As the world grapples with an unprecedented health and economic crisis, the “workplace” in its traditional sense has disappeared. Millions of workers across the globe have been ordered to stay and work at home. Leaders managing a newly dispersed workforce face the challenge of keeping their employees engaged and productive. This means sudden and fundamental changes in the way we lead.
Here are some thoughts on engagement and productivity during these uncertain times.
Establish the infrastructure. It may sound basic, but do your people have the right technology to help them stay in the game? Make sure they have the hardware and software required to be productive, including the right video conferencing tools.
Don’t make assumptions. As a leader, you are probably accustomed to working remotely while traveling and managing a far-flung workforce. But your comfort level doesn’t automatically trickle down to your employees. For some, this may be a brand-new ball game. Help them adjust psychologically by providing guidelines on how to set up a work-at-home routine. Have your IT department hold training sessions for online tools such as Microsoft Teams or Zoom, and teach your people best practices for virtual meetings and engagement.
Encourage collaboration. Just because your people aren’t together doesn’t mean they can’t or shouldn’t collaborate. Online collaboration can feel foreign to some, but the right tools and technologies can make it happen. Help employees avoid feeling isolated by encouraging online teamwork while keeping their routines consistent – for example, moving regularly scheduled weekly meetings online.
Communicate frequently. With a remote workforce, there is almost no such thing as overcommunicating. It falls on you as a leader to make sure your employees know what’s happening at the organizational level, with clients, and with the company’s health. Touch base frequently with individuals, teams, and the whole company. Figure out how often you should communicate and how – phone, email, video chat? Establish at least a weekly touchpoint and have your managers do the same with their teams.
Lead with transparency, flexibility and empathy. This is likely to be a time of high anxiety and concern among employees, and here’s where your leadership skills will be truly tested. Be as transparent as possible about how world events may impact your business. Acknowledge that you may not have all the answers. Stretch yourself to be empathetic and flexible as individuals grapple with their own new normals and a new way of working. Make sure all your people feel they have the same amount of access to their managers and leaders as everyone else.
Trust. Accept that not only are your business and workforce disrupted, but people’s lives are also disrupted by school and daycare closings, concern for elderly or sick family members, and restricted movement. It’s time to place your trust in your people that they will get the job done. Working hours may have to be adjusted to accommodate, but work productivity might even go up when you trust your people.
Have some fun. Keep up connections employees used to have in-person by having some online fun. You can have virtual happy hours, coffee breaks, or lunch together. Replace watercooler chats with instant messaging. While respecting the gravity of the situation, encourage people to share some humor or lighthearted content with each other.
Take a glimpse into the future. Consider this: You and your people are learning and accelerating skills we will all need in the workplace of the future. Changes in the way we work were well underway before COVID-19 began to spread. Those changes are just coming faster now. While challenges remain, your workforce is likely to emerge from this with greater agility and better strategic skills for operating in a constantly changing and uncertain world.