As more businesses are put on social restriction to curb the spread of the virus, many executives are coming up with creative ways for their companies to remotely stay connected and productive, while minimizing the stress and anxiety of their workforce.
To support your people in a time of fear and uncertainty and keep their hearts and minds engaged in their work, leaders must act with both fortitude and heart. Here are four otherwise counterintuitive habits to put into action right now.
1. Give employees flexibility
Now that circumstances call us to be at home with our families while we work, encourage your people, first and foremost, to make their loved ones a top priority. Encourage parents to spend enough time with their children; advocate on their behalf for a healthy work-life blend so that they are getting the hours they need to balance their family priorities. Doing so will help them recharge and reengage their work with more energy and focus.
2. Keep your employees' state of mind at the forefront of meetings
Things can shift daily for your employees in a time of crisis. When conducting your virtual check-ins and meetings, don't start with business as usual. Give each person permission and the freedom to air things out. Ask each one to check in on their personal lives first. Two simple questions can be used to feel the temperature of your team members:
- What's your current situation, and how are you feeling about it?
- What are you currently doing to sustain yourself? What do you need? What else can we do for each other?
"Right now, our survival emotions are out on display. As leaders, we must be able to meet people where they are and be willing to show compassionate understanding as employees figure out how to navigate these uncharted territories," says Nichole Kelly, VP Marketing at Windward Consulting.
Kelly stresses the importance of mental health services being offered to employees and tools like breathing exercises and meditations being shared online. "It isn't enough to pass along a phone number -- leaders must show compassion by giving permission to feel emotions such as fear, anxiety, frustration, anger, and hopelessness in times like these. Together, we must shift how we think, how we communicate, and how we lead," explains Kelly.
Set the stage for your business and team meetings by encouraging people to embrace the moment, to be with their emotions. It's critically important now more than ever for team members to stay emotionally engaged and not disconnect from teammates and coworkers. So, allow your people to be present with their feelings in the moment.
3. Keep employees virtually connected and engaged.
Replicate in a virtual environment whatever work and social activities you normally perform in person. For example, set up weekly virtual town hall video meetings to keep people informed. Dr. Hossein Rahnama, founder and CEO of Flybits has launched "virtual lunches" to ensure the nuances of informal office interactions are not lost, he says, particularly for those who shared the same offices prior to Covid-19.
Many employees may be experiencing unfamiliar distractions as they transition and adapt to an entirely virtual workplace for the first time. For Robert Johnson, CEO & Co-founder at TeamSupport, it means finding the communication methods that best work for his team. This could be "anything from setting up a recurring quick video chat with your entire team each morning to scheduling a short 'coffee chat' with an important team member," shares Johnson. "Tactics like these can build rapport, strengthen trust, and help employees across the entire company feel connected while social distancing."
What about engaging in social activities after hours? With restaurants open for take-out only, host a virtual happy hour. As reported in The New York Times, liquor-brand owner Jackie Summers held his first virtual cocktail hour for his friends, many of whom are suddenly out of work, to give them a much-needed outlet to socialize.
Fifteen people attended the event and the next day over 100 participants logged in. He now plans on hosting virtual happy hours regularly until the crisis is over.
4. Give employees a voice on business matters
During times of high stress and anxiety, don't be a lone ranger with your decision-making or reserve those tough calls to be handled only by the C-suite. Major decisions on the horizon should be introduced to other team members with varying perspectives.
This means giving your valued employees a voice to speak up and take action. Regularly tap into your creative and strategic thinkers and hear different approaches to problems so that better and faster decisions are made.
Take the advice of Paul Pellman, CEO of Kazoo: "What we're seeing now is employees jumping on the opportunity to speak up about processes like flexible work-from-home policies that can better their entire company in the wake of this outbreak," he says. "In turn, when employees know they have a voice and are valued by their employers, they feel better connected with each other, with leadership and company values."