rather than seeking to improve the performance, previous supervisors have passed the employee along to other work units, sometimes even giving glowing references. What do you do when you need to give constructive feedback to someone who has been led to believe she is performing at or above standard?

Mariah knew she needed to start the process by giving objective, behavior-based observations to Ralph, and she used the six steps for giving effective feedback, but the employee blew up and challenged her. Given that Ralph had never received any feedback before, perhaps Mariah should have anticipated such a reaction.

Here are some steps to handle a tense situation in which your feedback is not accepted:

1. First, consider options for an appropriate time and place to meet with the employee. For example, if your office is visible to the rest of the team, forcing someone to make a public march to the “principal’s office” may start you off on the wrong foot. Perhaps meeting in a coffee shop would be better.

2. Then acknowledge the reality of the situation at the very beginning of the conversation, before the employee has a chance to become emotional. “I’d like to give you some feedback on your current reporting procedure. It may be the first time you’ve been given this feedback, so I understand it might be surprising or frustrating for you to hear.”

3. Observe the employee’s non-verbal signals carefully and watch for signs of an emotional response, so you may be better prepared.

4. Once the employee expresses anger, denial or defensiveness, shift from making observations to asking questions. “I see you don’t agree with my observation. Can you tell me more about how you see it?” “Can you walk me through your perspective?” “Can you tell me how you view this differently?”

5. Manage your stories. You may have been telling yourself that the employee was aware of the issue and deliberately chose to skate along at sub-par performance levels, but now is the time to question your assumptions. If the employee has never received feedback before, it’s very possible she has no idea she’s considered underperforming. Give her the benefit of the doubt, and listen actively as she begins to describe how she sees it.

6. Remember to remain respectful. Once a person perceives a lack of respect on your part, it will be difficult if not impossible to ask him to pay attention to your message.

7. Seek common ground to build on, and let the employee retain a feeling of control. Each of you may assess the employee’s behavior differently, but there are likely to be points of agreement, especially when it comes to the goals of the position. Use that to steer the employee toward a commitment. “It sounds as if we both agree that the public’s needs have changed. How do you think can we better address those needs?”

8. Make sure to explicitly link plans for improvement with clear objectives, and discuss any relevant metrics that might be used to measure success. “Let’s revisit our customer survey results at the end of this year to see if we’ve moved the needle on meeting our objectives in public education.”

9. End the conversation on a positive note. “It sounds like we have a plan. I appreciate your willingness to consider my feedback, and I know you want the best for our team. Let me know what else I can do to support you in making the changes we’ve agreed on.”