Managers need to change their mindsets in response to different team dynamics and priorities.
Last year, employees were forced to carry out their work with offices shut down to curb the spread of COVID-19, while at the same time decision-makers were demanding no disruption to “business as usual.” “That was the challenge in the local business environment,” said Sherine Zeidan, HR business partners manager at Commercial International Bank, during a Feb. 10 AmCham webinar featuring a panel of human resources professionals and executives.
Most employees have settled into working remotely and virtual meetings, for better or worse. However, as managers and decision-makers move from reacting to the rapidly changing environment of 2020 to capitalizing on new opportunities in 2021, they must manage their teams differently. “We had to adjust several aspects to keep employees motivated and productive,” said Rami Azzi, regional business group lead at Microsoft.
Principles in a new reality
Nihal Zahwi, senior director for baby care in Asia, the Middle East and Africa at Procter & Gamble (P&G), stressed the importance of keeping some basic principles in focus.
The first is that the “manager is accountable” to coach, train, develop and evaluate each team member’s performance. “In that respect, it is the same as being in the same office,” she said. Additionally, managers need to continue to be clear about expected outcomes and results. “Employees need to continue to know how their managers are assessing them, especially since they don’t come to the office as much as they used to,” noted Zahwi.
What will change are the metrics and benchmarks that managers and decision-makers use to measure employee performance. “Managers need to use multiple sources to receive feedback from employees as well as stakeholders, now that they are not meeting them face-to-face,” said Zahwi. “They must also evaluate performance based on what employees achieve in [the current] context.”
Zeidan said CIB had to change its performance management system by increasing the frequency of assessments for those working from home. The bank also added a behavioral component to the evaluation. “It relates to how well employees are coping with the pandemic, mentally, to ensure fair evaluation,” she said.
Zahwi also stressed the importance of communication in the virtual workspace. “It is a shared responsibility to communicate. Managers must initiate communication with their teams, and vice-versa,” she said. “It is as important as the results.”
At CIB, meetings among staff and with the CEO have become regularly scheduled events. “Those meetings aim to maintain a healthy work culture that is well connected and answers employee questions, and maintains messaging clarity across the organization,” said Zeidan.
During the webinar, Zahwi stressed the importance of managers refraining from slang during meetings, especially with foreigners. “Cultural differences are more pronounced in a virtual setting,” she stressed.
The lockdowns to control COVID-19 since the start of last year resulted in companies having to invest in resources to ensure employees could continue to perform. “Organizations must protect their employees and customer services,” said Zeidan of CIB. “It has to be ‘business as usual.’”
The first step was to switch personal computers to laptops. CIB also took steps to increase the protection of networks by using more reliable firewalls and authentication processes.
Another new resource to help employees perform effectively is establishing an HR hotline, where employees could ask for assistance from HR or outside counselors. “We also send out emails with tips on everything from how to stay safe to how to unwind at home to creating an office space,” said Zeidan.
New work routines
Azzi of Microsoft noted during the AmCham webinar that “two years’ worth of digital transformation happened in March and April 2020.”
While employees and managers initially coped and even enjoyed scheduling online meetings and working from home, bad habits and frustration crept in. “The explosion of online meetings led many to come unprepared,” said Azzi. “There also were a lot of distractions to the point that meetings became counterproductive.
A big frustration with online communication is employees must use several tools and apps on the computer and mobile phones. “Those different tools overloaded the employees,” explained Azzi, stressing the importance of employees using just one tool or mobile app to access everything they need. “It must also be easy to operate,” said Azzi. “Someone with no technical background could create workflows while the tool does the manual tasks, saving hours of unnecessary work.” Such a tool would make security less challenging as all employees would access the system from one program.
Away from work, Azzi highlights the importance of having a completely separate platform for employees to communicate with each other. “An employee experience platform would help organizations create a thriving culture with engaged employees,” he said. It includes event notifications, news and other workplace services. It also could have feedback messaging, surveys and knowledge resources. “Well-being – [whether] physical, mental, emotional or financial – is vital to retaining employees and making them more productive,” said Azzi.
Reskilling the workforce
In the face of such rapid change, companies need to invest in retraining their workforce to adapt to the new reality’s downsides and capitalize on opportunities. It could prove challenging to manage a unique work environment while learning new skills. “We are now on a tough road that will lead to a beautiful destination,” said Hossam Kabbani, CEO and board member of Dale Carnegie Training Egypt. “The key for organizations is when they will reach it.”
He said companies need to dedicate budgets to retrain their workforce on the organization’s new realities. “Now is the time for companies to have a positive mindset to capitalize on the arising opportunities,” said Kabbani.
To choose the most effective training courses, “companies need to ask themselves what are their strengths,” he said. Courses need to offer emotional development coupled with behavioral-change training. “Those two dimensions will lead to performance change,” said Kabbani.
He noted that companies in 2021 should look at training courses that deal with online stress, leading virtual teams and making presentations in a virtual setting, among other topics. Taking the time and committing a training budget will go a long way toward making any organization “agile and resilient, and able to deal with everyone everywhere,” Kabbani said.