How to be a great ‘virtual’ leader – Part 1

By Carli Uys (MCom Industrial Psychology and MCom Communication studies)

Some leaders might assume that being a leader in the office is easier than being a leader virtually. In the office a leader can see team members, observe their behaviours and struggles, build stronger relationships with them, give guidance where needed and motivate team members to help them achieve their goals.

When people work virtually, they have the opportunity (if they so choose) to show their leaders only what they want them to see. Leaders only get small glimpses of insight into their team members’ lives through a virtual call, instant messages and emails. The leader will not have a full picture of what is truly going on at home. They will try to hide that the atmosphere at home is tense, or that one of the kids just had an accident.

In the now virtual working world, each employee is facing different challenges while working from home, such as unique stressors, relationship challenges and domestic circumstances. Employees do not have tech support and have to become their own tech support ‘manager’, they are also battling with bandwidth and other obstacles.

Leaders will have to take a different management approach when leading and managing their virtual teams. Leading teams virtually requires of the leader to improve on communications skills, through having great writing skills that translates the message correctly as well as translating important things like empathy and understanding through written words.

The virtual world is putting the leader’s leadership skills to the test. Research showed that leaders now have to continuously be on their ‘A-game’ to have teams and communities deliver excellent performance while working virtually.

So, what makes a great ‘virtual’ leader?

The answer is, being a transformational leader. A transformational leader focuses on empowering people and tapping into deeper needs and motivations. Research has found that ‘virtual’ employees respond well to transformational leadership because the change in approach fits the new dynamics at play.

The research findings indicate that leaders should apply the following to manage virtual teams better:

Most organisations are settling into the fact that home-working is the foreseeable future of work. The best leaders will have to learn quickly to find new ways to motivate and engage their team members.

The importance of self-care while working remotely

By Carli Uys (MCom Industrial Psychology and MCom Communication studies)

For the majority of us, the Covid-19 pandemic has made us remote workers. It was not easy for all of us to transition from working at the office to working at home. It had its own challenges that we all had to overcome, such as work-life balance and our well-being.

This blog will focus on our well-being while working from home and how we should show ourselves some love during this time.

Self-care during this time is not a luxury, it is an essential part for you to be able to adjust to the new (now) normal. It can be easy for you to increase your stress levels while working from home as you may feel that you don’t have enough time for everything that you want to do. You might be experiencing what most of us are, that there are no boundaries in place when it comes to working from home. You start earlier and you end later. Your boss calls or sends a message at any time of the day assuming that you are available because you are working from home. This can put a lot of strain on your well-being and you need start putting your well-being first.

Let’s first look at what well-being means. Well-being is the experience of health, happiness and prosperity. It includes mental health, a sense of meaning and purpose, the ability to manage stress, and the feeling of being well. People in general want to experience well-being, as it includes so many positive things, such as happiness, feeling healthy, having social connections and feeling that you have a purpose in life.

There are different types of well-being that is important:

Can you actually increase/improve your well-being?

The answer is yes!! Increasing your personal well-being is simple, but it is not always easy. Why am I saying this? There are many skills you can use to improve your well-being, but it is at times difficult to figure out which part of your well-being is most important to you and that you must focus on. Figuring out how to build well-being skills are at times difficult.

To be able to positively impact your well-being while working from home, consider the following tips to establish healthy habits that will assist you to maximise your efforts to be able to cope with working from home and to support your mental, emotional and physical well-being.

  1. If you have the space in your house, create a dedicated workspace for yourself to only use for work. This can help you to associate that area as your workplace and limit the rest of your house to be connected to work. This can allow you to still view your house as your home and not your work environment.
  2. Get dressed as if you were going to go to work. This can create a mindset that you have a purpose and if there is an unexpected video call you won’t be caught off guard. This will also give the other person a good impression of you and create a positive view that you are ready for anything that might come your way. It is important to always be professional and it can help you to feel confident while taking a video call and completing your work.
  3. Determine what your objectives are for the day and the week ahead and write it all down. This can help you to plan out your day and week to know what has to be done and prioritise your tasks. By writing it down it allows you to scratch out the tasks that you have completed which can give you an idea of how you are progressing and show you that you are actually achieving your objectives.
  4. It is important to take regular, mindful breaks. This can help you to reset and refocus your mind and energy to what has to be done. Do so for only a few minutes at a time, on a regular basis during the day. This will help to reduce your stress and give you clarity on what must still be done, and it can help increase your productivity.
  5. Remember to eat real food and stop snacking on junk food the entire day. If you do not focus on making yourself a proper meal, then you will continuously snack on junk food and this can cause a decline in your energy levels and an increase in your weight levels. If you want to snack rather than eat full proper meals a day, think about healthy snacks and rather leave the junk at the store.
  6. Not all of us like to work out and most of us do not have space or equipment to be able to work out from home. Put that thought out of your mind that you can only work out at a gym. You can do various activities that can get your blood flowing and help you to reset your mind and body and to feel refreshed. Take a walk around your house, or in your complex or go for a walk around the block. It doesn’t have to be long, just to get your heart racing a bit faster than usual. This can help to boost your immune function and it can help you to approach your work from a fresh perspective.
  7. Most important thing you should do in a day, is have a clock-out time every day. This will help you avoid overworking yourself and allow you to spend time with your loved ones or do something you love to do to relax after a hard day’s work. Let your boss and colleagues know that you will always implement a clock-out time as it is important for your well-being and that they should do the same.
  8. By making an appointment for “you time”, you will allow yourself to set new priorities, stay connected with your loved ones and to create structure in your life. This will give you the control of being able to face whatever comes your way and ways to make work more meaningful.

There are various benefits you get from taking care of your well-being:

Remember that self-care is not selfish, it is a must! Take care of yourself and the rest will follow.

Being hopefully optimistic

By Carli Uys (MCom Industrial Psychology and MCom Communication studies)

During these turbulent times it is difficult to be hopeful about what the future holds and to be optimistic that it all will turn out good in the end. It at times might feel that it is all getting too much to handle and that there is nothing to be optimistic about, as it feels that these turbulent times will not end any time soon. The pandemic has fundamentally changed how we view life, how our society works, and how we work. Many have lost their jobs and are struggling to be able to survive financially while most are battling to stay hopeful that this pandemic will pass and allow us to live our lives the way we want to.

These turbulent times have impacted our sense of hopefulness and our optimism about our future and how we will be able to get through every day. It is up to you to imagine a better future as to help you maintain some level of mental well-being. This can help you to keep believing that a better future will arrive and that your life will get better.

So, what does being hopefully optimistic mean?

Let’s first look at the meaning of hope, hopeful and optimistic.

Hope can be defined as a feeling of expectation and desire for a particular thing to happen, a feeling of trust and a want for something to happen. This means that you have an expectation that something good will happen. Every person views hope in a different way. Hope can be an emotion that you feel or you can use it as a way to motivate yourself to take action or it can be a coping mechanism that gets you through difficult times.

Hopeful is a feeling or inspiring optimism about a future event and a person likely or hoping to succeed. Optimistic can be defined as being hopeful and confident about the future.

This means that if you are hopeful you are an optimist. APA defines an optimist as someone “who anticipate positive outcomes, whether serendipitously or through perseverance and effort, and who are confident of attaining desired goals.” It is completely normal for a person to at times have trouble with being optimistic. Most of use lie somewhere on the spectrum between pessimism and optimism, and tend to demonstrate sometimes strong and relatively stable or situational tendencies in the direction of optimism or pessimism.

Kara Cutruzzula provided various tactics to help you shift your daily thoughts from possible pessimistic thoughts to optimistic thoughts.

  1. Shift your expectations from only seeing the negative in a situation or in your day to change your subjective reality to be more positive. This will also help to change your objective reality by acting as a self-fulfilling prophecy. This means that when you wake up in the morning you need to say that you will have a great day and speak it into existence to avoid yourself of falling into the trap of making gloomy predictions about your day.
  2. Be aware that you can change your life at any given point in time. Just because you are experiencing turbulent times does not mean that you have to accept it and let it control your life. If you lose your job, you have to decide to be hopefully optimistic that you will get a new job or that your dream of starting your own business will become a reality. Whatever your desire for your future might be, you need to be hopeful that it will happen when you put in the effort to achieve your dream.
  3. Always look for meaning in challenging times in your life. Always view negative events in your life as something that you can learn from and focus your mind on trying to find the positive that can come from the negative event. We can all learn from negative experiences and implement the learnings into our lives. It is up to you to see the positive and decide how it can transform your future and view of the world.
  4. Listen to another person’s story where they found meaning in their turbulent times. Listen deeply and intentionally to get the just of the story and understand how it impacted that person’s life in the long run. Then go and reflect on your experience and how you can find meaning out of your turbulent times. Make it a memorable experience as your journey can positively impact someone else who might be experiencing something similar and who might need guidance or encouragement to get through their turbulent times.
  5. Focus on what you are truly passionate about and let it anchor you in what you truly want out of life. Let your passion guide you to understand what it is that you want to achieve in your life and determine how you will go about achieving it.

Thinking positively helps a person be healthier, more productive and in the end happier. When you tell yourself you can do this, you can be the best, then you will have a mindset that pushes you to be the best and help you achieve your goals. But when you are negative, you will feel down, you will feel like you cannot achieve anything and that you are a failure. But you are not, no one is. It is about your mindset. When you face a challenge and decide to be hopefully optimistic about the outcome, you already have made it possible for yourself to achieve what it is that you want to achieve. Strive to always look at a situation from a hopefully optimistic perspective, as it will open your mind and help you see what can be done to solve the problem or achieve your dreams.

How to be mindfully resilient

By Carli Uys (MCom Industrial Psychology and MCom Communication studies)

Mindfulness is the mental state you achieve when you focus your attention on the present moment, are aware of everything occurring in the present moment, and accepting your own feelings, thoughts and body sensations. Resiliency is the capacity you have to recover quickly from any kind of difficulty you are facing.

So how does a person combine the two? And why would you want to? Well, the answer to this is, to be able to recover from any difficulty in a meaningful way you need to be aware of your thoughts and feelings at that moment, as well as your thoughts and feelings after the difficulty occurred. This can help you to get a better understanding of why you responded the way you did, why you said what you said, and why it made you feel the way it did. Being aware of how you respond to a certain situation or difficulty will help you to understand yourself better and learn to control your reactions. It will also help you to accept your own feelings and emotions at that moment, and understand that you are only human and cannot control everything that happens to you, but knowing that you are in control of how you react.

Being able to control how you react in a certain situation, will help you to avoid any regrets afterwards of what you said and what you did to another person during the time of ‘difficulty’. This can mean a break-up, being laid off, car accident, or an argument with someone important to you. As we all know, in the heat of the moment, we say and do things that we later regret. When we practice being mindful in all situations in life, we are able to control our out bursts in moments of difficulty, to avoid doing damage to someone you love, and your reputation.

The following are tips on how to combine mindfulness and resiliency in an effective manner:

  1. To be able to control your anger, and avoid becoming aggressive in any stressful situation, you need to be aware of your feelings, reactions and thoughts to be able to stay calm, and assert yourself to get your point across and let yourself be heard.
  2. To mindfully think about a problem, and see the problem as a temporary set-back, and find ways to solve the problem in a structured and knowledgeable way to get the best end result.
  3. Being mindful about your reactions and the things you say to other people in times when you are stressed or facing a set-back. Being mindful will help you to avoid conflict that occurs because of what or how you said something.
  4. Being mindful about other people’s needs and taking the time to understand what they are going through. This will help you to show them empathy in their time of need, even if you are struggling and feel like you can’t stretch yourself any further. Being mindful about how you respond and treat others will help you to avoid damaging your relationship with that person.
  5. Even when you find it difficult to find a sense of humor or positive outlook during a difficult time, by viewing the difficulty through a mindful perspective, will help you to see the silver lining in the situation and help you to be able to stay positive.
  6. Being mindful during interactions with other people, will help you to be aware of your emotions and emotional expressions when you are with other people, as you will be present in the moment and make sure that you give the appropriate expressions when necessary.
  7. Always be mindful when you are spending time with loved ones and friends as having them as your support system will help you to become more resilient to any set-back or difficulty you are facing. When you aren’t mindful during your interactions with these people during these times, it can damage the relationships and cause you to lose the people you need and love the most.

As we can see from the above, mindfulness can be applied in any difficult situation you are facing to help you cope with the difficulty and help you to see the light at the end of your dark tunnel. It will help you get a better understanding of yourself and the situation, help you to think before you react, and help you to get through the difficult situation without causing damage along the way.

All the best of luck, and I hope my advice will help you to become more mindful during a difficult times.

(Various sources used)

HR, Talent Management and L&D Trends for 2021

By Carli Uys and Dr Lydia Cillié-Schmidt

We know, we know – 2021 is well on its way and we are only now sharing our take on the 2021 HR, Talent Management and L&D Trends. We did however need time to sift through the myriad of predictions out there to get an integrated view of what seems to be the top trends in our industry for 2021. What we found were nothing new – most of the trends predicted for 2021 by the various authors, bloggers, consulting firms and practitioners that we reviewed, have been noticed as trends before. What may however be different is that many of the predicted trends are already established in practice and are maturing, whilst a few others are gaining traction and are growing fast. So here are the five trends that we identified as most common in all the material that we have reviewed (not in order of importance):

  • A greater focus on Employee Wellness and Health and Safety in the workplace. Employee Wellness has always been a focus for leading organisations, but the Covid-19 Pandemic with all the ramifications for the workplace (remote working, virtual team work and so on) and the associated stress caused by all the changes, highlighted the importance of providing support to staff to ensure mental and physical health. It also threw the spotlight on the need for personal resilience and the importance of resilient organisations. Health and Safety has been legislated more than a hundred years ago and in several industries employee safety has always received immense attention. The Covid-19 Pandemic has however added another dimension to this focus.
  • The employee experience and personalisation. Optimising the employee experience has been a strategic focus for best-in-class organisations since about 2015 and has gone beyond optimising the administrative experience and now focuses on personalising the employee experience in terms of every aspect at work. Optimising the employee experience has therefore become a multi-disciplinary effort, involving every function in the organisation from strategy to facilities. In 2021 the virtual employee experience will likely receive more attention.
  • Capability development and learning in the flow of work. David Morris wrote that the term capability describes the ability to perform a specific set of actions or achieve a specified set of outcomes. For many years organisations mainly focused on competency development, but authors like Jim Williams and Steve Rosenbaum in their book Learning Paths (published in 2004) stressed the importance of developing capabilities (they called it proficiencies). It seems that organisations are now shifting more to the development of capabilities and in this effort are utilising Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality to a greater extent. With more people working remotely, interactive strategies for virtual learning also becomes more important. The use of Artificial Intelligence to personalise the learning experience is also receiving more attention. Learning in the flow-of-work as coined by Josh Bersin and Deloitte is a concept that has been around since the early 2000’s when IBM started with what was called embedded learning and several organisations are now starting to operationalise this concept.
  • Big data and analytics. Although some organisations have made strides in utilising Big Data and the subsequent analysis, many organisations still have to do a lot more to be able to use data to truly understand each aspect of the workforce and to gain optimal insights from the data at their disposal.
  • Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). Josh Bersin in his 2021 HR Predictions report stated that most organisations have implemented DEI strategies are top of mind for most senior leaders but that progress is not a fast as anticipated. Bersin explains that amongst the many reasons for this, there also seems to be a low level of DEI skills and expertise amongst HR professionals. In 2021 this will be addressed.

There were many other interesting trends that we did not highlight here, as our focus was on the top five most common trends across all the material that we reviewed. As always Deloitte’s and Josh Bersin’s predictions for HR and Talent  Management remain insightful and we encourage you to read those reports. We wish you all the best with taking on the unique challenges of 2021 that will form the basis of some of the trends in 2022!

Carli Uys

Dr Lydia Cillié-Schmidt