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How to make home working work

PayByPhone’s Jonny Combe shares his top tips on leading a remote team in 2021

Jonny Combe
08 March 2021
Jonny Combe
Jonny Combe


Trust and transparency have always been key ingredients for strong leadership, but never more so than in 2021 as people continue to work from home or to navigate different working patterns. For an organisation’s leader, managing open, honest and productive relationships with your people is always an ongoing process. At PayByPhone, the experience of leading our home-working UK team over the past year has taught me some lessons that may resonate with others:

1. Build a foundation of trust
Leadership is about empowering your people and one of the main ways to do this is to trust your team to make responsible decisions – just as they did in an office-based set-up. In a remote office model, it’s important to trust them to make good judgements about time and personal commitments.

And whatever your leadership style, trust engenders an adult-to-adult model of interaction. This has always been the case, but is even more crucial now with so many of us working from home. Leaders can also build trust by demonstrating authenticity.

We’re all human and acknowledging the challenges we encounter in these strange times helps to build trust and also encourages people to speak up about any struggles they are facing.

2. Work out what really matters
Being suddenly plunged into remote working patterns during 2020 was a shock for leaders and employees alike – it’s easy to talk about being more productive, but suddenly you had to deliver it.

The situation forced organisational leaderships across the public and private sectors to work out what the truly key tasks were and to ensure their team delivered them. This focus continues to be a benefit of remote-working and helps leaders direct their people towards a more outcome-based model of working.

3. Intentional communication with staff
Frequent communication and contact with staff have always been important, and being remote shouldn’t have changed that. What has changed is that as a leader, you now have to be more intuitive and tap into your emotional intelligence.

Emotional intelligence (EI), emotional quotient (EQ) and emotional intelligence quotient (EIQ), is the capability of individuals to recognise their own emotions and those of others, discern between different feelings and label them appropriately, use emotional information to guide thinking and behaviour, and to adjust emotions to adapt to environments.

Whereas in the office you might pick up on someone’s mood changes and check in, now you have to check in on people intentionally. After nearly a year of working remotely, this has become almost second nature for many leaders and managers.

However, there is a danger that as lockdown conditions drag on, some of these good habits can fall by the wayside. Leaders must not underestimate the importance of connecting – both on a personal and a professional level. These regular connection points help people feel valued and significant – which encourages them to feel good about themselves, what they do and the value they bring. As well as being the right thing to do on a human level, on a business level it also means people will want to do their best work.

4. Empower your leaders to lead
Businesses have to adapt to changing circumstances – as a leader you have to work out the most effective way to recalibrate and to communicate with your leadership team and your staff. You’ve got to keep your leaders and all your people in the loop.

Leaders should also look to capitalise on opportunities and the pandemic is certainly an ideal time to embrace great internal communications.

At PayByPhone we walk the talk – we have introduced a senior management team call three times a week, which are good connection points for us. We have also introduced a more formal leadership meeting once a month, and we have an all-staff virtual meeting every Monday morning.

5. Follow up on your promises to your staff
Many leaders tell their people how important they are, but you have to follow this through with action. There are some great examples of intentional actions at PayByPhone, such as paying for Disney+ subscriptions for those employees with children as a way to support them during lockdown.

For employees who don’t have children or who already have a Disney+ subscription, we pay for them to have the new Joe Wicks app to help them get active and to maintain a positive mental attitude. These are small gestures in themselves, but they are important because they help people feel valued and remind them that out-of-sight isn’t out-of-mind.

6. Adjust your expectations
Paying tribute to flexible working and actually demonstrating flexibility are vastly different things. At PayByPhone we were already advocates of flexible working when we were office-based so it hasn’t felt like a huge leap. For us, it has never been about ‘face time’ at your desk, or ‘presentee-ism’, it’s about getting your job done.

Right now, however, the game-changer is having multiple employees with children who need home-schooling, so it’s crucial that as a leader I adjust my expectations. A single parent trying to juggle home-working and home-schooling will inevitably have their work impacted, despite their best efforts. Frankly, any working parent right now probably deserves a superhero cape!

Accepting that some employees may be unable to give 100% focus and being aware of the pressures is vitally important as a leader. And it’s also essential to set clear boundaries and goals about the achievements and outcomes you expect. Just make sure they are realistic.

7. Recruit from a wider, more diverse talent pool
Part of good leadership is seizing opportunities and since the pandemic has accelerated the working-from-home revolution, it’s now possible to source employees from a wider area. Leaders should cast their recruitment net wide and carefully consider the kind of skills, experiences and diverse ways of thinking that would help take their organisation to a new level.

By securing the very best employees, leaders can add more value to their organisation. We used to restrict our hiring pool to people within a relatively small radius of the office. Now, we’re looking within a 100-mile radius of the office, which will enable us to operate a hybrid-remote office with people in the office once a week even when we are clear of the pandemic crisis.

The flexible nature of remote working has the added benefit that it attracts Millennials and Generation Z who like a portfolio approach to work. Having these digital natives on board and harnessing the mindset of different generations is all part of creating a vibrant and diverse workforce – and for PayByPhone this is helping us consolidate our position as a leader within our industry.

Jonny Combe is UK chief executive of PayByPhone, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of Volkswagen Financial Services           


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