PA Life spoke to Tom Baigrie, founder and CEO of the UK’s leading life insurance broker, LifeSearch, which employs 500 staff across the UK.
With teams spread around the country while keeping safe during the pandemic , it’s more important than ever for senior people to lead from the top, to ensure that morale as well as productivity stays high.
LifeSearch has been an early adopter of remote working, having brought in the practice nearly 13 years ago, and as a result the leadership team is well-versed in leading from afar.
Here, Baigrie gives his top tips on how leaders can be ‘present’ while at a distance…
Remind your teams that the senior leadership group are available and accessible
The first step I would suggest as a senior leader, is to make an effort to remind your people that you are available should they need you.
This understandably is not as easy as if you were in the office five days a week, and it’s not enough to make this statement once.
As CEO, I’ve always made a conscious effort to meet any new starters within the business face to face. I believe it’s an important part of our culture, and by getting to know everyone personally, I feel more connected to the team, as they do to me.
At the moment this is obviously not possible, although I have ensured I take the time to speak to new starters and other colleagues on a one to one basis via video calls like Google Teams. This keeps the level of respect and communication we pride so much here at LifeSearch going even when we can’t be in the same room.
I’ve also made it a goal of my own, and encouraged my leadership team, to remind their teams regularly that they are contactable via phone or via video conference if needed. I’ve found one platform that works well for this is our staff intranet – posting regularly and interacting with other team members on our social media channel Microsoft Yammer has also served as a good reminder that I am still very active within the business.
Be as transparent as possible with information
Our teams have only become more engaged on intranet platforms since lockdown measures began. Microsoft Yammer is the program we use most frequently, and there are a few hundred posts on this each day, which will range from lighthearted comments and blogs, to vlogs from the senior leadership team and myself. I’ve found it a great way to disseminate information to the whole team, and I’ve enjoyed seeing what everyone has been up to!
As well as general posts and updates we also share meeting notes from board meetings and updates from senior staff, so that we’re completely transparent. It’s been an unsettling time and I think everyone appreciates knowing what is going on at the company.
We are very open on this channel, and always have been, this is something I feel is very important when flexible working. You need to show your team that you trust them and respect them in order to get the same level of trust and respect back. This channel is a space for everyone to communicate, whether work related or on a more social scale. We strongly believe that this is one of the reasons the team works so well remotely.
Proactively check in with those reporting to you
It’s one thing to purport that you’re accessible, but make sure you also take the steps to proactively check in with your teams. Schedule recurring meetings, perhaps on an even more regular basis than normal, to talk directly to those who report to you. Since lockdown began, we have extended our weekly trading call and I also schedule meetings with those members of my team I need more time with.
It is important to understand that as a senior member of the team, having some discussions virtually may be tougher. Without being there face to face it is a lot easier to be misread. Checking in more regularly allows us to keep on top of any issues and also make sure that our staff are faring ok.
At the time of speaking, the senior leadership team are also looking at sending out a confidential company-wide wellbeing survey so if there are any concerns that we’re not yet addressing, these can be raised and worked through.
Remember, it’s not all about work
As a leadership team, try to continue as many morale-boosting initiatives, and social activities as possible.
I don’t think many people go to work JUST to work, and many of our team members at LifeSearch have expressed how much they enjoy the social aspect of their jobs.
We’ve tried to move as many social initiatives online as possible, holding regular virtual ‘pub quizzes’ and colouring competitions for team member’s children, for example. As well as hosting things, it’s important as leaders that you involve yourself. Doing so is a great way to connect with your team outside of the virtual meeting rooms. I’ve spent a few hours myself on LifeSearch Zoom trivia nights, and I encourage my leadership team to do the same.
We also conducted research in the business to find out some causes close to team member’s hearts, and work out ways in which we as a business could support the wider community during the pandemic.
As a result, our people enjoyed getting involved in making some powerful social videos to bring to light our fundraising efforts for two key NHS charities.
We filmed two videos, which I and members of my leadership team were in, and we had great fun creating these.
The ‘Thank You NHS’ initiative saw us make a donation to both the Roald Dahl’s Marvellous Children’s Charity and Florence Nightingale Foundation, for every family we protect. To date we have raised £30,000, with the figure set to rise.
Every company and culture is different, so senior leaders will know what their people will enjoy and appreciate. I think the most important thing that we can give our people during this unsettling period, is time.