Leadership challenge: How to manage remotely during lockdown

John French


Practical skills for you to manage your staff remotely during the lockdown period

Photo credit: Unsplash Anthony Tran

Where have all the workers gone?

Leadership has always been challenging. Managing people at the best of times has never been simple. There is even an ancient Yiddish curse which states: “I wish you a large staff…”

Let’s fast-track to 2020 and the global COVID-19 crisis which has made the entire workforce instantly invisible. They have left the building. Gone. With a lot of your old leadership control. It’s sadly true.

Business leaders are in a global crisis.

No leadership course out there could have ever prepared leaders for this. Suddenly the whole house of corporate cards crumbled unexpectedly, taking the economy with it, and governments banned entire populations from going to work.

There doesn’t seem to be a chapter on how to deal with this current crisis in any leadership textbook.

So, what’s the problem?

Leaders, from all industries, are currently facing the following problems:

  1. How can you manage staff who is not physically there?
  2. How do I try and stay in control?
  3. How do I manage remotely?
  4. How can I keep them productive?
  5. How do you keep my team connected and focused; healthy and motivated?

The practical skills for lockdown leadership

Here are some of the skills and leadership communication techniques Communication Guru is teaching our leadership clients during lockdown 2020:

  1. Now is the greatest leadership communication test ever – Leaders at every level are currently being stretched and tested. Now is the time to over-communicate while you are setting up remote offices, remote systems and managing your remote staff.

    By initially over-communicating leaders can inform their staff far better, share ideas and strategy better, and make employees feel far more secure and safe. Once the new virtual reality has been set up and is running smoothly, leaders can start to relax and release the micro-management style.

    Now is the time to keep your staff better informed than ever before. Leaders should keep information flowing by communicating both constantly and consistently.
  1. Create emotional safety – This is the period of the greatest uncertainty and disruption in our lifetime. Everything has changed; the old patterns and paradigms are suddenly defunct. This has created enormous anxiety, especially in your Analytical employees and leaders who like established patterns and proven routines.

    During this time of tremendous insecurity, it is vital for leaders to connect (virtually) with their employees. One-on-one sessions create the greatest degree of psychological safety.

    Please remember that your employees can never be productive at home unless they are feeling psychologically safe in their own homes – with workable home offices set up, IT infrastructure in place and new professional work boundaries being adhered to by their family members.

    Leaders should now be having regular check ins with their teams for the duration of this crisis period to find out how they are coping, and if any additional support needs to be given.

    Leaders are being called on to give support and to prove themselves. Our leaders will be judged more critically during this extraordinary time that at any other time in their careers. This crisis demands the “Empathetic leader”. Empathetic leaders show support, concern and appreciation.
  1. Manage expectations – This principle works both ways. When leaders (or employees) don’t proactively manage expectations with their colleagues, then assumptions tend to be made, and these assumptions are never in your favour!

    Everyone is currently under pressure. We all have enormous daily challenges. Under pressure we all can occasionally drop the ball and make mistakes. The trick is to check in and manage expectations beforehand so that your various stakeholders can know what to expect, or to even perhaps to expect less if the original deliverable is somehow not possible.

    With the aid of proactive leadership techniques and managing expectations, leaders can lead their teams far more effectively and efficiently during times of crisis. Leaders literally need 2020 vision, and the time to apply this is now.
  1. Two check in sessions per day – With our various client projects on the go, we are finding that at least two check ins with staff per day are essential for communication channels and workflow to run well.

    A first thing in the morning check in helps to focus and connect both leader and team as well as helps everyone to generate a daily work plan and daily outcomes that need to be achieved.

    An end of day check in is to review and assess what has been achieved during the day as well as to capture any ‘red flags’ that need to be addressed going forward.

    These two check ins are also proving incredibly helpful to make staff feel more connected and supported at this incredibly fragmented time.
  1. Short term Performance Management – This is where the very awkward ‘control issue’ needs to be addressed. With freedom and remote working comes the counter-balance of personal responsibility. This is unfortunately not a concept that many adults understand.

    Heathy boundaries, structure and leadership guidance ultimately create certainty and employee safety. Depending on your work culture and the degrees of personal responsibility that your employees have, leaders may need to initially performance manage remote staff until the new virtual office system is in place and is working.

    There is an onus of responsibility on all staff to prove that they are adding (remote) value to each business unit and to the organisation. Managers may need to assert appropriate control and delivery measures until the deliverables are being met and staff are behaving maturely, responsibly and proactively. Your staff need to prove themselves to reap the freedoms the come with remote home working.
  1. Create new systems – The old systems that worked back in the office environment may not work at all in your new remote corporate constellation. The old operational systems may also be negatively affected by the lockdown economy and the declining economic landscape.

    TIP: Engage your team and colleagues to assess which business systems need to be overhauled to function optimally in the new virtual office landscape. Your staff needs to run these systems and regular assessment check ins will help leaders to refine new systems and alter them where necessary.
  1. Assess, assess, assess – As your entire working landscape has altered, with new systems, processes and people configurations taking place, there are bound to be some teething problems.

    Getting your virtual business and team to operate optimally is going to take some adjustments here and there and continual refinement. Continual check ins and assessments of both people and processes will be necessary for leaders of 2020 to perform well.

    So, assess, assess, assess …. Aka … refine, refine, refine.
  1. Stay connected via Zoom – One of the biggest concerns that employees are presently reporting is that they are feeling quite isolated during this lockdown period and very disconnected from their teams. This dynamic can lead to further anxiety, insecurities and may sabotage personal well-being.

    TIP: To overcome feelings if remote isolation and to enhance team connectedness, some highly successful teams are currently leaving Zoom open and on in the background during their workdays at home. This means that it is easy to ask anyone in the team a question or keep team cohesiveness flowing the whole day. This also helps leaders and managers to keep a firm eye on productivity.

    Great leaders are more present than ever during lockdown 2020. Remote leaders are accessible, connected and available. They are still making their presence felt.
  1. Lead by example, now more than ever before – History has shown that people tend to mirror the behaviour of the leaders that lead them. Now is the time to set an excellent example of higher values, priorities, commitment and output. The leaders that do this and lead by example will have a far greater chance of witnessing similar behaviour from their staff.

    Leaders can take advantage of this mirroring principle by setting a high benchmark and being positive role models that staff respect and admire. People sub-consciously want to emulate the people and behaviour that they admire.  So be a wise leader and give your staff something worthwhile and positive to emulate.


Now is the time for leaders to ‘step up’ and face the myriad of new and demanding challenges that lockdown 2020 poses. Working remotely away from your office is the new normal, at least for now.

As a leader, you have the power to create and manage a successful remote work environment and remote staff to make productivity possible. I hope these practical tips have helped. Stay safe. Stay smart.

Contact Communication Guru for further support

For virtual team training to help both leaders and employees to work more effectively and productively from home, please feel free to contact John French at john@johnfrench.co.za

You can visit our website at www.comunicationguru.co.za

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Stress Management is a vital module in all of our training programmes because stress is the greatest enemy of effective communication. Listen to this 8 minute beautiful guided relaxation by Jenny Ibbotson. It will help you to manage anxiety and develop a habit of calmness.


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