HBR published an article this week titled Managing your WFH paranoia. In the article, the author focuses on the impacts of the “out of sight, out of mind” concerns which many workers have developed over the course of the past year resulting from COVID-19 pandemic work restrictions. Such fears could include a sense of persecution, feelings of abandonment or being disrespected.
She also provides a number of tips on how team members can avoid or overcome these concerns including:
- Establishing clear expectations with stakeholders
- Prioritizing what’s important and not overextending one’s commitments
- Being aware of one’s reaction to negative feedback or a lack of feedback from others, and seeking to understand it rather than becoming defensive or more paranoid
- Compartmentalizing the concerns and finding methods of being able to park those concerns at the end of the workday
Such tactics are helpful, but always remember that it takes two to tango. While we want our team members to be as self-managing as possible, what we do as leaders will go a long way towards helping them do so.
So what can you do as a team lead to help your team members avoid such fears?
Tune up your team’s working agreements
Assuming your team members have already developed a set of ground rules for how they will interact with one another, it might be a good time to refresh these rules. Facilitate a candid conversation with your team about fears of isolation and encourage them to identify additional rules for how to go about surfacing such fears. Explore what behaviors should be reinforced or avoided to reduce the likelihood of such fears festering. Don’t hesitate to lead by example. Give them instances of when you might have felt these same concerns and how you dealt with them.
Be (more) responsive
You might feel that you are an excellent communicator, but are you testing this assumption regularly? Could you do more to provide feedback in a clear, timely manner? Is the way in which you respond (or not) sending the wrong messages? Ask your team members, either in a group or one-on-one, if they can think of a recent specific scenario where their your remote interactions with them made them feel more concerned than if you had been working with them in person.
Check in regularly
While I’m sure you are using regular informal surveys or other techniques to see how your team is feeling, you might wish to add some questions specifically related to how your team members are feeling. As as example, you might ask them to grade their level of comfort or confidence on a sliding scale.
Be aware of their commitments
Make sure that there is transparency around who has committed to what. Encourage your team members to work a sustainable pace and to come to you if they are not confident in pushing back when someone asks them to take on more work than they feel comfortable juggling.
Provide support resources
If you have the ability, set up some virtual workshops or lunch-n-learns on how to manage stress and fear of failure concerns when working remotely. Encourage your team members to identify a “buddy” within their team with whom they can have candid, safe two-way conversations about this topic. Locate suitable online videos related to the subject and view and discuss them together during team meetings.
Remote work is here to stay.
If team leaders and team members work together to tackle the concerns that come with this way of working, their efforts will be like a bright sunshine burning off the fog of fear.
(If you liked this article, why not pick up my book Easy in Theory, Difficult in Practice which contains 100 other lessons on project leadership? It’s available on Amazon.com and on Amazon.ca as well as a number of other online book stores)