It’s a difficult time to be navigating the complex world of business. Whilst adapting to new ways of working remotely, a practice which looks to become the new norm, professionals at all levels of business are experiencing new challenges.
Whether workers are going for a promotion, trying to keeping up team morale or fire-fighting a never-ending to-do list, times are hard, and without being able to interact with colleagues face-to-face, simple tasks can suddenly become complex. Even those in more senior positions are needing to find new ways of working, to effectively manage and nurture not only their teams but also themselves.
A recent report by RADA Business, Beating Workplace Performance Anxiety, revealed that, contrary to what many may believe, anxiety is actually most prominent amongst those at senior director level, with 94% of professionals struggling with anxiety around communicating. This group were also found to suffer feelings of anxiety the most – 10 times per month – which is twice the national average.
However, the world-renowned performance coaches at RADA Business, the commercial subsidiary of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, build upon actor training techniques, centred around body, breath and voice, to help business professionals develop the necessary skills to improve their performance in the workplace.
To help senior business professionals navigate the anxiety-inducing world of remote leadership, Kate Montague, RADA Business tutor shares her answers to some of the more common questions, which have been put to the RADA Business team since the lockdown began, by senior leaders.
I’m finding remote working stressful, how can I manage this stress more effectively?
As leaders, we have to accept that there will be times when things become stressful, and COVID-19 certainly hasn’t been an exception to this. Acknowledging that we are out of alignment with our working habits currently and seeking the tools and techniques to help is the first step.
At RADA Business we look at where stress is manifesting itself and it often extends beyond the psychological and takes a physical form in the spine and showing up in our posture. Taking a stretch, rolling out the shoulders and releasing the neck is a healthful activity between calls.
Conscious breathing also helps to make us more comfortable physically and also calms the nervous system. Take a moment to sit or stand tall, then become aware of your breath and breathe deeply and fully a few times a day. This is a useful tool for reducing stress and helps to clear the mind. Deep breathing in this way releases dopamine, the body’s ‘happy’ hormone, which helps to make us feel better, more emotionally responsive and less emotionally reactive. If you’re stressed focus on lengthening the out-breath, or if you’re tired and need recharging, focus on taking a few fuller in-breaths.
I’m struggling to land my messages through virtual mediums, how can I show up effectively online?
There is definitely a knack to presenting effectively via virtual mediums, and getting it right will certainly help you convey both confidence and professionalism.
Firstly, consider your posture: make sure you’re sitting tall, lengthening through the spine. Think of your pelvis as a foundation stone to your spine, let it relax into the base of the chair.
Ground yourself with your feet flat on the floor – this will help you to connect your breath to your speech so you’re able to communicate with a depth of tone and clarity.
When using visual platforms, consider your framing to ensure your head is nicely centred, balanced on your shoulders, and neither too close nor too far from the camera. Lighting is also hugely important on video calls – we need to be well lit from the front, so those we’re presenting to can read those all-important expressions, which are key to communication. If you tend to rush, remember to take moments to pause and breathe. Using eye contact to connect with your listeners will help slow down your communication, so others have more time to process and absorb what you have to say.
Temperamental video conferencing software and poor Wi-Fi connections can cause some technical problems through online mediums. Be sure to check in with your audience and have them feedback by asking some simple probing questions such as “Is everything clear up to this point?”, or field any questions they may have. This will ensure your message has been received and has landed as you intended.
How can I reassure my team while I’m struggling with my own anxieties?
Firstly, acknowledge your own challenges. Bosses often face burnout when they refuse to admit they’re struggling, however when you are willing to look after yourself first you’re in a far better position to help and reassure others. Take time each day to tune in and listen to yourself as you would a friend and provide your own coaching. Ask yourself: “How am I doing?”, consider the answer and apply to yourself the response you might give a friend if they were to say: “I’m feeling anxious, stressed, burnt out…”.
Give space to connect with your kindness and empathy. Acknowledge where you’re doing a good job, and make space for your inner guidance to show you where to go next in terms of a difficult decision or action. We all feel anxious at times, so let those feelings come forward, remember to breathe, and address them in the moment, so they are processed, which will help you to reconnect with your innate clarity and intuition.
When reassuring your team, whether they’re feeling angry, anxious or upset let them bring their own feelings forward too, rather than suppress them – they’ll respond to this. In body-led psychotherapy we say all feelings are welcome: it’s a non-shaming, non-judging atmosphere. Schedule in 10 minutes each week to check in with the team and ask them how they are coping, what they need, or how things could be better. Inclusion has never been so important; so allow your team to vent, or share what is current for them, and show that you see them.
My progression feels stinted, how can I impress my superiors when they can’t see and hear me at work?
Make yourself visible by being proactive. It’s easy to feel as though we’re doing lots of work and not getting noticed, especially when working remotely, but having clear intentions and going out of your way to make them visible will help you to be seen. Don’t let the boss do homework, instead offer them what you have to share – send them something to watch or read; offer to lead a meeting; offer to head up a new project – serve it to them on a plate. Be sure to ask for guidance and feedback too, as this will help to keep the conversation going and ensure you are front of mind. Put yourself out there and let yourself be visible.
How do I keep up team morale while we are short staffed?
Being short-staffed is never easy, but the relationship you have with your team is everything. Rapport and intimacy become even more important when a team is downsized, so regular check-ins are essential. It’s important to ensure that your team’s workload is relatively balanced to prevent exhaustion and burnout.
Schedule regular catch-ups with the team to oversee their work but be careful not to micro-manage – teams are more responsive when they’re able to work to their own deadlines, whilst still meeting your needs of course. Also bear in mind that the warmth of giving praise helps to re-engage teams who may be under pressure or missing colleagues who are no longer around.
We thrive on celebrating the wins, so be sure to factor in time to thank the team, perhaps at the start of an update meeting or why not set up a quick ‘digital round table’ with the pure intention of praising the team? Be sure to take your time when delivering praise and make eye contact with your team – this will give your message a clear sense of genuineness.
I’m trying to move into a new role but now isn’t a good time and I feel stuck, how can I get noticed?
If it really isn’t the time then focus your energies on a new temporary goal that you’re able to get passionate about in the interim and that will allow you to grow in other ways. You may find that taking the time to acquire new skills in other areas will have an impact on your routine performance and there are plenty of ways to skill up.
Make time for a short-term course, undertake a side project, engage in continued professional development (CPD) – anything to keep your mind active and to keep you growing whilst your usual routine is feeling static. Developing a new project or hobby that you can talk passionately about often comes with a new sense of confidence and enthusiasm, two traits that are bound to help get you noticed by the people at the top.
During these challenging past few months, business leaders have seen just how resilient they can be. In the face of adversity, there’s now potentially a deeper awareness of how performance at work is impacted by how well we nurture the holistic self – the spirit, mindset, physical and emotional well-being all play a part in how we deliver. There has been an acknowledgement of strengths while simultaneously more willingness to acknowledge vulnerability.
This really is key as it leads to deeper human connections, which is the bottom line of any business. Regardless of what trade we’re in, it’s all about the human endeavour. Although stressful for many, the recent months have helped us to learn about balance and to become more attuned to what we as individuals need, as well as how to be more responsive to our colleagues and clients.
RADA Business is offering virtual one-to-one coaching sessions for senior leaders. To learn more, please visit radabusiness.com.
Kate Montague, a renowned tutor at Rada Business