As a sensible business manager, you’re currently channelling your energy to building a viable contingency plan to guide the company through the COVID-19 crisis.

Conversely, any sensible employee is currently disturbingly distracted by the possibility that their future with your company is in jeopardy. Both you and your team can be forgiven for plainly placing your own survival above all else – but that’s going to have to change for your business to succeed, and you’re going to have to be the bigger man (or woman, of course). 
For unprecedented pandemonium such as this, no data from 2008 or 2001 or even 1929 can be conscripted as a guide. All you have to rely on is fierce, courageous leadership. It can be tempting to place your Big Business problems above the level of your team, but you’re going to need everyone on board to successfully navigate this period. Remember, your company is bigger than you. While it may not seem the most urgent right now, managing and motivating your team is the most important issue for the future of your business. 
The trick is to align everyone’s self-interest into one collective goal and help them identify with your concerns, while you identify with theirs. This can be even harder to pull off when working remotely, so here are some tips to help you adapt your management style to the corona restrictions to display strong leadership. 

Communication. Communication. Communication.

1. Communication. Communication. Communication.

Put yourself in the shoes of your employee right now. They’ve got a mortgage or rent, perhaps a sick parent and the kids are at home. The most important thing running through their head is the security of their employment. They know that you’re being pushed against the wall, but it’s not their job to put themselves in your shoes.

While working from a distance, they’re hanging on to every episode of communication they have with you, whether by email, phone or their aunt’s friend who saw you “worryingly smile” while getting your morning coffee. If they’re millennials, they’re gossiping about you in the Whatsapp group. Even though they’re potentially competing against each other for a spot on a shrinking team, they’re teaming up together because they’re seeking comfort, not rationale. 

The only way to calm the nerves and steady the ship is to communicate with your team. You’re not sitting in the same room, but that doesn’t mean there’s space for an elephant. You should address the most pressing issue head-on, and offer the team as much peace-of-mind as you responsibly can. 

If you have the luxury of being optimistic, you should be. If your business has been hit hard, you can still show positive intent and integrity in your response. Look your employees in the eye (on a video call) and say something to the effect of: 

“Times may be tough, but you are a valued member of the team, and my number one priority is pushing through this with you on board. Whatever the case, I promise to communicate with you honestly and expect nothing less from you in return.”

2. Get Small Wins on the Board

In modern first-aid courses, other than CPR and opening airways, a crucial element of the curriculum is dealing with a patient in a state of emotional shock. The main method of bringing the patient back to being a cognizant decision-maker is by requesting that they perform easy tasks to record achievements. Simple request such as “Can you hold my water bottle?” or “Tie your shoelaces”, followed by positive re-enforcement. 

While your employees (hopefully) aren’t in a medical state of shock, the same concept applies for crisis management. Return to the basics and help your team accomplish small wins to build momentum and encourage positive intent. It will help alleviate stress and return their focus to the task ahead.

Get Small Wins on the Board
Emulate the Water Cooler

3. Emulate the Water Cooler

Don’t lose touch of the social benefits of the workplace. You may be motivated by the success of the business, living from metric to metric – that’s okay. But your workers value the morning smiles, the precious lunch-breaks, the workplace banter and the collective countdown to Friday afternoon drinks. 

Help facilitate this community while working remotely, by assigning time to all get on a conference call and talk about non-work related topics. In our company, as everyone is always remote, we have a Monday morning coffee break to talk about our weekends. Be present during these conversations and show that you are emotionally invested in your employees, not just financially. This can provide comfort and defeat anxiety, as well as lessen the loneliness of isolation.

4. Be a Port of Call

Your employees are bound to experience personal challenges over the next few months, and a strong leader is a first port of call. A weak leader, alternatively, is never exposed to the suffering as they are impersonal, feared or deemed not to care. 

The challenge of working remotely, not just during the COVID-19 isolation, is developing strong relationships with employees in which they feel comfortable talking about insecurities. While it is important to constantly remind your team that you’re always available for a chat, the best way to encourage this is to ask questions and show that you care. Set up a weekly meeting with each member of your team, where the first 10 minutes is dedicated solely to a ‘personal catch-up’. 

While working remotely, maintaining company loyalty and a support mechanism is crucial to motivating your staff to continue to work hard during these times.

Be a Port of Call
Communication. Communication. Communication.

5. DON’T Walk on Eggshells

Giving face-to-face negative feedback is tough work for any employer, so criticism while working remotely – with a foreboding economic crisis – is a real land-mine. 

However, it is crucial for businesses to have honest evaluations and feedback loops at all times to ensure quality control. Don’t fall into the trap of walking on eggshells because you’re nervous about the effect of your negative feedback. It won’t serve you or your employee, as let’s face it – sometimes the stick is more effective than the carrot.

After working with Filipinos for over a year, I have learned of the art of giving feedback to extremely non-confrontational team members at the best of times. Here are 3 key takeaways: 

  • It’s all about managing expectations early. Create a project brief in which you outline a number of crucial factors, such as deadlines, requirements and deliverables. If you didn’t set expectations properly, hold yourself accountable. If they didn’t meet your standards, it will all be documented.
  • Don’t give negative feedback until you have a planned a practical follow-up task to give them an opportunity to improve. 
  • Negative feedback should not be emotional or personal, rather constructive and reasonable. Try to help your employer recognise your point of view, and avoid escalating the feedback into a conflict. 

MultiplyMii will be releasing daily content to help your business thrive during the COVID-19 working regulations.

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