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The Three Keys to Leadership in Lockdown

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Accenture’s president of Europe for Interactive, Max Morielli, shares his experience of taking on a leadership role during a pandemic - and how he’s fostered a positive, healthy and close-knit work culture across national borders

The Three Keys to Leadership in Lockdown

It’s a remarkable thing, starting a job in a pandemic. Despite the turbulence of the past year, however, I have found enjoyment in the process of getting to know my new teams in our new reality. Over the course of 2020, we’ve been able to build a strong working relationship and culture despite the distance. 

There was no go-to ‘playbook’ for building a team amidst a pandemic, no ‘off-the-shelf’ solution to implement. Instead, both myself and our teams at Accenture Interactive have been on a journey punctuated with new ideas and thinking. As we reflect on the year that has passed and plan ahead, I’ve identified three key facets to building a successful and healthy team culture whilst working remotely, that fall under the banners of human ingenuity, technology and experience – and benefits for focusing on each. 

Given that remote working seems set to remain a feature in our professional lives for some time to come, I’d like to take this opportunity to highlight what I’ve learned so far. 


Human ingenuity

Clearly, being hundreds of miles away from your colleagues is not a situation naturally conducive to building human connections. In order to counteract this, we’ve been implementing a number of initiatives to get to know each other better at Accenture Interactive.

But firstly, to mention an example familiar to many: even we can fall into the trap of committing to the entire 30 minutes of a meeting just because it’s blocked out in the calendar – the entirety of which may not be relevant for everyone. Something I learned quickly early on is to be generous and smart with your time. Head into a meeting with an agenda and once addressed, move on. Schedule time where you don’t talk shop: recreating those watercooler moments that help foster networks and ideas exchange. One of my greatest concerns is that our next generation of talent joining as graduates will miss social cues learned in-person, so finding ways to encourage inclusion remotely is essential.

Practically speaking I hold a weekly coffee catch-up with my team (dubbed a Maxiatto) which carries just one golden rule – no presentations! Everyone is encouraged to share their experiences and any issues from the past seven days in a laid-back way. I’ve enjoyed what I’ve found out about my colleagues. How else, for example, would I have known which member of my team used to be in a rock band, and which is a keen proficient of the ukulele?! 

Human connections are very important to me. And we are all experiencing the challenges of the pandemic in our own ways. We aren’t working in the same way as before and there are different pressures. Carving out time to understand what people are thinking and feeling will benefit us all in how we go about our work. 

Being receptive to ‘human ingenuity’ in this sense also means having faith in teams’ ideas and bold approaches as we navigate new ways of doing things. After all we should see this pandemic as a chance to reinvent how we do things for the better – and that means taking some risks. I believe that a great manager will always provide the space and incentives for new ideas and new leaders to come forward. That’s no different when you’re working remotely. Colleagues should know that they’re encouraged to provide their own input and that their thoughts will be listened to. 


Technology

This upheaval in the way we work has naturally brought forward a revolution in the way teams collaborate with one another. When we all switched to remote working in March, Accenture became one of the world’s biggest adopters of Microsoft Teams (with 500,000 members of staff switching over!). Resultantly, it should come as no surprise to hear that leveraging technology to improve experiences and foster human ingenuity is at the heart of our company’s culture.

For me, it’s been challenging and rewarding in equal measure. One of my greatest joys in life and in business is working side-by-side with someone. That becomes a lot more challenging when you can’t read a person’s body language or look at them when you speak with them. Even with video calling, navigating that comes with difficulties – we behave differently on camera. Keeping everyone engaged has always been the key to a successful meeting, and that’s no different when working remotely. And beyond that, there may be signs we’re missing – these are very challenging times for us all in different ways.

To support our teams’ wellbeing, we’ve put an emphasis on mindfulness and mental health as key tenets of our working lives. Our programmes include virtual meditation, yoga, and fitness sessions (with family members welcome to attend all!). Our focus is on the heart, body, mind, and soul to provide a strong mental platform on which our staff can approach their day.  

The mass adoption of collaborative technologies has led to some great, if unexpected, benefits for our company. For example, the remote revolution gave us the opportunity to reappraise our approach to diversity. Whereas some disabilities may prevent people from attending an office job in the city every day, the age of remote working has been a benefit to those individuals. We’ve levelled the playing field when it comes to finding talent, and the diversity of thought we have in our teams as a result is an enormous positive. And that’s something we intend to keep as a permanent solution for the future.


Experience

At Accenture Interactive we are in the business of experience. The reason we stress the transformative power of experience to our clients is because we see it every day with our people. Experience is at the heart of everything we do and working remotely has not changed that.

Many times, I’ve asked myself what I will do when we are finally working together in the same room again. How will we make that time together a rewarding and fruitful experience? There’s nothing wrong with being excited for a return to an in-person work life. It’s certainly true that the current situation won’t last forever, but there are important lessons we can learn about communication and team building remotely while it still endures. 


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Accenture Interactive, Thu, 21 Jan 2021 10:54:07 GMT