Many organizations around the country have completed their first week or two of transitioning to working remotely. No one knows exactly how long this stay-at-home mandate will last or the extent of the economic or mental health impact. With no clear end in sight, we must prepare for the long haul. Telecommuting 100% of the time for 100% of staff may be the new normal for US businesses and firms for several months.
However, there is a Bright Spot for business leaders during the COVID-19 stay-at-home mandate. This crisis provides leaders with an extraordinary opportunity to demonstrate their gratitude, empathy and commitment to their employees at this pivotal time. My suggestion to business leaders is take this unique opportunity to shine and focus on being optimistic, human, and realistic.
Just like Presidents in war time, business leaders are faced with the challenge of setting the tone and sustaining employee morale and engagement. During this crisis-related remote working, it’s essential that business leaders increase their communication to their teams to reassure them and ensure that no one is left feeling isolated or overwhelmed. The more vocal and positive the leader, the less anxious the employees will be. Business leaders must continuously send a message of optimism and hopefulness. Employees will need to sense a “We’re in this together” tone and know that their leaders are there to support them during the crisis.
It’s equally important for business leaders to demonstrate their humanity. Undoubtedly, leaders are feeling just as much stress, fear and anxiety as everyone else. It’s critically important for leaders to walk the delicate balance of being positive while also demonstrating that they too are human and they have the same stresses and challenges. Take the time to ask your team members how they are doing personally and share a humorous story about your family life. Explain that babies crying and dogs barking during calls are to be expected. Clearly communicate your schedule of availability and encourage your team to do the same. And, finally, understand that some employees may need remote working training, technology stipends or mental health resources to successfully complete their responsibilities at home.
The reality isthat business leaders will need to temporarily redefine their expectations. While in normal times you may expect to receive immediate responses from your team members, you may now need to be more realistic about deadlines, clarify expectations and prioritize workflow. It’s important to understand that some employees may only be able to work for a few hours at a time while their children are occupied or their babies are sleeping. Understand that some may need to take sick leave if they become ill or to care for sick family members. It’s very important to understand that this is not the same as everyday telecommuting where an employee is expected to perform at the same level as they would in the office. The reality is that with all the obstacles we are facing right now — including school, care center, church, restaurant and gym closures coupled with increased stress, anxiety and illness — this crisis-related telecommuting will look very different.
One day we will go back to business as usual and your employees will remember how they were treated. How do you want to be remembered as a leader? You now have the unique opportunity to increase loyalty…or lose it.