Managing in the modern workplace
The demand on mid-level managers, to effectively manage their teams, is often over looked

The landscape of work has changed so much over the past two or so years, that our new way of working has evolved into something that Line Managers and Team Leads are struggling to adapt to. The six management challenges that have been identified in 2022 are:

  • Work visibility

  • Team Communication

  • Task delegation

  • Combating burnout

  • Change management 

  • Management in a Hybrid workspace and how to keep teams cohesive through distance.

Some of these are familiar, but have become more challenging in our post-pandemic world as much of our communication and collaboration takes place online, thus removing the critical 55% body language requirement that is needed for successful communication (Albert Mehrabian’s 7-38-55 Rule of Personal Communication).

This creates new challenges for managers to keep productivity, performance and engagement high. 

Let’s break these down:

Work visibility

The famous phrase, “out of sight, out of mind.” perfectly describes this management challenge. Visibility is critical in one way or another for career development and growth within a team. This means it’s critical for managers to think out of the box when it comes to bringing teams together and supporting and maintaining individual relationships. 

Team meetings, one-on-ones, and even non-work activities create visibility. Ensuring cameras are online, encouraging active participation and setting up online “coffee” meetings where you can banter, are some of the ways that workplace visibility can be maintained.

Team Communication

When teams work remotely, team communication takes a hit. It’s one of the biggest challenges management faces because when employees work remotely, it makes it easier for team members to work independently, and this then makes it difficult to align when it comes to project goals and progress. 

It’s hugely important that communication channels, which have guidelines, are in place. What is the best medium for day to day communication? If you are using Teams, what are the best channels to create for different conversations? How do you decide when a video call is necessary as opposed to an email?

Teams have to be aligned regardless of geography. It needs to be remembered, however, that people learn from people and it’s easier to learn from peers and colleagues with more experience. Working with colleagues will assist with learning more about the organisation, so it is vital that these risks are considered in a Hybrid model and the communication aspect of management has to be maintained.

Task Delegation

Many managers have struggled with delegation. People tend to want to complete tasks themselves so they are done to specification however, this hinders team development. Managers need to learn to use technology to their advantage by using project management and task management applications so as to stay on top of work done. 

Online task boards like Trello are great for monitoring tasks and assigning work. The following, however, needs to be noted:

“Nearly 81% of employees say it’s important that their managers help them prioritise their workload but 31% say managers have not given clear guidance. Conversely, 74% of managers say more guidance on prioritising their own work would help their performance, and 80% say they would personally benefit from more clarity from senior leadership on impactful priorities” (Microsoft’s Work Trend Index Pulse - 2022).

It’s a delicate balance, and one that requires that managers learn tools to overcome these issues and obstacles.

Combating Burnout

A lot of people are under the impression that because employees are working from home this results in less stress, but this is not always the case. It can be very difficult for some people to create boundaries between work and their personal life.

I’m pretty certain most of us have been on a Zoom or Teams call where a dog has barked or a child has cried. For some, this is the reality of working from home. This means that when a person is on a work call, their attention is divided and this causes stress.

Think about moms who are juggling kids, builders in the background. In many instances our emails are on our phones and a lot of companies have WhatsApp groups. Some managers have a tendency to make contact after office hours, and many employers then find it difficult to not respond. This additional stress all becomes part of how we are adapting to Hybrid and all of these factors can lead to burnout.

Managers need to assist with the setting of boundaries between work and personal lives. Core hours need to be honoured and, as much as there is a temptation to send work-related messages out of these hours, managers need to be sensitive to how this makes their team feel and how this can exacerbate stress. 

What also needs to be considered is the mental wellness of team members, as human beings are social animals who need interaction with others. The balance is one that is critical to find in a Hybrid work environment.

Also take note of the fact that macro and micro economic effects have put pressure on our economy, costs have risen, many people took salary cuts post Covid…these are all factors that add to personal stress that can have a knock on effect when it comes to work.

“Employees feel the pressure to ‘prove’ they are working and ‘digital overwhelm’ is soaring. Because of this, nearly 48% of employees and 53% of manafgers report that they are burned out at work” (Microsoft’s Work Trend Index Pulse - 2022).

The more your team feels that you support them in both their work and personal life, the less likely burnout will occur. 

Change Management

This is a biggie post Covid. Apart from the fact that technology is advancing at an exponential rate, ways of working have changed and post Covid policies are still in place in many companies. The world as we know it has changed which means the traditional approaches to change management must also change.

Overcoming these changes involves a change of perspective, as well as recognition that the old ways of approaching change management will now be far less effective.

Change management needs to be more inclusive and involve the creation of change management champions within teams to assess how change affects employees at every level.

While many people struggle to give honest feedback, this needs to be encouraged and managers need to welcome ideas and suggestions and really analyse the source of these. 

Team members need to be reassured that no idea, big or small, is a bad one, however, it’s also important to guide teams so that they bring forward an idea with a thought through solution. This fosters a sense of accountability.

Change management today also needs to be more results-focused instead of process-driven. Instead of focusing on new skills training to facilitate change management, emphasize your desired outcomes and results then let your employees find out the best way to meet those outcomes. 

Conflict Management

One of the persistent challenges that managers need to tackle is conflict management. However, it does need to be ascertained as to whether the conflict is real or perceived. Perceived conflict is a lot easier to manage through a number of interventions, whilst actual conflict needs to be managed through empathy and communication. 

It’s the responsibility of managers to ensure people are heard and they need to be guided by facts and data instead of “story telling”. This is where the fine line of new managers managing “work friends” becomes delicate. Very few people can make a successful shift to finding a balance between friendship and management, and consequently, conflict can actually escalate due to bias and emotion. Having an open mind is essential.

With Hybrid working, it is now more difficult to deal with conflict if individuals are not in office. Should conflict need to be handled remotely (employees working from other provinces for example), face to face video calls are a must and managers need to adhere to the “putting a hand up” option so that listening can be done without interruption. The focus needs to be on reforming and rebuilding relationships and this cannot be done if team members and managers interrupt one another. 

Managing remote Teams more effectively   

Remote working poses a challenge at most levels, but at a supervisory or middle management level it can often be more difficult. This is often because people who are new to the role have not, necessarily, learnt to communicate assertively with team members.

The same Microsoft report has revealed that 85% of business leaders say that the shift to hybrid has made it challenging to have confidence that employees are being productive. As some organisations use technology to track activity rather than impact, employees lack context on how and why they're being tracked, which can undermine trust.

“This has led to productivity paranoia: where leaders fear that lost productivity is due to employees not working, even though hours worked, number of meetings, and other metrics have increased” according to the report. 

People are missing the visual cues of what it means to be productive because they can’t “see” who is working hard.

When it comes to managers, 49% of hybrid managers say they struggle to trust their team to do their best work and 54% report less visibility to see work that is done.

To foster an inclusive, collaborative and engaging work environment and a cohesive team, the responsibility lies with the team’s manager. If a manager exhibits these characteristics, teams will feel empowered and motivated to work whether at the office or their own homes. 

Leverage technology (and use it correctly) and empower your team to design a work culture that everyone is proud to be part of. Management challenges will come, but as long as you have built (or are building) a strong work culture within your team, these can be overcome.

The first aspect of any management training needs to start with communication training - how to have difficult conversations with team members and how to transition into a more senior role.

CorporateWise focuses, specifically, on Supervisory and Mid-level management training and our solutions have been carefully identified to assist managers make this successful transition which, ultimately, benefits the organisation as a whole.

To find out more please contact us

Managing in the modern workplace
Kathryn Lehnerdt 26 September, 2022
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