For most of us, Covid is synonymous with personal restrictions and constraints. In many companies, however, the pandemic has also had some positive effects, as traditional working methods and environments are being reconsidered and reinvented. This will bring about change. Work, occupational and organizational psychologists are now helping businesses chart a course towards success.

No return to the old world of work

COVID-19 has greatly accelerated the adoption of digital technologies by companies. Wherever possible, employees work from home and attend virtual meetings as a matter of course. This has many benefits. For example, employees save time by not having to commute or travel on business trips, which makes for a better work/life balance. What’s much more important, however, is that work can be completed at home just as well as in the office. In fact, employees are often more productive when working from home. For companies and workers alike, it is now clear that, even after the pandemic, there can be no wholesale return to the world of work as we know it. Many employees will remain mobile or work from home at least some of the time, and the working methods and processes enabling them to do this will not only remain in place but will continue to be developed.

Despite the undoubted benefits, we have also been made aware over the past months of the risks and challenges of the new world of work: to be successful, companies must fine tune the working environment and encourage their employees and managers to develop new skills. These skills will be needed to help them deal with the stresses that arise when the boundaries between work and private life become blurred or when they are required to be constantly available or have to work in isolation.

A new appreciation of leadership

For managers, the trend towards working from home is a challenge. They now have to trust their teams to complete their work on time. Not only that, but they must also give their staff the freedom to work independently within agreed time windows. This means relinquishing control and at the same time taking on new responsibilities.

Leading a virtual team means supporting and motivating the team members. The manager becomes the coach of their team, as it were.  If agile working is implemented, a positive error culture and shared learning are essential. Hierarchies are becoming flatter and managers are setting guidelines and formulating shared visions and objectives. But to master this new style of leadership, the managers themselves also need new skills, which they can develop in workshops and coaching programmes.

 

Leading a virtual team means:

supporting and motivating the team members. The manager becomes the coach of their team, as it were.

Sympathetic and motivational communication

Communication plays a key role in virtual teams. But is it challenging, because information from body language and facial expressions is only conveyed to a limited extent by video, and not at all by telephone calls and emails. To ensure that their communications are seen as sympathetic and motivational, managers must therefore show great sensitivity, especially when it comes to critical feedback or improvement proposals. Moreover, communication also means contact and feedback, which home workers can easily miss out on. This is stressful not only for young employees at the beginning of their careers but also for their more experienced colleagues. Deprived of a regular exchange of views with their colleagues, workers can feel isolated, undervalued and ignored. To be successful, managers must therefore rise to the challenge of supporting dialogue with their staff and integrating them into the team.

Encouraging personal responsibility

Tomorrow, it will no longer be necessary to commute, but the work itself will not change. It will not be easy for anyone setting up their workplace at home. Working from home not only offers flexibility; it also demands it. If the meeting software fails to work, you need to stay calm and find a solution – usually without any immediate support from the IT department. But even when the technology works, jobs must not only be delivered but also organized – what must be done and when? How can this be achieved while also meeting all the other deadlines? A high degree of self-organization is essential, with all employees taking responsibility and making decisions. As they may not have needed these skills to any great extent previously, they will now have to be developed, through psychologically based online training, for example.

Tip:

To avoid stress, it is important to have strategies in place that prevent the work carried out in your remote workplace from spilling over into your private life.

 

Personal responsibility also includes adhering to agreed rules on working hours and rest breaks. Here, the responsibilities of employees are no different to those of managers. The latter also have the responsibility of immediately approaching any member of staff who shows signs of psychological stress. To avoid stress, it is important to have strategies in place that prevent the work carried out in your remote workplace from spilling over into your private life.

Companies must develop intervention strategies and be able to support employees who have negative experiences, such as being insulted, for example. After all, positive self-esteem and a sense of belonging to the company are crucial for motivation and performance, especially for staff working from home. But one thing is clear: Covid has changed the world of work and created new success factors that everyone in the company must be prepared for.

Author

Iris Dohmen

Iris Dohmen

ORGANISATIONAL PSYCHOLOGY

Iris Dohmen is the head of work, industrial and organisational psychology at TÜV Rheinland. The graduate psychologist has been working nationwide in corporate psychology for 20 years. She analyses psychological stress, advises on the subject of “healthy leadership” and is available to assist employees and managers in word and deed. Iris Dohmen lives in Berlin. Her heart beats for the Münsterland, Great Britain, the Opera and the BVB Borussia Dortmund.

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