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Keeping Your Team Together in Tough Times

The coronavirus pandemic has placed extraordinary demands on everyone and the scale of the outbreak coupled with the uncertainty faced has brought unprecedented challenges.

Leading a team in a fast moving and sensitive period like this is unchartered territory for many. It is a time when employee engagement is critical and a team most needs a strong leader to help them weather the storm. Keeping morale high, avoiding loss of focus and productivity, and helping teams stay connected requires a whole new approach.

Practice compassion

When employees are simultaneously managing other challenges and responsibilities at home, compassion is key. Accept that productivity is going to change and focus on what’s actually getting done and the progress people are making. The number of hours people spend online or the time they take for lunch or taking their dog for a walk are not important as measures of success. Outcome and progress are what matters.

Support employee wellbeing

Fear and anxiety are common reactions in stressful situations or when performing out of normal routines. By addressing employee stress early on, you can help to alleviate it and provide support by:

  • Sharing helpful resources to manage stress, such as Headspace, Calm and Mentally Yours

  • Providing access to digital tools that offer sleep assistance

  • Asking what accommodations you can make to alleviate stress

  • Encouraging employees to leverage any wellness programs that your company may offer

Lead by example and encourage your team to take regular breaks from the screen, exercise and get fresh air, eat well and communicate the importance of caring for mental as well as physical health. The news and media can be overwhelming at times, let your team know they can talk to you if that might help.

Keep your team connected

As a manager, your job is to keep your team connected. Communication tools are a simple way to keep everyone engaged. While email and text messages might be a short-term solution, tools like Slack or Microsoft Teams are far better suited for collaboration and communication. When managing a remote team, you’ll want to make sure that you’re bringing the team together properly by ensuring that everybody is using the same platforms, so provide consistency and guidance as to expectations and how things will work.

Daily stand-ups will provide support, alignment and visibility for your team, helping people check-in on what they have accomplished and what they are working on.

Create a virtual “watercooler” space by asking employees to increase their engagement on Slack or Teams. Have employees hold peer 1:1s or virtual coffee breaks to maintain socialisation and interaction.

Set expectations for conference calls by establishing communication norms, such as always having your camera on, staying muted when you’re not talking and rotating meeting facilitators to keep everyone involved and visible.

Have regular 1:1s

To gauge how employees are coping in challenging times, it’s a good idea for managers to conduct regular check-ins to create alignment, set expectations and, most importantly, make employees feel heard and valued. Ask your employees, "How are you doing, and how can I help?"

Create a culture of honesty and transparency

During difficult times, communication – good or bad – plays a huge role in how a team reacts and moves forward. Your instinct might be to shield employees from what's going on with the business and not keep them informed. It's critical to be as open, honest and transparent as you can be.

Communicate what is happening. Employees need to know, and they should hear it from the most senior leader. Openness will build trust.

Never stop learning

Learning is important when navigating challenges and another way for leaders to play a key role. In uncharted waters, every day is a day to learn something new and to grow as a business, as a team and as a workplace. Share the learnings and learn from each other.

Celebrate the successes

When your company is going through difficult times, it can be easy to dwell on the negatives, which will eventually result in low morale across the business. Remember to celebrate large and small wins to keep morale high and to remind your team that their work is valuable.

Reinvigorating your team with positivity will help boost morale during tough times. As a result, you will see more confidence and productivity.

Celebrate everyone who has shown up every day, committed to delivering on the company’s mission and celebrate that you’re doing it together. This way you will help reduce fear and anxiety, create more trust and connection, and help the business thrive when the tough times pass.

Effective leadership through difficult times requires a strong focus on people and a real need to lead with stoicism, compassion and positivity.

Lisa Thomson is the founder of Purpose HR and a WES Ambassador.




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