About 54 per cent of managers said company leaders were out of touch with employee expectations, while 74 per cent said they lacked the influence or resources they needed to make changes on behalf of their teams.
Mr Munnangi said leaders needed to adapt to new forms of communication in the hybrid working environment, and that those new forms, such as Zoom and other teleconferencing tools, made it difficult to gauge staff reaction to key messages.
“Leaders would normally communicate in person, in the office [and be able to read] body language and assess how people were perceiving what they said, whereas I now have 40 people on a screen, [occupying] tiny rectangles,” he said. “When you say something that is important, or something that I would perceive as emotional, you don’t get the feedback, so you don’t understand the level of engagement directly.”
You’re making sure that you’re across the lives of so many people. It is additional stress and work.
— Yeswanth Munnangi, Rome2Rio CEO
The Rome2Rio boss, who moved to Australia from Berlin in early 2020, said that leaders could not rely on being able to talk to a team member in person about jobs that needed to be done or new projects.
Instead they had to plan a time to speak to the staff member who was working from home, ensure they were in the right frame of mind to discuss the topic, and then co-ordinate with other team members if the task required the input of more than one person.
“You need to plan activities, especially if it needs more than one person in the group. So there is a lot more planning as well. So that adds effort and stress for leaders,” Mr Munnangi said.
Empathy for employees
Employees, he added, were also more likely to expect that their managers understood their personal circumstances and potentially made allowances for them.
“As a leader you need to understand the context of where your people are, what their life situation is, a bit more than you used to before,” Mr Munnangi said.
“[You need to have] that empathy for your employees, to understand their life situation. If you have 10 people working for you, you’re making sure that you’re across the lives of so many people. It is additional stress and work. Adapting to this is becoming a necessity.”
As a result, he has increased the amount of time he spends exercising – mainly walking and gym work – from two or three hours a week to seven hours.
“I would say I have taken to exercise a lot more, to make sure that I have space to think,” he said.
When considering how to manage remote teams after the pandemic, Ingrid Jenkins, human resources director for Microsoft in Australasia, said leaders should feel free to admit they did not have all the answers, and to seek input from their teams. They should learn from their mistakes, work on their physical health, and make agreements with teams that spell out how they will work together in a hybrid environment.
Mr Munnangi said he expected that after a period of adjustment his stress levels would decline.
“This is an adjustment phase. It’s a phase of realignment, and I think people can adapt. If you follow the principles of building a good culture, then the stress levels can significantly go down to previous levels,” he said.