The emotional labor of being a leader and manager is multiplying right now. Your entire team is navigating unprecedented waters. Working remotely is hard. Everything from grocery shopping to at-home schooling brings new stress that just keeps compounding.
Yet there's still work to be done. As a leader, how do you support your team while still moving work forward? An extensive guide from First Round Capital offers practical tips leaders can try to practice emotional intelligence during this unprecedented time.
First Round tapped Liz Fosslien, illustrator and co-author of No Hard Feelings, a book about emotions in the workplace. She's also the head of content at Humu, a startup that sends people science-backed nudges to improve their work habits. Fosslien gives leaders a few tips to help teams work through their emotions right now to develop resilience. In the long run, you'll be a stronger team for it.
1. Make all virtual social gatherings optional.
Impromptu after-work drinks and hallway catch-up chats are no longer feasible. To bring the team together, you may plan a casual Zoom get-together. That's a good idea, but make it optional. Members of your team may have a lot going on at home that makes it difficult for them to participate. Or they just might need a break from Zoom.
This is something I tried myself with an after-hours virtual happy hour invite I had recently created. I let everyone know that attending was optional. Though I did want to catch up with these people and check in, I shouldn't assume everyone in the group had the headspace or time for another casual Zoom call.
2. Offer flexibility in the workday, and consider giving time off.
The abrupt shift to remote work and sheltering in place has disrupted day-to-day routines. We're all still adjusting. Fosslien recommends offering employees time during the workweek to help ease this transition. She said her employer started giving half-day Fridays, to give everyone that time to figure out new routines, check in on family, or decompress by taking a few hours to do nothing. No one is permitted to schedule Friday afternoon meetings.
How you approach the time-off question will depend on your organization's resources and policies. As a manager, you likely can't issue a blanket policy for all your direct reports to take half a day off. But you can use your 1:1s with your directs to understand what's going on in their day-to-day, and then try to make accommodations to help them manage. Even something as small as letting employees dip out of work midday to do a big essentials shopping trip will be appreciated.
3. Shave five to 10 minutes off meetings.
With calendars filling up with back-to-back meetings, try to effectively schedule in downtime. People need a mental and physical break in between. Shorten 30-minute meetings to 25 minutes. Hourlong meetings can be 50 minutes.
This tactic may be easier said than done. Many meetings tend to run over, so cutting down the time simply might not work. This could be a good time to get more efficient with how you run meetings. To start, cull down guest lists to only necessary attendees, set a clear agenda, and assign a designated note-taker to document takeaways and action items.
4. Encourage calendar blocking.
Another way to prevent meetings from taking over your day is to block out time for yourself. Encourage your direct reports to schedule pockets of time for deep work or unstructured time to catch up on emails. Fosslien advises to model good behavior by proactively putting chunks of time on your own calendar and encourage your direct reports to do the same.
This can work, as long as you're blocking out reasonable amounts of time -- an hour or two at most. Your colleagues likely still do need to schedule time to talk with you. If someone sees a six-hour block on your calendar every single day, they're not likely to honor it.
5. Don't overlook your own emotions.
Supporting your team's emotions is emotionally draining in itself. Remember to take care of yourself. One way to work through this is to reach out to other managers and leaders. Fosslien has a group of friends who have similar roles, saying they "had a half-hour sync just to talk about how to work through shared challenges, and that felt really cathartic."
If you have the luxury of extra time right now, consider dialing up self-care practices like exercise, meditation, and getting enough sleep. If time is limited, small bite-size strategies have also proved effective in improving your well-being. Keeping a gratitude journal takes just five minutes a day and can lead to improved sleep and positive behavioral change.
6. Get comfortable with communicating too much.
Lastly, Fosslien encourages leaders to overcommunicate more than they feel comfortable with. Send more update emails, check in with your direct reports more frequently, create more (optional) Slack channels for people to connect. Humu has an #unfun channel, where people can share what's going on with their families or what they're dealing with emotionally. There's no such thing as communicating too much during a crisis.