How to be a better boss during the lockdown

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It's easy to come across as a boss from hell. Here's how you can be a role model for your team members

With the possibility of an extended lockdown looming large, it would seem that you and your team are going to be working from home for the foreseeable future. As a country, we’ve never really embraced the WFH culture and so this time is bound to throw up some challenges. If you’re part of a team, it would help to understand what your boss expects from you when you’re working from home. But if you’re a boss, it stands to reason more is expected from you than your team. After all, you’re the one they will turn to, no matter how they feel about you as a boss. Therefore, how you behave becomes in these times becomes extremely crucial. You could end up confirming their beliefs of you being an incompetent boss from hell or you could rise up to the occasion and set an example for your team. Here’s how: 

1. Don’t micromanage

It’s easy to want to get into each person’s daily activities and tell them what to do, especially now that none of them are in front of you. Avoid that instinct. Instead of focussing on their activities, focus on the outcome. Set each of their goals for the day and check in with them no more than twice a day – once after lunchtime and once at the end of the day. The post-lunchtime check-in can easily come across as a demand for a status update so perhaps instead of asking: ‘What’s the status of your assignment?’ you could consider asking: “Is there something you need from me for your assignment?’ This way you don’t come across as a school principal waving a cane at a truant student but rather a genuinely concerned colleague offering to help. And yes, if they ask your assistance, make sure you go through with your offer.

2. Your instructions should be clear 

It’s crucial that your instructions should be crystal clear so there’s no scope for any misinterpretation. You’re not in the same room as your colleagues and so they’ll likely appreciate it if they don’t have to keep returning to you for clarifications throughout the day. Instead of setting descriptive goals, be precise and offer tangible instructions. Which means instead of saying: “I need this by end of day” consider saying: “Please follow these guidelines (spell out the guidelines) and complete these assignments by 5 pm today. Please check in with me immediately if you have any doubts.”

3. Hold regular meetings. On video.

A phone call always works but a video check-in is always better. It helps maintain the personal connect you’ve built with your colleague. It also helps to pick up on non-verbal cues you may miss out during a phone call. You can have a video meeting once in the morning and another one at the end of the day. Ensure these meetings are brief and focus on what everyone’s working on and what they need from you. Video check-ins can be seen as an invasion of privacy – yes, we know they’re on your time but they’re also in their homes and you have to respect that space – so keep these to the minimum and avoid unscheduled video calls. It goes without saying, if you’re doing an unscheduled video check-in, make sure you email or text first before dialling in.

4. Be available for your team

These are times like we’ve never seen before. Acknowledge that working from home can be difficult. Therefore, be available for your team’s emotional needs. If they need to talk, take that call. If you’re unable to take calls on the fly, it would help to schedule times of the day when you’d be available for a virtual check-in. This way they know that they’ll have your undivided attention for those 10-15 minutes. Be encouraging; empathise; and, ultimately, be fair.

5. Don’t ignore yourself

Now is as good a time as any other to recognise that you’re not wearing a cape underneath that shirt. You too will need help; you too will need advice; you too will be lost. Don’t forget to focus on your emotional well-being and, indeed, your tasks at hand. It wouldn’t help your team if you falter or spiral. Avoid complaining to them, sure, but also remember that you need to vent out too. Schedule a meeting with your boss to do that. Or dial in your therapist.