In the second post from our special series ‘Leading during COVID-19’, Dr. Louise Mennen gives us tips on how to lead from your screen.

Dr Louise Mennen worked for almost 15 years as a scientist. She noticed that, besides increasing scientific skills and knowledge, scientists also need to improve their soft skills and self-awareness to become great leaders. This is why she now trains and coaches mostly scientists, to inspire them and stimulate their personal development. She trains and coaches people at many (international) universities and research institutes and since 2006 yearly at the ENLP.

An enormous amount of people in Europe are currently working from home, including food and nutrition professionals. They have meetings while seeing people only on a screen, which is quite exhausting if you have to do this all day. I hear people struggle with this, especially when they have to lead people. How do you lead when you can’t just pop into their office? How do you stay in touch, when you do not bump into each other in the corridor or at the coffee machine anymore?

One thing that I have noticed is that many leaders fall into the trap of only meeting with their team members online to talk about the content of the work. There may be some room for small talk, but they find it difficult to really know how the people in their team are doing. When I ask them how they catch up with their team members, they typically say: “I always ask how they are at the end of the meeting. I reserve 5 minutes for it.” You have to realise that when your team members are working from home, this is way too little. You have to show your team members that you care, that you understand the struggles they may face working from home and that you are there for them, even though this is not in person. You have to be aware that you probably have to be in touch more, compared with when you were working in the same building. You should be pro-active in contacting them, otherwise you may risk losing them.

So, here are five tips on how to lead when you are working from home:

1. Schedule a meeting every two weeks or so to just discuss the process. How are they doing? Do your team members need any help? You would do this one-on-one and maybe every now and then with the whole team. Make it clear that it is a “catch up” meeting and not a “content-meeting”. Avoid scheduling a meeting without a clear topic as this may frighten your team members e.g. “We have to meet, there is something I need to talk about...”! During the meeting, try to look carefully at their body-language; are there any signs of stress, motivation loss, tiredness?

2. Reset expectations. How often do you meet? How do you communicate? When are you available for them as a leader? when can they call you? How much work can your team handle from home (when they have young kids, it may be difficult to work efficiently)?

3. Meet outside, for example a walk in a park. Discuss how things are going, if they are still doing fine or if they need something from you. With your whole team you could also organise an “online-outing”, like an online escape-room.

4. Call your team members to find out how they are doing. Do not use video-call as this may be unpleasant, as you may take them by surprise and they may not prepared.

5. And last, but not least, make sure that you take care of yourself. Schedule a short break between each online meeting to walk around, get some fresh air and relax your eyes (N.B. a break is not checking your emails, looking at something online, or looking at your phone!). This will help you to stay fresh and attentive for every online meeting. Get enough sleep, enough physical activity and eat healthily.

Leading at your screen may be a challenge, so make sure that you also have fun and take good care of yourself and your team!

Thank you very much to Louise for kindly guest-blogging for the ENLP Blog