Have we become micro-managers thanks to COVID?
Do you feel like you work more, have more meetings, more contact with your colleagues – usually just more…?
It’s not surprising. While there was a mild hysteria of team and zoom meetings during the pandemic in an attempt to stay connected – and a way to regain an element of ‘control’ amidst the chaos – have we swung into a style of overall management that is only serving to reinforce burnout?
And it’s not just meetings. The constant ping of instant messaging — effectively replacing “water cooler moments” — has become a sticky habit of the hybrid workplace. How do you find the right balance between interruptions, micro-management and warm collegiality?
In response to feedback received, ArtsHub decided to check in with the industry and ask what the long-term impacts of pandemic-focused management tactics are; and is it time to step back and trust a little more?
Tricia Walton, Managing Director, Carclew
I don’t need to dwell on the struggles of the last (almost) three years – everyone knows how difficult things have been personally and professionally.
However, it seems to me that 2022 has been the most difficult year of the three. We are past the deep anxiety of whether we and our loved ones are safe; we have overcome the fear that life will never return to what we have known. Now some sense of normalcy has returned – but there is underlying trauma, uncertainty and exhaustion.
2020 has forced all of our staff to rewrite their annual program not once, with the first lockdown in March, but twice, when a partial return to the workplace with face-to-face delivery limited became possible in the middle of the year. We then asked everyone about working from home options, with most employees choosing to work from home between 1 and 3 days a week.
There’s a natural added pressure on people when using Teams or Zoom (which workers everywhere have experienced in 2020) due to support expectations, and it’s not quite up to par. And in 2022, it’s still not business as usual.
The “hybrid” work-from-home model can put additional strain on workplace relationships and culture, but I think it’s simplistic to categorize it as being due to micro-management.
But relationships can be fragile, and a meltdown of the challenges of the past three years can create a sense of burnout for some. This can only be managed by placing more emphasis on healthy, two-way, regular, formal and incidental communication, and always respectful.
We couldn’t have come to this without trusting each other and celebrating what has been achieved under difficult circumstances.
My advice for a functional, caring and post-pandemic workplace? Communicate, communicate, communicate.
Don’t just rely on Zoom or contact someone just for business reasons. Register. And always give someone the benefit of the doubt. They may be having more trouble than you today.
Penelope Benton, Executive Director and Georgie Cyrillo, Acting Deputy Director, NAVA
Throughout the pandemic, NAVA has grown from a single office in Sydney to staff working remotely in four different states. Going online has brought many benefits to NAVA’s work in a national context and also many challenges.
The change meant a lot of experimentation to stay connected as a team. Some things work, some don’t, so we keep trying new approaches and different tools to communicate and collaborate.
We migrated all of our files from a local server to the cloud, which made it easier for staff to work wherever they are. Collaborating on written text has certainly become easier because multiple staff members can be in the same document at the same time, asking each other questions and making suggestions.
In addition to a weekly staff meeting, we have a half hour morning check-in each day which is meant to be half business and half social. The animation of these sessions is done by rotation between all the members of the team.
It’s pretty hard to avoid these records being purely transactional, as we tend to talk business for the most part, but the flip side is that we regularly share a lot of information about how NAVA works. about, what is happening in local and global contexts that can impact artists and the sector, and the types of issues raised by members.
This ultimately reduces the need for excessive meetings throughout the day.
The past two years have also been a time when team members have been able to determine what works for them personally when working remotely; some appreciate the focus time in their own space with less video meetings, others feel energized by more conversation and will therefore have dedicated calendar video links to just be online with another colleague or a small group while working – not necessarily for meeting purposes.
Georgia Malone, Acting Director, Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts (PICA)
What the past few years have taught us is that we need to put ourselves and our health (mental and physical) first. In their roles, people saw an opportunity to make a decision for themselves. They saw what mattered most, whether it was flexibility, closeness to family or a different challenge, the turnover was constant and made us feel like we were in crisis (we probably still are).
The whole industry has seen a lot of turnover with the burnout resulting from constant planning, rescheduling, cancelling, producing and not producing. We were expected to be ready to change things quickly and without complaining. This need to be responsive and adaptable is exhausting and really expensive.
Throughout this period, I did not find the confidence in the team diminished. In WA, the impact of COVID was not as severe, so the requirement to work from home was limited and we allowed staff to manage their own time and workload.
As a manager, the most important thing to do is to listen, to be open to the team when they have questions and to support them. It’s support that you can offer, rather than micro-management, and autonomy will be greatly appreciated.
I trust the team in what they do; I hope they get the job done, and it’s hard to hide when you’re in an event delivery organization – if you don’t do your job, someone will have to fill the void and it will look bad from you.
At this point in the pandemic, we have identified the need to put more measures in place that support the mental health of all staff. We have the employee assistance program, we have rigorous discussions in the occupational health and safety committee, not only about physical safety, but also about ways to support the team, and we recently created a diversity and inclusion committee that includes members of the casual pool team. as well as permanent staff.
I want to empower the team to take ownership of their place in the organization and support them where I can.
My advice for streamlining in the post-pandemic moment? Prioritize your health.
As a manager, listen to and treat your team with respect. Listen to them when they speak out about toxic behavior and take action, so they know their voice has been heard.
An employee is more likely to stay if they have autonomy, are listened to and feel confident. Leading a team is not like a “family” – people already have a family; they don’t need it in their workplace, but it’s a matter of mutual respect to make sure you meet the organization’s goals.
Rebekah Butler, Executive Director, Museums & Galleries Queensland
Working from home was necessary during times of COVID lockdown, but it was not without challenges. Initially, there was a novelty in all of this – touching base each week with staff via Zoom – the sounds of home-schooled children or the dog barking in the background, giving insight into our personal lives that didn’t was perhaps not shared before.
These sessions had a function, but they were not perfect for the management of personnel, programs and operations. They highlighted the inadequacies of our organization’s technology and missed the spontaneous, in-person conversations that occur in the workplace – valuable opportunities to share information and exchange ideas.
COVID has undoubtedly changed the way we work and in many cases increased the workload. Online meetings, while less personal, free up time in our already limited schedules. While it may be more efficient, it doesn’t replace the value of visiting another organization, engaging with colleagues, and sharing a personal connection.
Managing people requires trust – confidence in their skills, knowledge and abilities, and trusting that they will seek help when needed. Similarly, staff trust their managers – that they will be supported, nurtured and valued.
This was especially true during COVID, and sometimes required monitoring workloads to ensure they weren’t over-committing, but it also allowed them to come up with creative solutions to the unprecedented times we found ourselves in. .
Museums & Galleries Queensland staff have been working hard during COVID to provide leadership and support to our sector. We were able to achieve what we did during the lockdown by holding weekly staff meetings and separate program meetings as needed.
The impetus for working from home has changed, but it is important that we as managers continue to offer flexible working arrangements where possible and do not micro-manage staff.
It can undermine a staff member’s sense of worth and limit the creative thinking and autonomy we all value in the workplace.