“I’m a new MD in Singapore. The only person I’ve met in my team is my secretary”

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“I’m a new MD in Singapore. The only person I’ve met in my team is my secretary”

About two weeks ago I started a new job at a large bank in Singapore. I’m a managing director, I work in a technology function, and like most people I’m currently working from home. So far, the only person I’ve met face-to-face in my team is my secretary, and that was only because I had to pick up my company laptop.

You might think that as a technologist the whole WFH thing would be easy – and it is from a tech standpoint. But as a new manager, I also need to get to know my team – that’s just as important in technology as it is in any other function in the banking sector.

I have to be honest with you: I’ve found my new role tough so far, because it’s been so hard to build relationships with my new subordinates via video calls, even when we catch up one-to-one. Zoom is great when you already know your colleagues well; it’s not so great when you’re starting from scratch.

As I’ve discovered in other jobs, it’s critical when beginning a new role that you quickly find out who the best people in your team are – the people who perform well and who you can trust. That’s usually achievable, because you can gauge their performance and meet them face-to-face to see if you have a rapport.

In non-Covid times, when I first meet team members, I do it in person over coffee, usually at a cafe near the office. This makes them more relaxed and we get to know each other better and more quickly than we would in a more formal setting. They tell me potentially important things – career aspirations etc – that may not otherwise come to light at so early a stage in the relationship.

So far in my new role, however, I’m having to rate people mostly on raw performance – what they’re delivering, and whether they’re meeting targets that were set before I even arrived. That leaves out important human elements such as whether they’re good team players and whether they trust me and believe in my new vision for the team. It’s hard to really know whether someone you’ve never met has faith in you.

To help compensate for my WFH-inflicted problems, I’ve been trying to communicate with everyone as much as possible. When you’re limited to emails, messages, calls and video meetings, I think it’s important to ask more questions of your new colleagues than you normally would. The more questions you ask (without being annoying), the quicker you can prise out the type of information you would typically get during the course of a natural conversation over coffee. My main advice to new managers in these times is to overcommunicate.

When it comes to the people above me at the bank – my boss and his boss – starting my role during the pandemic hasn’t been too bad. I’m used to working remotely with senior stakeholders. At my level at a bank in Asia, your manager is probably based overseas, so your meetings with them are via video even if there’s not a pandemic going on. And as you’re all senior, you don’t meet up very much anyway.

Having grumbled about my first weeks on the job, I think it’s probably more difficult to start a junior banking role when everyone is WFH. I have a secretary who is supporting me as I get used to the new bank. As a junior, you don’t have that one dedicated person you can go to with every stupid question (How do I get training with this? What does this acronym mean?). So I feel for you if you’re young and have a new job during Covid-19.

Hector Peng (not his real name) is a senior banking technology professional.

Photo by Sasha Freemind on Unsplash

Have a confidential story, tip, or comment you’d like to share? Email: smortlock@efinancialcareers.com or Telegram: @simonmortlock

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