Managing people is tough — but managing people as they work from home or in hybrid schedules during a global pandemic, well, that’s another story. Whether you’re a first-time manager or have been leading people for years, COVID has likely pushed you into uncharted territory. On top of overseeing day-to-day workflow, problem-solving, and paying attention to the bottom line and deliverables, there’s another big task on your plate: helping to take care of the human capital on your team when you don’t see them every day.
“It is difficult to know what demands each individual is facing — whether it be navigating health issues, a partner that is a frontline responder, children in need of care, extended family members that are isolated,” Ashley Hardin, Ph.D., a professor of organizational behavior at Washington University in St. Louis, tells Thrive. “Many employees are balancing many roles and enacting those roles simultaneously for the first time.”
And amid all the juggling, workers may struggle to feel seen. Not so much in a physical sense — we have Zoom and other virtual platforms to thank for that — but in the sense of feeling acknowledged, validated, and supported for all they’re doing. Parents, for instance, might be getting up early and staying up late so they can finish their work while also homeschooling or tending to their children’s needs. And employees who struggle with mental health challenges may be managing a heightened degree of depression or anxiety while also making sure not to fall behind on their work responsibilities.
That’s not to say managers aren’t facing the same challenges. They, too, are figuring out how to stay productive in the midst of a pandemic, with the added pressure of leading by example for their people. If you are a manager trying to do it all, remember to be patient with yourself and recognize that a simple but meaningful way to support your team during this time is to help them feel seen. These four strategies will help you do it.
Open your next one-on-one with a personal question rather than a work-related question.
Even something open-ended, like “How are you doing?”, can go a long way in letting someone know you care about their whole-human well-being. This will show your direct reports that you care about their lives outside of work and give them an opportunity to open up (if they choose to). In fact, Hardin’s own research has found that personal knowledge can lead to seeing colleagues as more “humanized” (in other words, seeing them as people — not robots) and help you be more attentive to their needs.
When communicating with your team, be direct about what you know and what you don’t know.
In times of crisis, employees don’t need their leaders to have every answer — but they do need to know they’re listening and sensitive to people’s concerns. Being clear about what you know, how you can help, and in some situations, who might be better equipped to answer their questions will help you keep an open dialogue with your team and make it clear that you aren’t overlooking their concerns.
Check in with each member of your team about what they have going on — in and out of work.
With a remote workforce, it can be much harder to detect the signs of burnout. It’s important to foster a culture in which your direct reports feel safe letting you know when they’re overloaded. “In these times, flexibility and adaptability will be critical in enabling team success,” Hardin says. And keep in mind that what is best for one member of your team might not be ideal for another. “Someone may need to log on and work early in the day, another may find nighttime to be more conducive to productivity. One person may be able to take video conference calls freely and enjoy the connection, while another’s environment may make those impromptu calls an undue burden on those they are sharing a space with,” Hardin adds. Remembering that each member of your team is an individual will help you best adapt to their unique needs.
Schedule a regular virtual touch-base for your team.
“While working from home, people are missing out on the daily banter and informal communication we took for granted at the office,” Cathleen Swody, Ph.D., an organizational psychologist and leadership coach, tells Thrive. “Loneliness and sadness can chip away at employees’ mental health.” A regular dose of connection will help your team stay on top of their tasks and feel in-
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