Exceptional times require strong leadership and genuine interaction Increased demand for strong leadership culture and genuine interaction in exceptional times

In the latest episode of Mehiläinen Pisto podcast serie A New Direction for Occupational health care, Andréa Alvarez-Tarjasalo, Mehiläinen’s Account Management and B2B Marketing Director, will discuss the transformation of leadership and management and new practices in remote and in-person supervisory work with Sirpa Huuskonen, HR Director at Tokmanni and Tatu Tulokas, HR Director at Mehiläinen.

Watch the video

A culture of strong leadership supports successful remote management

The coronavirus pandemic has caused major changes in working life, leadership and supervisory work over the past year. Many work communities have taken up remote working, which affects occupational well-being and coping at work. Remote management has replaced in-person management, and there are many differences between them.

According to Sirpa, one of the most significant differences between in-person and remote management is that it is much easier to make decisions based on observations with in-person management. When a supervisor sees their team on a daily basis, it is easier to observe the team's well-being and stay aware of their level of coping. It is more challenging to make such observations over a remote connection.

Sirpa believes that remote working emphasises the company’s culture of leadership. In a culture of strong leadership, where clear operating models are established and weekly or monthly meetings are held, for example, it is more natural to continue this practice also when working remotely. Sirpa emphasises that the role of supervisory work is emphasised in remote work and it is not enough to perform one's own work but leading your employees and adopting suitable practices is required.

- People have to be occasionally seen even in remote management. It is a good idea to have established practices to turn on the cameras and see each other. If the team is not very large, this should be quite natural, providing a general impression of how the people are doing.

Mehiläinen has introduced various operating models to support remote management, the most significant of which Tatu considers to be ensuring that everyone has a good overall picture and awareness of where we are now and where we are going. Tatu says that it is also important to be aware that “one size does not fit all”, i.e. that management support, models and solutions should be strongly considered suitable for each function, and that not all solutions are suitable for everyone.

Remote working has raised the question of whether the self-management of employees should be encouraged. Employees are expected to be self-directed in many work communities, but this also requires the support of a supervisor. Tatu thinks that, in principle, employees want to do their job as well as possible, but success may be hindered by, for example, a corporate culture where people are afraid to make mistakes or which involves a lot of hierarchy. Tatu points out that self-directed work is usually the best solution when the employee has a clear task and mission in their work, they know what is expected of them and the culture is encouraging. It is therefore important for the supervisor to show the employees the direction in which they are going.

- When the situational picture and awareness of things is as uniform as possible and people know what they have to do, then they will start to do it, Tatu says.

Supervisor support and example as the basis of occupational well-being

Not everyone is able to work remotely, and many still work at their workplaces at Tokmanni and Mehiläinen. The majority of Tokmanni’s more than 4,000 employees work with customers, which, according to Sirpa, establishes different priorities for communications and operating models. Sirpa agrees with Tatu in that everyone must have a good idea of what is going on and how people in the stores are doing.

- It is a top priority to ensure the safety and coping ability of front-line employees, because that is where the main risks associated with the coronavirus pandemic lie. The focus of our communications is heavily on how we provide the people there with sufficient information and guidance on how to run the stores, says Sirpa.

The employees’ ability to cope is tested during exceptional times, so the support from supervisors is critically important. Tatu considers awareness of one’s own team crucially important for this. Although it can be challenging for supervisors to keep constantly in contact, remote working has prompted management to take new steps, and remote workers have had to be taken into account in a completely new way.

- Awareness of your team and people is also important in a holistic way in order to have a better understanding of what is in the background if everything does not look quite right, says Tatu.

How to prevent remote working apathy?

There has been talk of remote working apathy over the past year. Remote working apathy arises when days of working remotely seem identical and there is a total lack of informal interactions with colleagues. Individuals can have an effect on the development of telework apathy, but supervisors also have the opportunity to influence it. According to Sirpa, the management of an individual's own work and the separation of working and leisure time is emphasised in remote working, but supervisors can also remind employees to take lunch breaks and to exercise during the working day. Having weekly virtual coffee breaks together can also be an effective way of preventing remote working apathy. Despite the challenging situation, it is important to maintain a sense of community, as it is dangerous to lose it.

- Many work communities have a strong sense of community, and it is extremely important to maintain it, Sirpa says.