10kC Ascend Cafe Recap: Pragashini Fox on e-Leadership

Pragashini Fox, the Head of Talent Management at Thomson Reuters and a member of Ascend Canada, offers five vital pieces of advice for leadership during a pandemic in her most recent Ascend Cafe virtual office hour.

The novel coronavirus has initiated a paradigm shift on a global scale in a matter of weeks. While it has brought forth a host of unprecedented challenges for individuals and organizations, it has also inspired innovations in various fields. Restaurants have turned to pop-up grocery stores and delivery, and personal trainers have resorted to virtual seminars. By and large, businesses have been called upon to transition most of their operations digitally to accommodate their employees who are now working from home.

As a response to such changes, Pragashini Fox, the Head of Talent Management at Thomson Reuters and a Member of the Board at Ascend Canada, shared some invaluable tips for team managers during these uncharted times. Here are her five vital pieces of advice for effective e-leadership amidst a pandemic:

1. Promote employee flexibility and autonomy.

Every employee has varying individual circumstances; some are caretakers of children or elderly, some lack certain resources, and many are overwhelmed by the social chaos. Encouraging them to schedule their workdays according to their means in ways that conserve their optimal productivity is key to building and maintaining trust.

2. Conduct regular 1:1 check-ins with your team members.

Especially during a time of so many uncertainties, it is crucial to provide clarity to your team wherever possible. This can be achieved by clearly communicating expectations and priorities, as well as routinely engaging in career discussions that can potentially furcate their areas of expertise for the benefit of the entire organization.

3. Engage with your employees on a human level.

Not only are you and your team working towards the same organizational goals, you are all experiencing the same drastic social changes. As important as it is to accomplish corporate agendas, utilizing the digital platforms on hand to socialize virtually and remain connected outside of work will help to strengthen interpersonal relationships and boost employee morale.

4. Build a network that offers resources and supports well-being.

Today’s circumstances can be challenging on one’s mental health. As one’s psychological well-being is as indispensable to their productivity as their physical well-being, simple strategies such as starting meetings with friendly conversations or sharing resources that offer wellness promotion can help build employee resilience.

5. Encourage employees to take time off as necessary.

Everyone may be restricted to the confines of their homes right now, but that does not mean that they should refrain from taking some time off. Regardless of whether it is done from home or an office, work is still work. Be mindful that employee burnout is still a real issue and that some time off may be beneficial for their well-being.

While these practices may not be news to some, one of the common challenges of virtual offices arises from attempting to balance leading with empathy without sacrificing performance. In response, Pragashini reiterates the importance of clarity. Reviewing and resetting performance expectations that echo the needs of customers and communicating sets of expectations with clarity will help employees to feel valued and productive. As a result, maintaining employee morale and productivity come hand in hand.

It had been a common understanding that changes occur slowly and hesitantly within the waterfall structures of an organization. But recent events have demonstrated that such need not be the case; changes can happen quickly and efficiently. Given this newfound learning, Pragashini highlights the importance of seizing this interruption as an opportunity for refurbishment and future development.

Emily Soojung Hwang is a University of Toronto alumni and an Ascend Canada volunteer and with a passion for social justice and investigative journalism.