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Leading From A Distance During Remote Work 

July 2020
Eline Kullock
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Executives take on creative ‘smart working’ approach to cater to teams’ needs

During my recent hiring interviews, I have made a point to ask executives what steps they are taking to keep their teams motivated in this new scenario of working from home. These executives, who are responsible for leading great teams, have needed to reinvent themselves in order to lead from a distance.

Brazil is a country where big cities are mired by traffic and considerable time is wasted commuting to and from work. The concept of remote work, meanwhile, might now be here to stay. The subject may be relatively new to our culture – and indeed to much of the world — but it has been rapidly absorbed by the reality of life during a pandemic.

Even though I’m referencing Latin culture and not necessarily an American or European reality, this type of leadership can be found in any multinational company around the globe. In Brazil and Latin America, companies are used to having teams that are physically present. Historically, we are still based in a concept of patriarchal, face-to-face interaction tied to the belief that an employee will only be productive under direct supervision. Sayings like “When the cat’s away, the mice will play” are common in Latin America. However, there are signs that this is now changing.

No country has been fully prepared for the cultural change of working totally remotely. According to MIT research, Brazil ranks fifth on a list of 30 countries with the greatest difficulties in implementing the home office on a large scale. 1

In any work environment, people feel engaged not only for remuneration but also for the sense of purpose and being part of a team and not solely because of their position in an organization’s structure. The leaders I have spoken with are coming up with some creative alternatives to keep their teams integrated and motivated, like sending a bottle of beer to employees at home so they can enjoy happy hour after work or having a surprise birthday cake delivered to someone during a regular staff meeting. These are examples of small initiatives that help maintain the “esprit de corps” in a team.

I have also talked to finance executives who have challenged their teams with projects to be developed throughout the year in addition to their daily tasks, with monthly follow-ups. At each of these meetings, they encourage their teams to think of additional ways they can help the executives in their main role as strategic partners. This concept can be applied to any support position. Every area of a company is business-driven and should be adding value.

Executives tell me that phones are now being used more than ever before. Direct conversations allow for better interaction and emotional exchange and cannot be replaced by emails and WhatsApp conversations. Videoconferencing applications like Zoom and Teams are being used more frequently, even when there is not a specific topic for the meeting; this brings the team closer and allows the executive to learn what problems their team is going through and to point out any potential issues.

An unexpected byproduct of this is that many executives have been introduced to employees’ home life, be it a child coming into the room in the middle of a meeting or a cat jumping in front of the computer. Companies and executives understand they are invading a private sphere of their employees’ lives. Introducing themselves to the family shows that employees’ personal lives and the time they’ve dedicated to the company matter. Executives also want to ensure employees are doing well and make sure they know they have the support needed to perform their job.

One executive told me that during meetings with his team he noticed that some employees had more on their plate at home as children are being schooled at home. He also noticed the need for employees to clean the house more often because they are spending more time there. Executives together with HR have allowed teams to take longer breaks besides just lunch so that they can do chores at home as well as being able to spend more quality time with their children. Others have extended their daily working hours, creating longer breaks throughout the day to accommodate family needs at home.

The ability to be flexible and an understanding of the individual needs of a team make the leaders of home office times professionals of smart working. This means working in a healthier way basing leadership not on control, submission, or fear but on autonomy, affection, development, and comprehension of social values. A leader cannot avoid these issues when home office is integrated into the corporate life of team members. As counterintuitive as it may first sound, this actually transforms the environment we currently live in into a broader and more inclusive social structure, both in Brazil and anywhere around the world.

About the Author:

Eline Kullock is a Managing Director for Stanton Chase International Brazil.

*1 https://valor.globo.com/carreira/noticia/2020/06/29/brasil-e-o-quinto-pais-com-maior-dificuldade-para-o-home-office.ghtml

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