Remote leading: Chris Mumford

Inner Circle Chris

Chris Mumford, founder, Cervus Leadership Consulting, is part of the Inner Circle, a group of industry leaders and innovators we have brought together to help us contribute to debate in the sector.


Everyone’s gone home. As if hospitality leaders didn’t have enough to contend with right now thanks to Coronavirus, on top of desperately trying to save their businesses they are having to do so from home. And their teams are at home. And their teams’ teams are at home. The whole workforce has been dispersed and redistributed among the living rooms, kitchen, bedrooms and sheds of the land.

 Thankfully the technology available today makes it entirely feasible for a business or team unit, to logistically continue to operate. Zoom video conference calls and WhatsApp messaging have rapidly woven their way into the fabric of everyday life thus enabling the continuation of ‘business as normal-ish’. The technology however is the easy bit. When it comes to successfully leading a remote workforce, over what looks like will be a number of months, there are a few things to keep in mind:

1) Be human and breathe! Showing vulnerability can be a key strength of leadership. In a crisis such as this where health is at the fore and in which no one is immune, it is ok for a leader to share concerns and to acknowledge that he or she does not have all the answers. At the same time however it is imperative that a leader remembers to breathe, to remain calm and to act as an anchor of hope for the team.

A good leader will make the effort to understand what their employees are contending with. So take an interest and show concern. Recognise that directly, or indirectly, an employee may be dealing with the virus itself, both physically and mentally. Ask them how they are doing, find out if they are well and healthy, what’s troubling them, how’s the wider family?

Find out what their home situation and working conditions are. Are they home alone? Do they have children or others in the house that need attention? Are they working from a corner of the kitchen table crammed up against their children doing schoolwork; are they working out of the bedroom perched on the bed; or are they in a book-lined study at a comfortable desk?

To expect that productivity and performance will continue along the same trajectory as in the office is unrealistic and allowances need to be made. The point is to build a picture of the circumstances in which your employee is working and to find ways together which will allow work to continue.

2) Set clear expectations, boundaries and guidelines. Through conversation with your team, solicit their input and agree on the rules of the road. When are people available? Is a call at 7.30pm acceptable? Is there an expectation that email over the weekend is answered? What’s the dress code for video conference calls? Which messaging platform do they prefer? Is it compulsory to have video turned on?

Have an open dialogue when setting deadlines and timings. Get clarity and then stick to it. If the team consensus is that a daily morning briefing call works better for most at 10am once children are settled and breakfast is over, then go with that and keep it to that time.

3) Keep an open line. While a boss should take care not to intrude unnecessarily on their employee’s lives, as a leader he or she should stress that they are always available and open to their team. Out of sight should not mean out of mind. Just as you maintain an open-door policy in the office, ensure your team knows they can contact you whenever and about whatever they like. To avoid interruptions as inconvenient times, set aside time in your diary for open calls and let your team know they can reach you at this time.

4) Check in frequently and regularly. Establish a routine of checking in with team members on a regular basis and enquire as to how they are getting on. Make this call not just work related but use this as an opportunity to see how they are coping and what they might need.

5) Virtual water cooler. Encourage your team members to speak among themselves. In the absence of a communal water cooler around which to gather, give your employees an opportunity to chat, gossip, joke, to be there for one another. In the absence of usual face to face contact it is important to find ways to maintain the team culture and to keep people’s spirits up.

6) Give people things to do. Many people will find they have more time on their hands than usual. The removal of commuting time alone will give many an extra 1-2 hours of time per day. While respecting boundaries and personal circumstances, once you have established an employee’s capabilities and capacity, give them things to do. Keep them busy. Depending on function, some employees may not be able to execute many of their usual tasks so find other projects for them. Dust off those ‘nice to do when there’s time’ initiatives. This not only has obvious benefits for the business but is also good for an individual’s mental well-being.

7) Share knowledge. Communicate that you are hearing from other companies, other teams, other colleagues. This helps your team feel part of a wider community and that what you and they are going through is not unique.

8) Trust. Ultimately, trust your team members to do what they’re meant to do. Trust that they will get the work done. Trust that they will be responsive. Trust that they will give 100% within the context of their circumstances. Trust that they will honour the values of your organization. You didn’t hire people you don’t trust so take comfort in the fact that they will live up to, and often exceed, your expectations.

Those teams that already possess a strong culture and group identity will fare the best during these difficult times. With the technology resources available, leaders have ample tools at their disposal to help them remain engaged and connected with their teams. By taking an interest, being supportive, empathetic and trusting, leaders will find they can maintain high levels of team spirit, collaboration and camaraderie and will find they come out of this even stronger.