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Remote working: stay connected, stay motivated

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 07 Apr 2022

How do you and your team remain motivated, connected and energised when sitting alone at screens for hours on end? George Karseras offers advice to overcome those feelings of isolation.

I’ve spent the last 25 years coaching and developing teams, including many in the financial sector. I’ve also worked with several well-known global organisations that specialise in accounting software so I feel I have an understanding of what makes accountants tick. At the risk of making sweeping generalisations, I would conclude that as a breed they are exceptionally hard working, short of time and logical, but perhaps less literate in the world of emotions. We don’t find emojis on spreadsheets. 

Accountants are trained and paid to be accurate with your work rather than sensitive to the feelings of others, or indeed themselves. That doesn’t mean they are insensitive, rather their orientation is likely to be skewed towards conscientiousness, diligence, logic, error minimisation and potentially more perfectionistic tendencies. Consequently the so-called ‘softer stuff’ becomes less front of mind. So, in the world of remote and hybrid working, I offer these tips to help manage feelings of isolation and remain motivated.

  • When you are asked how you feel, reveal the truth. Avoid the brave face and “I’m fine thanks”. If you are feeling tired, stressed, a bit run down, say so. Let people in a little. There’s no need to over-share, but reveal a little bit more than you may be used to. This will help you emote and give others a chance to offer help and encouragement.
  • Feed off the positivity and energy of others. Emotions are contagious. Make sure you are connecting with energy ‘radiators’ rather than energy ‘vacuums’. If you are part of a team, don’t be a stranger. Get on a Zoom or Teams call and lap up some positivity to help keep yourself sane.
  • Reduce potential conflict by ‘making the implicit explicit’. Research shows that information flow virtually is less smooth than when face to face. We make more assumptions and we digest less accurately what is being said. To avoid this make it doubly clear what actions and decisions have been agreed. Simply summarise more.
  • Build belief and positivity by stating out loud the progress you and your team have made and what you are doing well. Accountants tend to focus on what hasn’t gone so well and to manage by exception. This can drain energy, hope and optimism. Make an effort to celebrate success, wins, progress – anything at all that has gone well. 
  • Remind yourself and your team of your purpose, and why you exist, the vision and the shared goals. As an accountant you are trained to dig deep and to get into the detail. You can easily be consumed with the minutiae of your work, forgetting what really matters – the reason you do your job, the purpose you fulfil and how you help others. Going for a walk or taking a few minutes to get out of the weeds can help you re-energise and put things in perspective. Help the team connect with more than a screen, keyboard and mouse.
  • When one-to-one meetings are frequently being cancelled or cut short, it’s a sure sign that relationships are being prioritised behind doing more ‘urgent stuff’. Without regular touch points with others, you will inevitably feel more isolated. Regularly cancelled one-to-ones are a red flag to watch out for. Make sure you prioritise them for you and for your team.
  • Allow yourself to be imperfect. Admit what you don’t know and ask others for help. The heroic accountant is the foolish accountant. Allow others to help you and the team around you to ‘team’ with you. Feeling part of a caring and supportive team is so important to combat feelings of isolation. But to do this, you have to let others in. Don’t be a hero. Be an imperfect person even if you detest imperfect work. 
  • Respect the basic disciplines of performance: rest, nutrition and hydration. These all affect mood. Take breaks from the screen to enable you to be more efficient and to help you make better decisions. Watch out for sugar highs from biscuits, chocolates and quick energy boosts. They often precede a sugar low and a dip in mood. Drink lots of water. Dehydration drains energy and mood. When you’re thirsty, it’s too late. Keep your spirits up by looking after yourself. 
  • Care for somebody else in the team. What goes around comes around. Switch your focus from being ‘me focused’ to being ‘other focused’. They say you have to put your own oxygen mask on before helping others, but not at the expense of actually helping others. And for some, helping someone else can be the oxygen you really need.
  • Finally, look at how your business is performing. Successful teams tend to be happy teams so build a successful team by following a science-based team building formula for today’s digitalised world. First get the team Set by ensuring everyone is on the same page, then get them Safe so they can speak their truths, and then move onto to getting them Strong, so they can work autonomously with constructive rather than destructive tension. This developmental sequence applies to solo performers too. The world is changing and we have to change with it. 

George Karseras is founder of TeamUp and author of the new book Build Better Teams: Creating Winning Teams in the Digital Age.

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