Leading in a Virtual World – Interview with COO & Partner of Narrative Research Margaret Chapman

Margaret Chapman, COO & Partner of Narrative Research

Susan Power, CEO of  PowerUp Leadership had the pleasure of speaking with Margaret Chapman, COO & Partner of Narrative Research to discuss some of Narrative Research’s leadership best practices for leading in a virtual world. As a leading Halifax market intelligence and market research company, Narrative Research has a team of experts at identifying market research trends and insights that lead to insights.

Q1: Are there Any trends you are seeing in the type of skills or human resources practices in the future workplace?

M. Chapman:  Yes, we are hearing more people talk about looking at offering work from home options permanently.  They have experienced what its like for employees and have experienced employees being very productive at home, and gained an understanding as leaders how to manage remotely.

Q2: What type of leadership competencies are most needed in the post pandemic environment as businesses move towards reopening?

M. Chapman:  At Narrative Research, we have undertaken training for our leaders on how to lead remotely. My advice on what that means is communicating to staff what this means for at-home office, ergonomics, and what we need to do to ensure we work effectively from home.   Everyone is trying to find ways to make normal business happen in extraordinary circumstances.

Q3: Have you ever worked for a leader who inspired you, what did they do differently than most others?

M. Chapman: Yes, I have worked for bosses during my career who pushed me to see if I could fly.They had confidence and whether I felt ready or not, they gave me the opportunity to sink or swim.The people who I worked for had the foresight to know when I was ready to take on more. It is kind of nerve wracking to do this as a leader, but I try to do the same for the people on my team as well, and put myself in their shoes.

Q4: As organizations continue to work remotely for positions that are feasible to work from home, what role do you see coaching playing in our virtual environment?

M. Chapman: In a virtual environment, coaching is very important during times of change.  There is so much change now.  Coaching is super helpful for people to talk through the options that they are considering, the gaps they see, and how they may need to take care of their employees in different ways.  It is very important to have someone whether it is a peer or a coach to talk things through.  There is ambiguity right now, and we need to find ways to make advance business despite uncertainty.

Q5: Do you have any suggestions for how leaders can communicate and collaborate to lead their teams remotely?

M. Chapman: The danger with remote meetings is that it is all business. On site, people will take a break and have a casual conversation, and this can be very valuable for brainstorming.  We start the meeting what’s your rose and what’s your thorn – we start with thorns so we end on a high note have a conversation weekly on what’s going well and what’s bothering you and that works really well. Also, when I call an employee to check in and it is way more effective than sending an email.  We do weekly trivia sessions each week.  People have been doing their own personal passion, and one person did a trivia session on translating Newfoundland expressions.  We do check ins with all our employees, and those who work normally work remotely have said this has been a great equalizer, and they feel more included, and have learned more about everyone else on the team during this time.  This experience has given us more empathy for those working from home as there normal work location.

Q6: Have there been any lessons learned by businesses in the current environment?

M. Chapman: One thing that we have been slow on is letting people take home all the equipment home.  We didn’t know initially how long this will be, and then we let people go get their chairs, monitors, and laptops.  Investing and ensuring that you have really good IT software and equipment, and having laptops instead of desktops. 

Q7: Any suggestions for how business leaders can encourage resilience among their employees as fears of a second wave of COVID-19 are out there, and general stress levels are high?

M. Chapman: Business leaders can encourage resilience among their employees and help lower anxiety and stress levels of employees post pandemic by communicating a really clear plan, even if you don’t know everything, definitely include safety measures, signage, sanitization measures, and communicate the plan and be flexible with employees. It is so important to listen to employee concerns, and be flexible as a leader to help people be comfortable. Everyone’s situation is different right now, some people have kids at home, others have elders they are responsible for, we need to communicate with employees and be flexible to best support them going forward.

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