Blog entry by Seán Lea
Leading during the coronavirus crisis
These are likely the most unprecedented and uncertain times the vast majority of us will have faced. Workers and leaders alike are having to get to grips with profound changes to working methods and the emotional strain of the current crisis. For the long-term good of everyone, on both a personal and an organisational level, it is crucial that leaders are acting in sustainably, with the long-term in mind, supporting both the wellbeing and operational needs of their team members.
Here are a few tips and techniques we consider to be invaluable for the crisis:
1. Appreciate and understand the difficulties everyone is experiencing
These are some of the most uncertain and unpredictable times many of us will have faced. Team members will be worried – about their health, their jobs, and their futures – and it is important to display empathy and understand that priorities will change, and perhaps work will not be as fluid and successful as it would during the best of times. Don’t try to force people to live up to some unrealistic standards, support them and help them to manage both their life and their tasks successfully.
2. Lead by example and set the tone
During this uncertainty, people will be looking to a leadership figure to drive progress forward, have the answers, and remove any doubt hanging in the air about how to act. Make sure that this leadership figure is you. Be positive, still seek new opportunities to develop yourself and team members and embed new working practices through yourself as an example.
3. Emphasise communication, though make sure to listen too
Many of us take for granted the ease and regularity through which we communicate with one another when we are in the office together. Even if our in-person meetings are only on an occasional basis, the information which is conveyed through such interactions is much more efficient and simpler than virtually. However, virtual leadership can be just as effective – we merely need to adapt to the new approach. Regular communication is vital – schedule calls often, video if possible, keep emailing all of your team, and make sure they also stay in touch with one another. As a leader, you again have to set the example by being digitally vocal.
However, this does not mean you should neglect listening. Communication goes two ways. Make sure you take the time to listen fully to your team members’ concerns; look between the lines and see if there is any support you can offer them, even if they do not distinctly mention they need it.
4. Offer support for those affected and those not used to working from home
As mentioned, team members will be struggling with a number of the adjustments they are having to make to their lives currently or may even have been affected directly by the pandemic. Offer to support individuals on both an emotional level, and on an organisational level. Ensure that their welfare is paramount, and also work with them to reprioritise or reallocate tasks based on adjustments to strategy, working patterns and their needs. Direct them towards any company policies or learning resources regarding welfare and resilience that may help them consolidate during this crisis.
5. Re-prioritise your objectives and tasks
With the uncertainty surrounding business, projects and operations currently, it will be necessary to do a full audit of activities within your team – your current tasks and objectives – and how practical or necessary they are in the current working conditions. Clients may have put work on hold, or your organisation may have paused project itself, you may be down on workforce due to furloughing or illness, people will be working more flexible or altered working hours; there are a number of things which will impact on this. Keep the overall team and organisational strategy or vision in mind; however, make sure to be realistic, and again, see that your team’s welfare is being supported during this unprecedented time – do not overburden them with unnecessary or impossible tasks.
6. Encourage and support flexibility where you can
These are not normal circumstances. People no longer have their normal commute, or the feelings of clocking in at 9am and checking out at 5pm to head home for their dinner. Working hours will vary – people have their office on hand in their house and will find themselves naturally being flexible with their operational hours. Understand and support this, and plan around it. Meetings will likely be at fixed times, but that doesn’t mean the working in between has to be. However, make sure that your team members are switching off in between. When working from home, is easy for people to feel like they need to be at the computer all the time. Now especially it is crucial that everyone is taking time to switch off and relax – wellbeing is key over the long-term.
7. Fully appreciate the contributions your team are making
Gratitude and appreciation can go a long way. Without the normality of an office and direct feedback from colleagues, clients or managers, people may feel like their productivity is down or their work is not up to standard. We cannot realistically expect everyone to maintain the same progress they would without these interruptions, and with the comforts of regular, everyday life; however, that does not mean as a leader we should stop showing our gratitude and appreciation for the work that is being done. Make sure to thank team members and show that you have received their work and that you are grateful for it – this can go a long way to maintaining morale, motivation, and in turn, increasing productivity as people settle into new working methods.
These are just some of the ways that we believe leaders can support both their team members and the organisation during this unprecedented crisis. The likelihood is that this necessity to find new ways of working will lead to significant long-term changes to how we work – more flexible hours, locations, remaining virtual. Make sure you make the most of the options available to you, maintain your team’s morale and wellbeing, and get an idea of things you are doing which may be useful in the future.