Around the world, 2020 is going to be remembered as extraordinarily difficult. The coronavirus pandemic has passed the six-month mark, and impacted millions around the world. Sadly, it’s not only not over, it’s very possibly going to have another wave this autumn. With a vaccine months away, at best, we have to learn to live with COVID-19 as a new way of life, not an event to get past. In our work lives, that affects a lot of how we do things. Managing people during coronavirus, for example, is now largely done remotely. And we need to do things differently to make that work for everyone.
Make a sustainable plan for managing people during coronavirus
Come up with more creative solutions. A good leader should always avoid binary solutions. Most problems have layers of issues, and most solutions have a variety of permutations. Right now, in particular, we are all looking at new ways of doing things. We all have to be more flexible, more patient, more empathetic right now. Many companies have avoided layoffs by scaling people back to 80%, or even 60% of their salary. That’s not ideal for anyone, obviously, but it’s better than a one-or-the-other approach of retain or make redundant. It’s so important right now to not let fatigue and emotion direct us towards whatever is most expedient.
Clarify goals. Many goals have shifted or been replaced in the era of coronavirus. It’s important in a time of such uncertainty and stress, that managers clearly communicate what is a priority at this time. Whether it’s lowering sales targets or adjusting hiring goals, don’t assume that your team knows that just because things aren’t normal, they aren’t being held to the same standard. And be precise. Avoid saying things like “we’ll keep in mind how the pandemic might impact performance”. Be explicit – “we’re revising our goal to 70% of the original numbers laid out in Q1.”
Encourage feedback. Be especially mindful of soliciting feedback from team members. Some people may be afraid to complain because “everyone is going through something right now”. That’s probably true, but it doesn’t mean that people don’t need to be heard. In particular be sure that your team feels comfortable with new expectations, can speak up about changes that are difficult or not working, and even let them just vent when necessary. One of the many challenges of working remotely is lack of contact with other colleagues and the traditional support we provide each other. We can’t care for each other as naturally as before. Whereas you might have noticed someone looking particularly stressed when you passed them in the hallway, now managing people during coronavirus means you have to decode online workspace messages to detect emotion. There are more and more resources for employees during COVID available these days; take advantage of them.
Managing people during coronavirus also means taking special care of yourself
Lastly, but importantly, be aware of your own mental health needs right now too, especially as a manager. It’s perhaps harder than ever to be a manager, in part for all the reasons listed above. Managing people during coronavirus is clearly going to be at least a medium-term reality. It’s crisis management, on an ongoing basis. Recognise your own stress as well during this time. You will most likely have to manage employee needs that you never have before. Your team might be self-quarantining because they are high risk, they might be home schooling while working, they may be operating out of a makeshift home office. Their stress can become your stress. Be mindful of the extraordinary pressures you are experiencing, managing under circumstances that no one has ever before. We are making up the rules as we go. As someone once said, “Try to remember that everyone is doing the best that they can. Including you.”
Robert Kovach is the Director of Leader Success for Cisco’s Leadership and Team Intelligence Practice Area. He has been an advisor to leadership teams of Fortune 500, FTSE 100 and FTSE Global 500 companies on driving business strategy through executive leadership effectiveness and organizational agility. The opinions expressed in this blog are his own and not those of Cisco. Contact him for speaking enquiries.