Point of view

Remote leadership requires a solid presence

Author

Kirsi Joensuu

Executive director at the Finnish Forest Association

“What time do you have meetings today?”

“Who is walking the dachshund in the morning? My first meeting will begin at 8 a.m.”

Conversations like this with my current officemate have become common at the breakfast table. My husband and I have often worked from home over the years, but rarely at the same time.

Around this time last year, I was in Kuhmo experiencing my first Forest Academy for Decision Makers field trip. We got to know and discuss issues related to forest management, conservation, wildlife management, and wood processing with decision-makers from various fields. A couple of weeks earlier, I competed in the Metsävisa (Finnish national forest quiz) final in Tuusula together with the 50 best forest students in Finland’s high schools.

This spring, with coronavirus shaping our lives, all our work has been done online. Board financial meetings have been held and IT user experiences have been examined – all from the home office. We have considered an online Metsävisa and explored options for Forest Academy follow-up events. We have been training ourselves and others.

When the work environment has completely changed, what is required of leaders to support the new ways of working remotely? The biggest change for me has been self-management and sticking to certain routines – as boring as it sounds.

The importance of self-management becomes apparent when the people and processes to be managed are elsewhere. Routines, in turn, bring us security: weekly team meetings with familiar agendas, management team decisions making progress. By no means has everything changed, things are just done differently.

The President urged us to be physically distant but mentally close. This is also applicable to leadership. It is important to remember that no one is left feeling alone with their tasks at the home office. Besides our work with forests and forest communications, there are also other things happening at home. There is home-schooling taking place and spouses with their own jobs. Our own kitchens have become our new workplace canteens.

Because we don’t meet colleagues in the office, we need to be strongly mentally present and reachable so we can make decisions. At its best, this emergency has brought us even closer to each other and increased our appreciation for each other. I have also noticed that on many occasions we have been able to concentrate better on the basics.

The same can be seen in the forest debate. The usual peaks and troughs of the conversation have levelled off as we have recognised what we have in common and what keeps us safe.

One thing is for sure. When this exceptional situation is over, I can already sense that this feeling of togetherness will endure – when we sit around the table at the Forest Association, when we engage with children in the forest and when we are on our next Forest Academy field trip.

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