30 March 2020

Managing a team remotely: tips from a senior leader

Tom Ricks, Senior Director for HR Systems & People Analytics at Qlik shares what he's learned during over a decade working from home.

Leadership is complex. Add the Coronavirus, millions of people working from home, a high rate of sickness, and suddenly, there’s more to navigate than ever before. And with so many new ways of working, it can be tricky keeping everyone engaged.

Working from home doesn’t have to feel remote. We spoke to Tom Ricks, Senior Director for the HR Systems & People Analytics team at Qlik, and seasoned home worker, to find out how leaders will need to adapt their style – and why understanding your people’s personalities is the true gateway to success.  


You describe yourself as a seasoned home worker. How long have you been doing it for?

I officially started in 2007, so it’s coming up to my 14th year of working from home.

It took around three or four months to get into a proper routine. Considering why many people are now required to work from home, it’s a bit different. Circumstances are making it more difficult than it would normally be.


Is there anything you regularly notice when people are first adjusting to working from home?  

I’ve noticed there are generally two types of people. Some tend to overdo it when they start working from home. They’re so focused on the work, getting to something as soon as it pops up, and feel like they have to overcompensate. They end up working far too much. Other people struggle at first to find their focus and get distracted by everything around them… apart from the work itself!

This comes down to understanding your personality type. I’ve had to be really disciplined about my working times; I plan exactly when I’ll start and when I’ll finish. It sounds basic, but it really helps to be able to differentiate what is a work-time activity and what is a home-time activity.


Any further tips on that?

Just because you’re at home, it doesn’t mean you have to sit at your desk all day. When we’re in an office we naturally move around – to the coffee machine, to get water, to chat with colleagues. It’s easy to get sucked into being deskbound. Work never stops, you’ll be tied to your desk every minute of the day unless you make a conscious effort to move away.


What do you love about it?

I can flex my work hours, which suits my work, my business, and it suits me. I don’t have to be in an office at a set time of day, so I can do things other people might struggle to do. And I love the fact that I can finish work and just one minute later be with my family.


Anything that’s not so great?

There’s always a flipside. When it’s busy and stressful, it’s difficult to draw a line, switch off and move from work to home life. If your workplace is your homeplace, you have to transition from work to home in no time.

It also comes back to your personality type. If you’re an extroverted type, or need people around you for creative reasons, working from home is more difficult and frustrating.


How do you transition from being ‘at work’ to being ‘at home’?

If you’re lucky enough to have a home office, close the door and say a few words every night. Do this over and over again, every day. It’s a really clear way of separating two worlds, even though they’re in the same building. Some people do a little dance or jig at the end of their workday. Others get satisfaction and separation from just packing their equipment away, which works especially well for people who are working in a space that will be used for something else at the end of the day.


What’s it like seeing the rest of the world try home working?

I feel extremely lucky. I already have a dedicated workspace, but with the current situation, I’m speaking to colleagues who typically work in offices and it’s a big adjustment. Some are working from laptops in a chair, some at their kitchen table, others at a dressing table in their bedroom. Seeing everyone in their personal environments is fun, and it brings a new dimension to your colleagues. It strengthens that feeling of being part of a work family: you’re suddenly exposed to the inside of people’s houses that typically you wouldn’t have seen before.

I’ve heard people saying they’ve never had a cleaner home! That’s typical for people who struggle to settle down. They see all the distractions in the house before they can get to work. It makes me laugh, because I’ve been there.


Has the Coronavirus affected the way you work from home, or is it still business as usual?

Given the situation, everyone’s really keen to hear from each other. There’s a huge camaraderie, people are sharing war stories – for the first five minutes of every call there’s an update of what’s happening in everyone’s area, with their family and how their country is responding. It brings a huge amount of personal collateral into your working life; there’s a common threat, which means we have a common topic to talk through.


As a senior leader, how have you adapted to leading first-time home workers?

It’s important to identify who the extroverts and the introverts are and adapt the conversations you’re having to suit them. More introverted people don’t want to take part in every single activity we’re providing, while extroverts want to feel like they’re part of something bigger. And that’s okay. Everybody’s an individual. Some days people will take part, and some days they won’t. You should never force or mandate anything.


How do you manage your team and stay connected?

You have to be available, which is quite a difficult ask. You’re typically involved with a lot of meetings and spend a lot of time where you can’t be disturbed. Make sure that when you have that opportunity, you drop everyone a line. Don’t overcomplicate things. It doesn’t have to be for any other reason than to say hello, check how they’re doing and how today is treating them.

For the more extroverted employees, I’ll give them a call or FaceTime them. For more introverted employees, it’s simply an email. I’ll do that twice a week. We’ll also have individual one-to-ones in the odd weeks, and team meetings in the even ones.


What are Qlik doing to keep everyone engaged right now?

Our Internal Comms department have created a series of podcasts with employees. One of the interviewees was a new starter in a location we have an office, but it’s now shut. Everyone’s rallied around him with daily lunches and calls to check he has everything he needs to learn and get up to speed. But that’s not just us. All good companies will be making sure we reach out, support, and can get to what we need.


Is there anything all companies should be aware of?

There’s nothing more frustrating than being remote and not being able to do something because you don’t have the correct password or the tech isn’t working. Technology is so important: it’s your lifeline for everything – take time to appreciate your IT staff, especially if they help fix an issue for you. If anyone’s got any special requirements, we’ve made sure they take their office chairs and equipment home. We make sure our employees have everything they need; it’s the small stuff that makes working at home manageable.


Anything else you’d like to add?

Just because you’re at home and you’re trying to do the same job, you can’t do it in the same way. Think about what you’re trying to achieve and really think about your communication with other people. Don’t try and cover multiple topics in one long call. Set your calls at 30 minutes, cover one topic thoroughly and then move on and do something different. Don’t forget, there’s a lot to embrace in working from home. It gives you loads of opportunity to do some other stuff too.


If you need help understanding your people, their ways of working, and how they want to be communicated with during this time, contact Chris Giddings at chris@mccannsynergy.com 

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