Having listened in on several conference calls over the last couple of weeks with leaders wrestling with the challenge of keeping their business alive and their employees engaged I’ve learned a lot. I’ve learned of the pragmatic, practical things that really seem to be making a difference to employees.
Communicate, comunicate, communicate
I cannot emphasise enough how important it is to keep talking and listening to your colleagues. There are two dimensions to this. The first is the medium and the second the message. Use video wherever you can, whether that be video calls that the workforce can join to listen to you, or one-to-one sessions with members of your team. A face to face interaction is so much more powerful than a voice call. Other tools such as What’s app groups work well to maintain some form of interaction. Create different groups for different purposes otherwise a group can easily become overwhelmed by too many messages and any single thread becomes impossible to follow.
Secondly, broaden the content of the communications to go beyond the transactional elements of work. Now is the time to be communicating things that will help people survive these difficult times. It might be useful information on health, well being or guidance as to where to go for information from authorities. Start a call or virtual meeting with a ‘personal update” Before you get into the business agenda, consider having a quick go-round for people to update on themselves and their world (how’s the family, how is homeschooling working, funny stuff that’s happened, things you’ve seen whilst out on a walk (if authorities allow you to do this). Have a cup of coffee – nipping out to grab a coffee with someone has become part of business life (whether it’s a colleague or a client). Okay you can’t sit with them, but you can still just chat. So grab a cup of coffee and spend fifteen minutes online with them…..have that same coffee shop conversation.
It might not sound like a good time for training, but there’s a surprising amount you can do. With the extra time people will have working from home some of it can be dedicated to virtual development sessions. Ask people who are considered experts on their topics within the business to run 60-90 minute seminars on a particular topic. This might be on how to use a specific piece of software, or how specific processes work. Communication tools such as Microsoft Teams and Google Hangouts allow for screen sharing and for the sessions to be recorded for people to re-watch at a later date to work through again at their leisure.
Get the setup right
We’ve already written on the topic of working from home, what’s becoming more and more clear to many is the importance of getting the setup right. The tips outlined in this article remain valid and useful. Looking up people’s nostrils because of poorly placed cameras, or echos and distracting background noise because of poor microphone management are but two examples of where a little bit of guidance can go a long way to making the calls better.
People have the time – so use it
At no time in history will so many people have had so much time on their hands as a function of social distancing measures. This time can be spent worrying about the immediate situation, or you can help people lift their eyes up to consider the future. It’s a great time to get people working on more strategic business questions. With a bit more time to think and reflect, there is an opportunity to generate truly innovative solutions for post the COVID-19 crisis. Remember your suppliers and customers too will also have time on their hands, rope them into the discussions. In doing so you will get a richer range of ideas and also build stronger relationships with them that could prove really useful as we come out of this crisis.
Create some energy
Create some competition between groups – offer a prize for the best ideas / solutions to business challenges or ideas that could help people work more effectively. You can make the focus whatever you want, the value is in driving people to work together and in creating some form of community.
You are a mood generator
As a leader in the business you will set the mood others follow. Start every virtual meeting with a friendly smile, they are infectious. You are not belittling the seriousness of the situation, and you may have no answers for people. In choosing to smile you are simply connecting at a very human level. It will help create a sense of calmness and warmth, things that can really make a difference.
Support each other
The sense of camaraderie from working together to get through this challenging time is really important in helping people cope. Informal support from peers can make a real difference. It doesn’t need to be a specific person with formal training in counselling / mental health, it’s people looking out for each other. It’s not enough to have put in place support systems, if they are going to help, people need to use them.
If a team has been through a particularly hard time either business or personal related, encourage them to de-brief each other. You don’t need to force them to talk about their feelings, it’s enough to allow people the space to chat things through.
Some people may appear too busy to engage in conversations about how they are coping. They may well be ok, but they may also be struggling but unable to open up. These people may benefit from a conversation with someone with training in mental health support who is able to provide them with an experience more conducive to opening up. You don’t need to force people to open up, just to give them the opportunity to prevent them heading into burnout or breakdown.
Generic training on “mental toughness” is unlikely to be effective. If you want to help people be more resilient, the intervention should focus on the challenges they are dealing with and should help people work together to support each other and share learning. If you want to go down the route of providing psychological support make sure it is being done by people with the right qualifications and experience. Amateurs can be more damaging than they are helpful.
Rotate people around
If someone is having to deal with a very challenging aspect of the business that is demanding both emotionally and intellectually, be prepared to give them a break from the work and rotate someone else in to give them some respite. Share the load.