The Coronavirus Pandemic has forced the world to face a vast and varied array of challenges. The primary concern, of course, has been to the physical health of the population, with well over 400,000 fatalities recorded as a result of the outbreak.
There has been huge pressure placed on healthcare systems, while isolation and distancing measures mean social contact has been greatly reduced. People across the planet have been unable to see or visit their loved ones in person and, combined with long periods of staying within the confines of the home, mental wellbeing has been impacted.
There is a significant financial element to the situation, too. For example, the UK economy is set to suffer some of the worst damage, with many business closing temporarily, some shutting down altogether and many people facing the prospect of redundancy or being placed on furlough.
In these challenging times for business, a great responsibility is being placed on company leaders to stand firm and navigate a path through the crisis. But how can they do that, and what are some of the lessons they can learn off the back of the outbreak?
Forging a Sense of Community
Now more than ever, it’s important for leaders to show solidarity with their teams and those working under their management. It’s easy to trot out platitudes such as ‘We’re all in the same boat’, but the truth is actually quite different. We’re all in the same ocean, perhaps, but each of us is in a very different boat.
Jean M Stephens, Chief Executive Officer of RSM Global, underlines this point: “It’s easy to say, ‘We are all in this together’, but the truth is that some members of your team are facing much bigger challenges than the rest. These challenges can add pressure to an already stressful situation, and that is why it’s important for managers to get a sense of which colleagues may require a bit more flexibility.”
Leaders need to be mindful that their personal situation may vary from that of their employees, and therefore finding that common ground, creating a strong team spirit and offering an unwavering support network are critical objectives.
A huge part of achieving those aims is being able to connect with others on a basic human level, and shifting the focus of the conversation away from work. Leaders should be taking more of an interest in their colleagues’ personal lives, and the benefits of practicing empathy can be significant for all parties.
Being Accessible and Accommodating
With the vast majority of teams working remotely, it’s crucial that managers are seen to be available to discuss any issues that may crop up. Video calling apps such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams are useful functions in this regard, and the widespread changes across society mean leaders need to be prepared to allow greater flexibility in terms of an individual’s working conditions.
Stephens adds: “The classic nine-to-five schedule may not work for a team member who is caring for a sick grandparent, homeschooling two kids, and trying to find time to walk the dogs in the morning. Scheduling flexibility can give them the breathing room they need to ensure that their home life is in order while also finding time to accomplish their work.”
Rewarding Hard Work
This is something all leaders should be doing under any circumstances, in order to motivate and incentivise their workforce. In these difficult financial times, it may not be possible to reward performance with remuneration, but leaders can take the time to lavish praise on high achievers and make sure their efforts are being noted by those higher up the command chain.
“In a modern work environment, we tend to judge performance based on what it looks like people are doing,” says Stephens. “It’s a behavioural metric. In a remote system, it’s helpful for us to downplay this type of judgement and focus more on output- or task-related measures. Research has shown us that when objective criteria like goals and measurable targets are used, employee morale goes up.”
The Coronavirus pandemic has certainly posed a wide range of difficult challenges – for businesses and for society as a whole – but it has also taught some key lessons that should be heeded well into the future.