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Managing a team remotely: from tasks to responsibilities

For over a year, we have been working mostly from home and a totally new working culture seems to have emerged. In the field of management, the corona year has provided many new insights. Richard van der Gaag and Noortje van Boxtel, who both lead a large team at TMC, share their most important learnings from the past year.

#1 Start with the foundation

Really dig into the family situation of the people in your team. Combining homeschooling with a busy job might create stress. So, coordinate meetings well and give the people in your team the opportunity to organize their personal and work life. Think of solutions and accept that sometimes things don’t go the way you planned them.

#2 From the open-floor office to an open-air office

Look at what can be done and benefit from these new possibilities. Go for a walk, get a coffee to go or bring your lunch. Outside the boundaries of the office, you might even create more connection than usual.

#3 Let go of your ‘security’

People in your team should feel responsible for results, not for completing individual tasks. Therefore, formulate clear individual and team objectives and leave the responsibility for their implementation primarily with your team members. Letting go the control, and the ‘security’, works better for both parties.

#4 Connect!

Weeks go by and there are not many moments of running into each other at the coffee machine anymore. Therefore, as a manager, spend more time on personal contact. Call spontaneously more often, ask the question ''how are you'' more often. Move this "coffee machine moment" to the beginning of your meetings instead of starting about business right away. This is essential to keep the relationship going!

Taking control of your own career path

Peter Klein Meuleman will soon celebrate his 12.5 year jubilee as one of TMC’s longest standing employeneurs at the Mechanical business cell in The Netherlands. It’s a bittersweet celebration, as Peter is also leaving TMC. In this article he tells us what he has learnt and done in all of his years as an employeneur.

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March 2020... How did you experience the first wave and all the business consequences?

Richard: "Of course it was a shock. The images from Italy are still clearly visible on everyone's minds. As a manager you must act immediately. What does this mean for us? It quickly became clear that everyone had to stay home. In no time all live meetings were switched to Teams meetings and a week later we were having digital meetings. The first few times this was strange, with colleagues half on the screen or sometimes with bad connections, but it soon felt natural.

Personally, I found it tough to get a good work life balance, as I have a wife and two young children who couldn't go to school anymore. During the call it was not uncommon for a child to pass by. While colleagues with children had to try to organize their time efficiently, colleagues that live alone were sometimes lonely and colleagues who sat at home with their partner sometimes got on each other's nerves. Everyone had and has their own ''Corona-struggles'' and as a manager it is important to stay in touch with the people on your team.”

Noortje: "In the beginning everyone was a bit overwhelmed with working from home. We already did a daily stand-up with our team before corona existed, while many teams introduced this at the beginning of the pandemic. So it was already somewhat in our system, but now it has really become a well-oiled machine. We also have an online Daily Performance Management board where, amongst others, we indicate how we are doing each day: how is the workload and how do you feel personally? When you see each other physically, you can see and sense things like that. But now that much of it is online, it's good to know how your colleagues are doing, even when someone is not feeling well or is very busy."

In what ways have you tried to support colleagues in difficult moments?

Richard: "The most important thing is to stay connected. Because this normally is so straightforward, I didn't even realize how much you actually need the personal connection with your colleagues. By speaking to each other as much as possible, we try to keep the team spirit going. This comes with ups and downs. I still find the real contact - by far - the most pleasant. I've been doing a lot of walks with people these past few months, which I highly recommend."

"If I notice that someone seems to have bad days, I always call that person to see what the problem is. As a manager you can often do something for your employees if you know what is bothering them. For example, I have increased the frequency of coaching for a number of colleagues. Another colleague found that working out helped her, so we created space for her to do this between work and her busy family life," adds Noortje.

''Especially now you can make a difference as a manager, by zooming in on the people in your team and by staying connected. At the same time, it's also a kind of crash course in ''remote leadership'' for every manager, and we as managers don't have all the answers either. I mean, if someone had told me a year ago that I would only be managing my teams virtually, I probably would have laughed in his face,” Richard concludes.

What is the biggest difference with remote leadership compared to the old situation?

"As a manager, of course you always have to be involved with your employees. But with corona it has become even more important to have an eye for the whole picture. If, for example, a colleague is busy homeschooling and this causes him or her problems, it is good to remain realistic and support him or her where possible. It also helps that I have children myself and simply know how difficult it sometimes is to combine everything,” laughs Noortje.

In addition, you now must extremely trust the sense of responsibility of the people in your team. That usually shouldn't be a problem; you have hired these colleagues for a reason, of course. Ultimately, it is good for everyone if you can focus on responsibilities instead of tasks," Richard explains.

How do you think this crisis is going to affect our way of working in the long run?

"Until a year ago, working from home was not commonly accepted. In many companies, employees worked remotely sometimes, but many executives were skeptical about it. There were quite some prejudices about working from home. Fortunately, we have now seen that it works. Even though we don't like it as much as being able to go to the office, it turns out that objectives can still be met and that business just keeps on going," says Noortje.

Richard: "Flexible working is here to stay. You see that people like the freedom to organize their own time. And as a manager, why would you have a problem with it if people perform better this way and can set their own priorities?"

Noortje van Boxtel

Director Manufacturing Support | Supply Chain Management | Field Service, Netherlands

Tel: +31 (0)6 12 93 23 55

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