If the last year has taught us anything, it’s that change is inevitable. And, even if it’s for the best, it can also be painful and uncomfortable.
Your business may have learned or pivoted to meet new demands. Other businesses weren’t as fortunate and were forced to close temporarily or permanently. It’s been stressful to keep up with the fluctuating guidelines — think restaurants and what their capacity can be.
Along the way, your dedicated employees have stuck with you. And, if this has been trying on you, it also has been for them. However, going forward, you can make it easier for them to adapt by doing the following.
1. Have a compelling “why.”
Do you remember when your parents asked you to do something, like clean your room? I guarantee your response was, “Why?”
Now, what your parents said next determined whether or not you would comply. If they proclaimed, “Because I said so!” you probably had a snarky comeback. If you did follow through, you probably did so begrudgingly.
But, what if they explained that your grandparents were coming over. While you still weren’t thrilled about doing chores, at least there was a good reason for doing so. You didn’t want your grandparents to see your filthy bedroom.
The same is true with your employees. When implementing a change, you need to give them a valid reason “why.” For instance, because of COVID, you’ve decided to go remote to comply with the stay-at-home order.
More importantly, you could explain that this is for their health and wellbeing — as well as that of their families. And, even though there are some downsides to remote work, they’ll probably be more productive.
2. Accentuate the positive.
There aren’t too many of us who can accept change. In fact, most of us resist it. There are several reasons for this, such as a lack of control and a fear of the unknown.
To make sure that your employees don’t become engulfed in these negative emotions, help them focus on the positive. For example, discuss the benefits, as opposed to the potential pitfalls. For instance, working remotely means cutting out a commute and having a more flexible schedule.
And, one more thing. If you see your employees, either individually or collectively, doing their best, let them know. It could be as simple as saying, “I know that using this new piece of software hasn’t been easy. But, thanks for continuing to learn how to use it.”
3. Involve, trust, and empower your people.
“Leaders can motivate employees to accelerate change when they cultivate and integrate employees’ ideas,” write Gallup’s Mara Hoogerhuis and Jillian Anderson. “To source these insights, leaders should broaden their internal networks, give employees and managers a voice, and develop employees at all levels.”
“Leaders also need to entrust employees with autonomy,” they add. “Employees need far more than information to guide change locally — they need authority, coaching, and accountability.” Besides, encouraging ownership is a tried and true motivation driver.
“For example, leaders should involve managers and employees who are affected by the change as early as possible and ensure employees understand the importance of their role in the change,” Hoogerhuis and Anderson state.
“Ultimately, leaders can develop employees into agents of change by consistently demonstrating that employees’ ideas and contributions matter.”
They also suggest using analytics to stay ahead of employees’ perceptions and emotions. Why? Because “70% of decision-making is based on emotion and 30% on rational thought.”
“Leaders should use multiple channels to understand employees’ emotions and perspectives, including ongoing dialogue, employee analytics, and feedback mechanisms,” the authors advise. “With in-depth insights, leaders can adjust their strategies, grow employee buy-in and disseminate best practices.”
“For example, through individual conversations with key stakeholders, leaders can glean success strategies from early adopters and early resisters,” add Hoogerhuis and Anderson. “And with qualitative and quantitative data on their people’s change readiness, leaders can discover ways to unify employees behind a change initiative.”
4. Ask, what can you do to make it easier on your team.
I remember when I first got my permit. My dad just handed me the keys to the car and said drive. He didn’t ask if I had any questions or concerns, let alone any pointers.
The same concept is true when it comes to helping your team adapt. You just can’t give them the keys and say “drive” if they’re newbies behind the wheel. They need more direction than that.
When gathering feedback, ask what you can do to make things easier on them. You could do this through a poll, online surveys, one-on-ones, or brainstorm sessions. Apps like Polly, Poll Everywhere, TinyPulse, and Vevox make this much easier by allowing you to collect real-time feedback virtually.
But, why wait? In most cases, you’ll be able to help your team move forward by;
- Being crystal clear on expected performance goals and outcomes. Don’t forget to frequently check-in and solicit feedback.
- Offering training, either virtually or in-person, when introducing new processes or skills.
- Hosting informal events, such as a virtual lunch. Here you can go over a new procedure in a more casual setting. And, your employees can address concerns.
- Utilizing demonstrations, simulations, or hands-on learning.
- Making the most out of collaborations and social networking tools. Using Slack or Yammer lets employees help each other. And, it keeps the lines of communication open to you.
5. Practice decisive adaptability.
“The magnitude of this crisis hit most businesses by surprise, and the situation continues to change weekly and sometimes even daily,” writes Jack McGuinness for Chief Executive. “There has been a great deal of conflicting and incomplete information about how to respond, how to operate, and how to transition back to a new normal. Priorities and interests sometimes clash, and anxieties and emotions have been tested.”
But, this has helped separate the average from the great leaders.
“Rather than engage emotionally, react rashly, or over-analyze great leaders quickly process available information, make tradeoffs and rapidly determine what matters most,” adds McGuinness. “They make decisions with conviction, embrace action and don’t wallow in or punish mistakes.”
Most importantly? “They don’t ever be comfortable; they get ahead of changing circumstances and are ready to adjust course quickly and without remorse,” McGuinness states.
And, this is especially true when navigating through the (hopeful) remainder of the pandemic. While there are definitely many unknowns right now, you can’t afford to sit back and wait. If you haven’t done so yet, it’s time to make some important decisions, such as;
Moving forward during continued COVID.
As of this writing, things seem to be trending in the right direction. The vaccine is here and cases are on the decline. However, some experts fear that this may lead to more relaxed behavior — there are also variant strains to be aware of. As such, for the foreseeable future, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
If practical, allow your team to continue working remotely. If you’re hiring, then interview and onboard virtually as well. And, to limit travel, don’t plan on upcoming business trips.
That’s not to say that you have to cancel all in-person events. For example, let’s say that you have narrowed your search down to five candidates. You conducted the first interview via Zoom or Google Meet, but for the final interview, they come in for a face-to-face.
Until things are under control, limit in-person contact as much as possible.
Managing during continued confinement.
At the same time, it’s been a real struggle managing a remote team. However, the biggest hurdle has been isolation.
To solve this, foster a “connected” culture by promoting clear, open, and frequent communication. Examples include;
- Adding time before a virtual meeting to have everyone recap their weekend or share a win.
- Host a weekly AMA session.
- Encourage virtual water coolers with tools like Donut.
- Create different Slack channels, such as #Pets or #Music, so that your team can discuss non-work-related interests.
- Start a book club, fitness challenge, or after-hours events like a trivia or game night.
- Schedule one-on-ones with individual team members to check0pn on them.
How to get back to the office
Even though you may be reluctant to have an exact date for the office to reopen, start making preparations now. For me, the CDC remains the best source on how businesses can respond to COVID. While this will vary among businesses, here are some suggestions;
- Clean and disinfect the workplace.
- Redesign the office to encourage social distancing, like keeping desks 6-feet apart and staggering shifts.
- Provide your team with hand sanitizer and masks.
- Do not permit large gatherings in common areas.
- Be flexible with remote work, schedules, and sick leave.
6. Be proactive and avoid discouragement.
Again, change can be difficult. And, if you don’t adjust quickly, you’re likely willing to wave the white flag.
To prevent your team from getting discouraged to the point of giving up, consider;
- Encouraging open and free dialogue without repercussions.
- Adjusting their workload and schedules.
- Giving them some sense of normalcy and control.
- Providing feedback, praise, and recognition.
- Actively listening to them and being empathetic about their situation.
- Maintain hope by celebrating small wins, offering words of encouragement, and empowering your employees.
7. Check-in on their mental and physical health.
“Hair loss, disrupted sleeping patterns, unusual sweating,” said Michaela Murray, head of marketing at Hacker Paradise. “These are all symptoms of stress caused by changes to our brains, particularly to our limbic systems — the part of our brains that deals with a fight vs. flight.”
“Given the current context, our limbic systems are in overdrive, and it’s important to know how this biological change is affecting us so that we can better understand our stress levels and stress-related health risks,” added Murray. “It’s so important that organizations educate their employees on this subject so that stress can be self-identified and managed more effectively during this massive transition.”
Additionally, make it a point to ask your employees how they’re doing. You could also cultivate a more positive and productive work environment, like not using fear as a motivating tactic. And, you could provide;
- Subscriptions to apps like Calm or Headspace.
- A standing desk and ergonomic furniture.
- A membership to a gym.
- Provide them with healthy snacks.
- Being more flexible with mental health days.
- Encouraging employees to use their vacation time.