When it became apparent that Covid-19 was not just another press story, it was soon clear to many of us that lock down was inevitable. Although many organisations will have had disaster recovery plans in place, the reality of the situation is something that we are all dealing with. IT and comms systems have been quickly put in place to ensure business continuity, but that is only part of the solution. Despite the availability of video conferencing and cloud-based databanks, many employees will simply not be able to work in the same way as before due to family circumstances and the intricacies of work / life integration.
As an organisation, it is imperative that you support all your employees: directly by providing information and resources; and indirectly by helping your leaders to monitor and support the emotional and physical levels of their team members. A combination of support and resources is vital to make a difference and ensure that once this difficult period is over, you have a strong and resilient team to lead your business out of this.
With this forced integration of work and family, your high achievers, ones that are ‘ticked’ as top talent, in the short term may not be able to function and produce output at their past level. For organisations that understand that their employees are one of their most important assets, this is an issue on many levels.
As a leader, think about skills and attributes that top talent often display. Think about their personalities but more importantly, just stop and think about them as individuals. Your biggest current risk is probably not in their ability to perform for the business but is more likely to be the impact that ‘not performing at their usual level’ will have on them personally. Furthermore, whilst being a parent or a carer may require them to tap into other skills and attributes, it is likely that they will have the same level of intensity for their family ‘ethics’ as they do for their work ethics.
All of your team are important, but the reason we cite this group first is that they are probably the less obvious and secondly, those who are maybe more obviously vulnerable are more likely to proactively seek help and support, leaving your top talent trying to fight fires. This is where stress and anxiety levels can rise.
Being an effective leader
Leadership amongst many other things is about caring, understanding, supporting and protecting – a sort of natural and moral duty of care that needs to work in conjunction with the more formal HR duty of care carefully documented in the employee handbook. The main challenge you will face in trying to fulfil this part of your leadership role is likely to be your team letting you help them and doing so before the physical and psychological damage is done.
You may think that your team see you as open, approachable and a good leader – and they probably did in the old norm. But this is a new norm. You may not have changed, but it is very possible that your team are thinking as much about the situation you are in as their own. In addition, the natural and informal opportunities that people are probably most comfortable to use in which to communicate and interact on a more personal level have been removed. No more chats at the coffee machine or water cooler, no more bumping into you in the corridor or just popping up at your desk to ask you a ‘quick question’.
For fear of either feeling or being perceived as weak or being an imposition, people find it extremely hard to ask for help or admit that they are not coping. In the old norm, there will have been times when you will have reached out to help or check in and heard comments like ‘…I didn’t want to bother you’ or ‘I know how busy you are’ etc. Here and now, in this new norm, those thoughts will be festering for longer and be more detrimental than ever unless you are able to start to uncover them and help find solutions. It is important therefore that as leader you reach out, not to check on whether the work has been done, but to see if they are ok. Deadlines will take on a different significance and vitally you need to realise that there are other demands on your employees’ time and you must take that into consideration to avoid increased stress levels.
Authenticity and communication are always key, but now what is more important is how you tap into both, and how, by doing so, you can ensure that you know where your team are on an emotional and physical health level. What worked before may not now work.
A more indirect, subtle and human touch is more likely to get you the information you need to fulfil that all important ‘natural and moral duty of care’ part of your leadership role.
What can you do to open the dialog?
You may not have toddlers climbing the walls or children that don’t want to be taught by you, but members of your team may.
Read an article, mention it, pick something out of it, propose having a look at a resource you are aware of, something the organisation may have in place, a story about some you know that seems to be in a similar situation, etc.
Organise on-line coffee sessions, a Friday night “teams” beer, a morning zoom catch up before the day starts just to see how everyone is coping and their goals for that day. Be prepared if they say “coping with home schooling the children”!
How can you demonstrate that you empathise with the ‘potential’ situation they are in?
Using the above to put yourself in their shoes/or not if you can’t imagine it, talk through what is required work-wise, ask what seems to be like a realistic deadline, build in check points – not to check up but to manage expectations downstream and to factor in unforeseen situations, etc
What can do you reassure them that you are being supported by the business?
Share what the organisation is doing, talk about the culture, make sure you know what is available, talk about it before it is needed, be open about the support you are getting, etc. Share blogs, arrange webinars and look beyond the environs of work to empathise and support.
How can you create a remote environment for informal team conversations?
Set them up so they are reccurring/once a week at different times, make them fun by having a theme, have others take the lead role, have a share the best, worse or funniest thing, don’t let work talk creep in.
What do you/the organisation have in the toolKit that you can sign post to?
Publicise it, check to see what is new, find out what would be helpful to the team, talk to peers in other organisations to find out what they are doing, etc
What are the ways to find out more and keep the 1-2-1 lines of communication open?
Reduce email, use chat to see when a quick call would work, have them call you when it is convenient, keep the calls regular and short unless they what to talk, touch on your own experience, etc.
Overall realise that this new norm and this enforced integrated work /life situation will end at some point. But, make no mistake above it the way you manage and support your team will mean the old norm will not return. Work / life will not be the same again but how successful
Parental Choice is here to help your teams thrive in during the coronavirus outbreak. Our series of webinars includes ‘The New Normal – Work Life Integration’. The session offers advice, tips and strategies to help your employees who are juggling the new normal of work and life. We can offer this as a live session or recorded content for sharing.
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