In times of hardship or uncertainty, employees need to feel confident that their leaders have the skills and abilities needed to rise to the challenge. Leading during a pandemic such as COVID-19 is difficult, to say the least. Day-to-day processes change, employees feel uncertain about the future, and external factors bring on new obstacles with little warning. As leaders, we owe it to our employees to weather the storm with tact and adaptability.
Strong communication is the most important step in making a positive impact on your team. With many employees now working remotely, leading during a pandemic can seem more convoluted than ever. However, the strategy is simple: communicate more than you think you should. Be transparent—don’t hold back important information that could affect your employees. Honest and authentic interactions can bring a much-needed sense of calmness to your employees.
Have a morning and evening update. Even if you don’t have any new information, let them know—don’t leave them wondering. Call your employees just to see how things are going. Or, even better, try communicating face-to-face digitally. Utilize a video conference platform such as Google Hangouts or Zoom for meetings and check-ins! When employees work from home, they lose those small interactions they had in the office—no longer can they make small talk at the coffee station or pop in to an office just to say hi. Employee morale will likely suffer when daily interactions, no matter how small, are absent.
Over-communication is key, but don’t forget the most important step: listening. Make an intentional effort to establish communication as a two-way street. When you listen to your employees, you’ll pick up on their needs and concerns. What you learn will help you understand what kind of information needs to be communicated more frequently.
Adaptability is another fundamental factor in successfully leading during a pandemic. Inevitably, change will happen rapidly and unexpectedly during times of crisis, so adaptability is vital to a business’s success. Employees may feel uneasy about the future, so lead by example—stay calm and focus on the end goal in times of change.
To maintain the effectiveness of processes and employees during a pandemic, focus on what can be improved now. Although a long-term perspective is beneficial in some ways, keeping an eye on the “right now” will help you better manage the change. Set clear expectations on roles, goals, and procedures—but keep things flexible. Revisit expectations daily, if needed, in order to pivot based on new information.
Rapid change requires leaders to focus on short-term challenges, but there also needs to be a plan for managing the change after the crisis. This requires a long-term perspective. Leading during a pandemic may involve quick decisions and hectic days, but remember to keep a gauge on how the change is affecting the business and its employees over time.
Measuring the response to change will help you in two ways: First, you will be better prepared when the crisis is over, allowing for a seamless transition to previous business norms. Second, you can use the information to assess how the crisis was handled. Identifying the strengths and weaknesses will give you the courage to tackle the next crisis with better knowledge in your back pocket.
In addition, get a bird’s eye view as frequently as possible. You may be tempted to fix every micro-problem you see, but take a step back and look at things from a larger scale. Glancing further down the road than where you currently are allows you to identify potential road blocks and approaching challenges.
Lastly, relax. Leading during a pandemic will become increasingly difficult if you aren’t getting enough sleep and worry excessively. In addition, how you react doesn’t just affect you, it affects your employees as well. If you panic, your employees will also panic. Stay calm and face the challenges with tact. Remember—this isn’t the first crisis the world has experienced. History tells us that these things don’t last forever and things will get better.
Managing unexpected change can be a daunting task, but if you do it right, you can come out better and stronger on the other side. Over-communicate and stay adaptable—your employees will appreciate it. Focus on short-term improvements and adjustments that make things easier, but keep an eye out for roadblocks and approaching challenges. Take things one day at a time—relax. Excessive worrying can be fruitless after it’s all said and done. Lastly, and most importantly, make a positive impact and lead your team well.