Yet you still have to deliver on projects, train and coach, settle disputes and engage the team.
“We are integrating remote work in an emergency situation and that has emotional duress tied to it,” said Sara Sutton, CEO and founder of the career site FlexJobs.
1. Reassess priorities and offer clear direction
Nothing is business as usual anymore. “Ask your higher-ups what the top priorities are now,” Sutton said.
That way you can help your team figure out where they should direct their energies. The last thing they need is to be working in isolation and wondering, “Is this what they want?”
Offering your team clarity of purpose also helps with productivity and profits.
“Especially in recessionary times, employees do best when leaders set clear expectations. Give them the resources they need to get the job done. And help them see how their work fits in with the bigger purpose of the organization,” said Jim Harter, Gallup’s chief scientist in workplace management and well-being.
2. Be flexible
The magnitude of what is happening hits everyone at different times. Even normal errands can take up more mental space than imagined, like strategizing the best time to get groceries safely and quickly.
“You have to respect each person’s family situation and adjust timelines to that. People are working different hours now. You have to be a bit more adaptable to that than in the past,” Harter said.
3. Set a positive tone
It’s also helpful to start meetings with some friendly banter and ask everyone how they are doing, Sutton said.
Recognize individuals for work well done and continue to help them think about their career development, Harter suggested. Since you may feel inaccessible to others because you’re not in the same place, you might purposefully set up a regular time to connect individually with each team member.
4. Look for signs of distress
This crisis affects everyone. Retirement and college savings have been hit. Spouses are losing jobs. No one is seeing family. And increasingly, people know someone who has died from Covid-19.
But some employees may have a harder time handling it all. Signs of extreme duress include drinking too much, abusing drugs, disengaging or being much more negative and combative than usual.
“Managers have to engage in a more conscious way than they did before. You take for granted the ability to check in on someone’s well-being when you see them every day,” said Tom Miller, CEO of employee risk management firm ClearForce.
And if you sense someone is struggling, be especially attentive. Doing so lets them know you care about their well-being, which is critical now. But you may also prevent problems for your company later, since employees under duress are more likely to make costly mistakes, flout rules and regulations, and become vulnerable to manipulation from foreign governments, hackers and other outside actors wanting access to company systems, Miller said.
5. Take care of yourself, too
Managers should regularly encourage team members to take care of themselves in the midst of this crisis. And you should take your own advice.
“Model what you’re advising your team to do,” Sutton said. “Exercise, keep to a work schedule, take breaks. Breathe. It’s okay to tell your team this is hard for you, too.”
In fact, showing that vulnerability can help develop openness and trust with your team, which will pay dividends for years to come.