The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has forced all of us to experiment with the way we work and live. Some CHROs I spoke to said that only 1-2% of their employees used to work from home earlier permanently, and perhaps 30-40% would occasionally work from home. Within a couple of weeks, they had to shift to 95-100% of all employees working remotely. This is a massive experiment that every organization is conducting right now.
We will move back to some form of ‘normalcy,’ but it is clear that there will not be a reversal to the way of working before the lockdown. Technology in the form of high-speed broadband, video-calling and conference tools and other productivity applications have facilitated this remote working, allowing most of us to continue to meet our professional commitments. It has forced us to rethink norms of communication, collaboration and productivity.
Challenging as it is, I believe that this crisis is an opportunity for us to reinforce and reveal leadership traits. Here are five principles that might come in handy.
People turn to leaders to find a sense of direction in times of panic. Your ability to take a broader view of the challenges and opportunities, can, therefore, provide reassurance to anxious team members. Use a mix of group and personal conversations to stay in touch, formally and informally. Practice management by walking around virtually – don’t wait for formal calls to be set up. Even in normal times, you need to communicate a lot; in a crisis, dial it up even more.
2. Close the Loop
Most leaders believe that communication is about transmitting information, but what use is that if you do not close the loop. Find ways to check if the team has understood what you had in mind. Use the technique of playback: ask them to say in their own words what they heard from you. It is also useful to conduct regular ‘quizzes’ to ensure that there is a recall of your communication. Closing the loop is also finding opportunities to listen to other points of view or new ideas that may be worth pursuing.
3. Energize your Team
While we practice social distancing, all of us are thirsting for social and emotional connections. Adapt to the restrictions in creative ways – it could be a super-hero costume party or a bring your own coffee (or chai/chocolate/cake/champagne… BYOC) session or an online game that involves your extended team, and maybe, even their families. These events or games can be designed to reinforce your strategic priorities or organization values and culture and delivered virtually.
4. Recognize the Stress
We are in uncharted waters. Not everyone thrives when faced with challenges. The uncertainty, coupled with a lack of physical connection with others, has resulted in many employees feeling isolated and disengaged. Recognize that some of your team members may be stressed, over-worked, or confused. Give them the time, tools, and encouragement to find a new rhythm, even if it means a reduction in productivity. Don’t let your energy and eagerness force some to go into a shell.
5. Learn for the Future
This unprecedented lockdown will change work practices in many organizations. Experiment with new tools, practices, and models. A CEO told me that he has shut his office that housed a few hundred software developers; he intends to move to a permanent remote work model, with an occasional team meeting at a banquet hall. What aspects of this lockdown would you like to make permanent? This can be extended to your suppliers, partners, and customers too.
Leadership is challenging at the best of times. And now, more so than ever, leaders must exhibit the tenacity and learning mindset that is critical for uncertainty. Use this lockdown to build resilience in your team, and prepare for the new normal that is coming.
Note: The author of this article is Srinivasa Addepalli is the Founder & CEO of GlobalGyan, an ed-tech firm that helps students and managers build their careers. Views expressed in this article are his own.