Leading from a distance has been challenging for many over these last few days and may become even more difficult and problematic in the weeks and months to come. Life is fragile and work is volatile if not uncertain. Emotions are running high.

As one might expect, the Change Curve is almost a mirror image of the COVID-19 curve. What this means is that many people will find it difficult to adapt to a new way of life and work, both in their current circumstances as well as the foreseeable future. Leading people through enforced change to deal with the challenges of working in isolation will be essential.

The balance between showing empathy and being more directive has also been thrown into question; people look for reassurance in a crisis but there is often little time to build consensus over an evacuation procedure when the building is on fire. People need support as well as guidance to help them rationalise their emotional reactions into practical action.

With the above in mind, here are some suggestions for Leading from a Distance:

  • Recognise that team members will face both practical and emotional challenges.  Emotional challenges will include working in isolation, exacerbated by the uncertainty of the current situation

The current situation will undoubtedly increase level of anxiety and stress.  Leaders can take a pivotal role in helping team members to manage their emotional reactions. Listening, enabling and encouraging will no doubt help people to feel valued, engaged and empowered.

  • Be mindful of changes in your leadership style

There may be circumstances when a more directive leadership approach is merited, for example in enforcing policies that seek to protect the wellbeing of team members.  However, Leaders will need to be mindful of applying overly prescriptive boundaries.  Otherwise team members may feel their sense of control being threatened, which is likely to increase anxiety and reduce motivation.

  • Keep in touch with team members on a regular basis

A leader who takes an active interest in team members by listening to their concerns and showing they care can have a very positive impact on how people feel.  Regular communication is arguably more important now than ever. Leaders should therefore think about how they are going to replicate visibility and care on a virtual basis. 

  • Communicate what’s happening in the business on a regular, open and honest way

Under stress it’s normal for our emotional responses to be amplified.  Team members may be worrying about how the business is doing, and in a void of information, come to incorrect assumptions, potentially leading to unhelpful behaviours.  To counter this, Leaders should communicate as much reliable information as soon as they can – even if it’s to say that they don’t know the answer. 

  • Be accessible when it can be so easy to appear hidden

You may have an ‘open door’ policy in the office, but if team members can’t see if you’re ‘in’ then it makes it more difficult for them to engage with you.  Don’t assume everyone will have the drive to seek you out, so think of ways of signalling when you are available for a chat.  Technology can help, but it may be as simple as having an open time in your diary when people know they can speak with you.

  • Encourage your team to socialise virtually on a regular basis

Some teams are having virtual coffee breaks and quizzes as ways of mitigating their isolation and boosting morale. More suggestions on SMART working from home can be found here:

Diversity Project Tips for SMART working at home

  • Support flexibility in the home working regime

In the current crisis team members may be faced with a variety of challenges:  caring for elderly parents and other vulnerable family members as well as looking after young children. In turn, Leaders can care for their team by supporting flexibility in the working day.

  • Encourage a healthy lifestyle including time away from devices

The basics of eating healthily, sleeping well and exercising are as important as ever, although currently the latter is more difficult.  Team members should also be encouraged to develop boundaries between work and home life that suit them best – it may take us all some time to figure that out, so it’s something we should review on an on-going basis to prevent us adopting unhelpful habits.  Be mindful that people who become highly stressed may need additional support or even professional help. These links offer preventative advice to help people from becoming overly anxious:

NHS 10 Tips to help if you are worried about Coronavirus   and

Mind: Coronavirus and Your Wellbeing and

Diversity Project Tips on Mental Health whilst working at home

  • Lead/look after yourself

Many Leaders will be spending most of their time and energy serving the needs of others during this time. It’s therefore important to take a step back and remind yourself that you need to follow the advice you give others.  

  • Be a virtual role model

Finally, lead by example, and exhibit the behaviours you wish your team to apply.

Leading from a distance with head and heart will no doubt be crucial. That in mind, we are keen to build community and grow leadership at this time of isolation and potential desolation. We are organising a few ‘round table’ virtual discussion groups to allow leaders to share their views and hear what other leaders are doing to lead themselves and others as well as their clients through this crisis. If this is of interest to you, please do let us know and we will invite you to join one of our forthcoming private virtual events which are free of charge and limited to 10 participants per event.

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