What makes a great manager during a pandemic?

by | Sep 24, 2020

I believe that in this current situation, the role of the leader/manager has never been more important to the success of businesses.

I’ve been reflecting recently about the skills of managers during this difficult period of covid-19 lockdown/return to work/don’t return to work.

We all know that there are many skills that managers need in order to be effective, but it seems that there are some which are even more important in these difficult times.

And those who have these skills and mindsets are finding it easier to manage their teams than those who don’t.

The skills/mindsets include the ability to manage change, great communication and listening skills, resilience, engagement, courage, agility, and trust.

And here’s where I see the need for these skills:

1.    Working v not working – furlough, flexible furlough, working, self-isolating. All of this has the potential to cause resentment and frustrations within teams. Maybe one person in a team is working, while everyone else (possibly on full pay) has spent the summer sitting in the garden. Communication skills are vital to understand how staff are feeling, those who aren’t working, and maybe want to, and those who are working and maybe would prefer to be furloughed.

2.    Bringing people back to work (and/or back to the office), or not! If staff are heading back to the office, there will no doubt be a Covid-19 Policy which ensures the safety of staff, and this will need to be developed, communicated and implemented, and will in most cases, require behavioural change. Managers must have the courage to challenge non-compliance if they see it. Managers need to be able to listen to and understand when talking to staff about their concerns regarding returning to the office; listening effectively is difficult at the best of times, and even more difficult when conducting a conversation via Zoom, it’s vital to listen so carefully for the tone of voice and watch for clues in body language as this is a large part of the conversation. Then, there are the challenges of managing a part remote team, when some people are in the office and others are at home.

3.    The future. As we have found recently, government guidance has and will continue to change as the pandemic takes hold further or starts to improve. So the ability to manage change, and be agile in their approach is important. Having contingency plans in place ready to be used if necessary. And be able to communicate changes to staff in an effective and timely way. And then the ability to deal effectively and sensitively with potential restructures and redundancies.

4.    Staff engagement is more of a challenge when some staff are working and some are furloughed. A particular challenge is onboarding new staff, and this will take more effort and understanding than when it has been done in the office with all the team around.

5.    Staff wellbeing. Mental health issues are easier to hide, when staff are working remotely, so communication and effective listening skills are vital.

6.    Trust is important, and managers need to be able to trust their teams to work effectively; if teams do return to the office, the main reason isn’t because their manager doesn’t trust them to work effectively at home.

7.    Dealing with poor performance. Inevitably there will be issues of poor performance, and managers must have the courage to deal with these. However, in addition to couragelistening, empathy and problem solving skills are vital in order find the root cause of the problem. For example a member of staff may not be able to work effectively as they don’t have an appropriate workspace or equipment at home to do so.

So I strongly urge businesses not to forget that that managers may need support in these areas, and that their training and development needs should not be forgotten or put on hold. In fact I would suggest that this is an even more critical time to be investing in the development of your leaders and managers, as “new normal” emerges.

As well as working with managers on LMI’s management apprenticeship programmes, Jackie helps managers and leaders navigate the many challenges of HR-related issues via her consultancy businesses https://jackieadamsconsulting.co.uk/