“Nobody told me there’d be days like these
Strange days indeed”
– John Lennon
The COVID-19 pandemic has business owners changing how they do almost everything; there has been much discussion focused on how to adapt your business to meet your client needs while staying safe. One topic getting less attention is how this sudden change will impact your team’s morale, your company culture and your employees’ mindset. I would argue that now it is even more important to focus on your culture and your employees because together you will get through this. Your team will look to leadership for reassurance, empathy, and guidance. There are five key concepts to consider:
Keep Your Culture In Focus
In times of crisis, it helps to embrace your culture to stay focused and keep your team aligned. It’s important to deliver messages focusing on your mission statement and company‘s values. Even though your team may be dispersed, be intentional about keeping the special things about your company alive. You may need to be creative about how that is done. Can your team participate in an online charity event? How can you still celebrate birthdays and work anniversaries? Work with your team and determine what’s important to them. These little things will help calm anxiety and feelings of isolation.
Embrace the Change
Ensure your people have the tools and training they need to be successful in this new dynamic. Expect and support a period of adjustment. Practice empathy and patience. Share tips and enlist your team for ideas on how to improve the new normal work environment. Relax policies and adjust guidelines. Trust your team to get the work done and don’t micromanage; focus on results. Encourage video conferences, even if it is uncomfortable for you. When issues arise, solve them quickly and remember to keep a sense of humor. We are all in this together, so maintain a sense of teamwork.
Set Clear Expectations
Don’t assume everyone is a mind reader. Be clear about what you want your employees to know. Managers need to tell their team how and when they can be reached. Set up a protocol with your team to help filter information requests (do calls and texts need a quick response while emails can wait until the end of the day?). Establish remote work policies and be sure to include flexibility for your team. Understand that they may be trying to juggle their work responsibilities, childcare or home-schooling issues, financial uncertainty and general anxiety. Let them know where they can get help if needed. Acknowledge there is stress and difficulty, but be the cheerleader, let them know they can do it.
Increase Interactions. People are social creatures. The office is filled with opportunities to be social like the coffee machine, the lunch table and the “sharing counter”. Our teams enjoy the informal, day-to day interaction the office provides. It cultivates a sense of belonging and identity, relieves stress, makes us laugh and have fun and helps us feel safe and supported. Our challenge is to maintain that in multiple remote settings. What can that look like for your team? Should you schedule one-on-one check-in calls and allow time before team meetings for social conversation? Maybe it’s a virtual happy hour or lunch time group. Keep your team socially engaged.
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
You will not be able to over-communicate during a crisis. Have a message and make it a positive one – “We are winners and we will come out on top.” Be open, honest, transparent and consistent. Appreciate everyone’s efforts and provide plenty of recognition. Be creative about your communication techniques. A daily video message to your whole team helps keep you visible. Consider having a video conference where spouses are included. Use daily emails or texts to provide a regular stream of news and updates to employees. Most importantly make sure you and your managers are having regular check-ins with your teams.
Some companies spend months establishing work at home programs. We don’t have that time. Because we are doing this so quickly, we know it won’t be perfect and so we can focus on making it work as part of team.