The global pandemic has left business owners and employees feeling more anxious than ever. This is understandable, as many of us have never experienced a hardship quite as significant as this before.
The virus has impacted all of us. Leaders have exhausted themselves carrying the weight of their company's health and their employee's well-being on their shoulders for months now. Employees, on the other hand, have been perpetually concerned about their job security and financial freedom, all while trying to preserve their physical and mental health at the same time.
Sustaining one's leadership abilities while also trying to keep employees happy and engaged is difficult under normal circumstances, let alone during a global crisis.
Forget the lingering fear and uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, COVID-19 has also completely disrupted the workforce. Remote work, which was once only favored by the tech industry and companies with younger personnel, is now the temporary — or permanent, in some cases — solution for all non-essential businesses.
Some employees will thrive working outside a traditional office space, but others won't. In lieu of the usual face time employees get at a traditional office, mentorship has become even more critical during these times. Leaders are now having to re-imagine what management and communication look like in a remote work environment.
Face time may seem different when your entire team is working from home, but it's just as (if not more) important to carve out moments for more consistent and reliable communication with your team.
The longer an employee goes without seeing you or fellow employees, the more isolated they become. This is problematic because it cripples their ability to be productive. It's up to you to watch out for these red flags and step into course-correct when necessary, but it's also critical that you take a preventative approach from the onset.
Schedule more frequent touch points with your team on video conferencing platforms like Zoom or Skype. These meetings should be more casual, focusing less on work and more on how employees are feeling. Keep them light, even sprinkling in humor when appropriate. Jokes and laughter will help employees connect and take back control of their lives again. These conversations may feel more personal than usual, but there are powerful benefits to forming casual connections with your team members.
'Authenticity' has gained a reputation as being a business buzzword, but it's a real way to connect with your employees. Your team doesn't want cold, authoritative leadership; they want authenticity, candor, and vulnerability.
Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson recently addressed his staff about the global pandemic in a video that got a lot of outside attention. What caused the video to go viral? Sorenson let down his guard in front of his entire company, and they were grateful for the sensitivity and authenticity he put forward.
Delivering somber updates or bad news is never easy, but you should never sugarcoat these conversations with your team. This doesn't protect employees, it just spreads distrust and feelings of unease across your entire operations. Never hesitate to rip the bandaid off. Employees celebrate honesty and reject deception.
The pandemic has uprooted any semblance of normalcy we've had. You're going to see employees respond to this tragedy in different ways.
Keep your finger on the pulse of your employees' well-being. Things aren't business-as-usual, so you can't expect everyone to maintain the same standard of work when everything else has been flipped on its head. Trust your intuition when it comes to leading your employees.
You'll know in your gut when an employee needs to take a day off to recuperate from an overly stressful week. You'll know when a team member will need extra words of encouragement or a small pick-me-up at the end of a difficult work day. If it gets really bad, you should know when extra measures need to be taken, like giving employees extended time off or encouraging them to seek counseling.
But to be intuitive, you must also be empathetic. Leaders who lead with empathy truly know their employees inside and out. This is the kind of attention that becomes all-the-more critical when you can't consistently observe employees in an office setting.
Positivity and hope should come as an extension of transparency. You'll still need to have difficult conversations with your team. You'll still need to hold employees accountable for the job they're doing. Work still needs to get done even in the midst of a pandemic, so you need to strike a balance between keeping the ship afloat and ensuring that those steering the ship are okay. What your employees really need right now is a support system. Be patient with them. Let them know it's okay to feel overwhelmed and encourage them to let their guards down and accept help.
The global pandemic is testing everything we know about leadership, but one thing is true: the leaders that rise to the occasion are the leaders that have employees at the forefront of everything they do. These are the leaders that employees will want to work for post-COVID 19. These are the businesses that will still be around once the dust settles. And these are the employees that will remain loyal to their company even when things are chaotic and uncertain.
Image credit: Thomas de Luze/Unsplash
James F. Kenefick is a New York-based serial entrepreneur, investor, and technology expert. He is currently Managing Partner at Azafran Capital Partners.