Date posted: 14/05/2020 5 min read

Get out of your pyjamas: leading from home during COVID-19

David Cox CA, head of finance at Open Universities Australia, shares real-world tips for leading from home during a pandemic.

In Brief

  • David Cox CA says trusting your team and empowering them to do their jobs are essentials for flexible leadership.
  • Maintaining a routine, communicating effectively and keeping connected are key to working from home successfully.
  • Alerting people when you’re not available is also important – don’t just “go dark”.

By Benjamin Jotkowitz

Remote working has gone from being a “good idea, someday” into reality for many organisations. Benjamin Jotkowitz, director of Benneaux Accounting Recruitment, chatted with David Cox CA, head of finance at Open Universities Australia (OUA), on how leaders can make remote working ‘work’ in the real world.

David Cox CAPicture: David Cox CA.

Q: With the shift to remote working during the COVID-19 pandemic, what does your average day look like now?

The biggest impact I have experienced is in relation to not having to travel into the city every day. I save just under three hours each day, which I can now use to exercise, get odd jobs done around the house and/or spend time with my family. It also provides greater flexibility on start and finish times enabling me to fit work in around my life when required.

Q: COVID-19 is also an opportunity for leaders to develop some habits that make them more effective. What have you found useful during this time, when you’re leading your team from home?

I’ve found the following to be the most important habits when leading from home:

  • Connectivity: I have two Webex meetings every week where, as a team we check in and discuss not only work-related issues, but also just how everyone is coping and feeling. This maintains connection and reinforces we are all in this together.
  • Communication: Email, Webex, Slack, etc., are all great ways to maintain communication, but picking up the phone and having one-on-one conversations is critical.
  • Routine: Wherever possible, maintain those routines you followed while working in the office both personally (getting dressed, maintain a separate work space, etc) and professionally (continue to celebrate birthdays and anniversaries, conduct virtual farewells and company updates). On a Friday we continue to do our team quiz – just virtually.
  • Being present: It is a difficult balance trying to reply to all the different communication channels as quickly as possible, as well as being productive. However, trust is key when working remotely, so it’s important that your team is aware if you’re unavailable. Whether I’m on another meeting or have stepped out for a half-hour on a personal task, as a rule of thumb I try never to “go dark” with no explanation.

Q: Resilient leadership is about knowing how to bounce back after change or hardship. How do you build these leadership skills?

All leadership skills are learned through experience and by being prepared to fail. My leadership style has always been based on common sense and collaboration.

If you approach problems using planning and collaboration, without the requirement for personal kudos, I find you grow through learning from others and through experience. The job also gets done in the most efficient way.

Q: While on-the-job development is valuable, non-work experiences also enhance your professional effectiveness. What non-work-related interests keep you busy?

The following are a few of the non-work interests that keep me busy:

  • Exercise: I love to cycle (road bike), so working from home has allowed me to do a lot more cycling than before.
  • Home: We live on acreage so there are always things to be done in and around the house.
  • Family: My family is neuro-diverse so balancing family time and special needs is a constant joy and learning experience for me.
  • Volunteering: I am on the board of Aspergers Victoria (AV) as treasurer, which takes up a lot more time than I originally anticipated. But I think it is vital to give back to the community wherever possible, and I feel we are building something great at AV that I am happy to be a small part of.

Q: Flexible leadership is critical for the success and longevity of any organisation. How do you foster this, especially during times of crisis and instability?

Flexible leadership must be built on trust and empowerment. Being empowered to do your job, whether at home or in the office, is fundamental. Open communications around what you are doing, including if you have any blockers and when you are not available, is critical. It is OK to have a break, or to go to the doctor’s. What I have encouraged is that the team are open in this regard, and they use messages or update their Slack profile status when they are unavailable.

“Open communications around what you are doing, including if you have any blockers and when you are not available, is critical.”
David Cox CA, Open Universities Australia

Q: Successful leaders are flexible enough to develop and adapt. Can you offer some tips for adapting to change and guiding your team through change?

OUA set up a cross-functional group to plan for the possibility of remote working one week before it actually happened. Some key tips for adapting to change are being prepared, learning from others as to how they are coping, and using available resources to best achieve your goals.

Guiding your team through change requires open communication and an ability to listen and act in the best interest of the team and the organisation. Encourage vulnerability within the team and understand that some members deal better with change than others.

Benjamin Jotkowitz is the founder and director of Benneaux Accounting Recruitment.

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