Over the last several weeks most of my coaching conversations have focused on leadership issues related to the current pandemic. Fortunately, many of the companies I work with have not had to lay any employees off, and a number of them are in a financial position to weather the storm. Yet, all the leaders I have spoken with are concerned about employee wellbeing and operational performance in the short term.
Leaders have been spending time on the care and nurturing of their employees who are grappling with a multitude of personal issues. There is the employee who lives alone and is starting to withdraw from social opportunities the company is offering or the working mom who has to balance her work with the needs of her children being schooled at home. Stress and depression are on the rise.
Some of the techniques leaders are employing to help support their employees include: after hour socials via Zoom, SLACK channels for special interest groups such as cooking, art, and exercising, time set aside for “watercooler chats”, virtual mentors, 1-1 Zoom meetings while walking outdoors, and virtual book clubs.
Leaders are also using their EQ to identify people who may be struggling and reaching out individually to them. The goal: determine what additional support they need.
While there is a lot that leaders are doing, one technique I have found that is missing is feedback for leaders. Leaders will readily provide feedback to their team members. Yet, too often leaders don’t get into the routine of asking employees for feedback. When you create a habit of consistently asking employees: “What can I be doing differently that will help you to be more successful?” and then taking action on their advice, you build trust and grow as a leader. And in the current environment, many employees would welcome the opportunity to provide you with feedback.
And finally, companies that have Employee Assistance Programs, are reminding employees that there are resources external to the organization available to them.
Operating your business virtually can be uncomfortable for leaders doing it for the first time. Common concerns I’ve heard are: “Are my employees working on the right things?”, “How will I know if they are going in the wrong direction?”, and “What can I do to help keep them motivated?”
I’ve uncovered some consistent best practices in recent conversations with leaders that help maintain and improve operational performance of employees while working virtually.
- Transparency: Be transparent with your team. This is a balancing act for many leaders. The goal is to give employees information that will build trust but not make employees anxious.
- Video: Communicate using video platforms like Zoom or Skype. Visual communication is much more effective as you can see a person’s reaction and body language. Video also forces people to be engaged in the conversation.
- Rhythms: Have a consistent rhythm to your communications. Daily “standups” are very effective when managed well. One leader shared that he has moved to daily themes of “purpose driven work” Mondays is working on the business, Wednesdays is working in the business, and Fridays are for celebration.
- Celebrate: Celebrate the small wins for the team. Focusing on the team vs individuals is critical when working virtually. Buy them lunch using meal delivery services like Door Dash and Uber Eats. Leverage tools like Poll Everywhere to throw an online party to play interactive trivia games. Send them gift cards that are meaningful to them. Do they have a pet? Then get them a gift card from PetSmart.
- Future: Focus on how your organization will need to adapt and innovate for the new future, post COVID. What will remain operationally and what will change? What will your strategy look like? How will you prepare for future events you have no control over?
This is certainly a challenging time for both leaders and employees and yet there is a resilience I hear in the voices of the leaders. And those who are taking care of their employees while driving performance will come out of this pandemic much stronger.