• Daniel Killaly
  • Friday, Mar 20, 2020
  • Tags: Capability and Strategic Advisory; Scenarios

Maintaining performance and helping our people through the most difficult of circumstances.

The current worldwide circumstances have heightened organisations’ exposure to the impact of reduced staffing. In Australia, high vacancies after the New Year, the tragedy of bushfires, the cost of floods and storms, and now a virus, all impact on everyone’s ability to present (and be fully present) for work.

We have worked with many virtual and satellite teams and found active communication to be the key to maintaining performance and morale. In short, virtual managers need to increase the time they dedicate to their people.

In this blog we explore some of the issues facing managers when working remotely, and share some proven ideas to better support your team.

The current situation

The Australian Public Service Commission (APSC), in its State of the Service report of 2019, stated that;

“As at 30 June 2019, the serving responsibilities of 147,237 APS employees were spread across 18 departments and 80 agencies and authorities located across Australia”.


“Fifty-two per cent of respondents in the 2019 APS employee census indicated they currently access flexible work arrangements”

Whilst flexible working is a poor proxy for remote working, it is fair to assume that there are many Public Servants who are not experienced in home working. Equally, many managers are unused to managing a satellite workforce.

From an employer perspective, it is hard to gain an understanding of how long remote working conditions can remain effective. The Australian Government rightly say that it is too early to estimate the impact from COVID-19 (The Treasury, Commonwealth of Australia, 2020) and that focus is on flattening the curve for infections (Australian Health Protection Principal Committee, 2020).

The scale and uncertainty of disruption clearly makes it very difficult to plan ahead in order to support each-other effectively.

We should still try.

Social and Professional Distancing

Technology. The virtual office is not a new concept. From cloud storage to desktop virtualisation, video conferencing and tasking systems, enterprises have been scaling up for years. However, the technical challenge is only one part of this…

Time. It takes a while to get into a disciplined home working routine. Work can also become ever-present, interfering with family time and time for decompression. Managers need to recognise this and not fall into the trap of believing our people don’t want to contribute because of a short-term performance dip. Autonomy is a great motivator – but first we need to feel safe and secure.

Expectations. Denying access to information, exclusion from conversations, and uncertainty about what’s expected have huge impact, yet can happen almost by accident in this setting. The consequences on state of mind and self-worth can be devastating and long-lasting.

People. In an office environment, conflicts are usually resolved by bringing parties physically together, restoring human connection and speeding up the interaction cycle. When working remotely, it is necessary to find alternative ways of bringing the team together – try to find the most creative and personal way, like affected communities did when singing from balconies in Italy and Spain.

So, during the transition and scaling-up process, your organisation should consider how it can quickly deliver:

  • Guidance and conditions
  • Remote working services
  • Legal and organisational requirements for managing data
  • Communication contingencies
  • A business continuity statement
  • Creative ways to stay truly connected as people

Remote team-building

The following ideas have been shown over many years, in many public and private settings, to be effective in unifying teams and driving performance when team members are apart:

  • Start practicing part-time remote working right now - before you have to.
  • Use videoconferencing now, especially after assigning work or providing feedback.
  • Manage a tasking board now. You need to stay on top of who, what, when and issues. A whiteboard at home is all you need!
  • Make more time just to check in with people, see what they need, what is annoying them and how they really feel. To make time; delegate more than you did before
  • Let actions speak louder than words, and demonstrate that phone conversations still work.
  • Expect stress. Ensure that Employee Assistance services are made available remotely for staff and managers to help navigate it.

Protect your team’s time and become an advocate

The hardest aspect of this is creating a collaborative remote-working environment where managers can shape the work and specialists can feed back required outputs and resolve issues:

  • Manage up and outwards with short, clear, progress updates and frequent video calls with your stakeholders to keep on top of their concerns, and generate opportunities to help them.
  • Create a safer space by focussing on how you respond in the moment to questions.
  • Related to that – ensure that employees can seek clarification or adjustments to scope, without blame and ahead of time. Revisions made later take longer.
  • Encourage one topic per email to allow conversations similar to messaging services, use short headings to structure information, and state actions in bold.

The key is to understand that none of us are alone in this enforced journey. We’re all going through the same things. Organisations that thrive in changing situations are those that embrace challenge, trust their team and offer open communication.


Stay in touch. To find out how CAST can support your capability planning please contact us at


  1. Australian Health Protection Principal Committee. (2020, March 17). AHPPC coronavirus (COVID-19) statement.

  2. Australian Public Service Commission. (2019). State of the Service Report 2018-19

  3. The Treasury, Commonwealth of Australia. (2020, March 5). Opening statement - March 2020 Senate Estimates.