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It’s a tough time to be a leader. COVID-19 has created what Arianna Huffington, founder and CEO of Thrive Global, calls a “generic atmosphere of stress.” A lot of workers are telecommuting for the first time, worrying about the health of their loved ones and wondering what effects the coronavirus will have on the economy and their jobs.
We’ve all been anticipating a recession for a while now. If you’ve prepared by setting aside some cash reserves, great. If you haven’t, that’s OK, too. There’s still time to make the right decisions to get you through this crisis.
So how will you guide your team through this critical time? First, take a deep breath. I’ve advised hundreds of businesses over the years and know you can do this. Companies have survived tough times before, such as during 9/11 and the Great Recession, but you will need strong leadership and a calm, compassionate heart to do it.
Related: 3 Survival Traits for Any Leader
How to lead during difficult times
Remember that your employees are probably afraid and stressed out; you may see tears and hear all sorts of personal things. It’s your job — and your privilege — to help your people manage their difficult emotions. Here’s how:
1. Provide structure to encourage collaboration and prevent loneliness.
Working from home has its perks, but it also means losing the structure that office life provides. This loss can feel especially acute when your team is forced to become remote overnight. To keep employees engaged, figure out ways to create a remote environment that encourages collaboration and connection, which 21 percent of remote workers have concerns regarding. For instance, consider scheduling a weekly video call with your team to touch base on projects and check-in to see how everyone is doing. This can go a long way toward helping your employees stay motivated and social.
Ask your team to contribute ideas for what would best work for them. Would they prefer a virtual happy hour or a weekly breakfast chat? Do they have suggestions for any tools that would make remote work easier? Whatever you settle on, you’ll want to make sure your team is connecting on a personal basis as well as discussing work matters. Your goal is to be a leader, not just a boss, and to provide emotional support during difficult times.
2. Give your team the guidance and tools they need to do their work remotely.
When prepared for properly, remote work can increase productivity, according to Stanford economist Nicholas Bloom. But if your employees have been thrust into remote work, they may find themselves working from their kitchen tables, dealing with screaming kids and needy pets. You may need to provide additional tools and guidance to help them succeed in their new work environment. Coach your employees on how to set up a workspace and ask them whether they have the tools they need to do their jobs well from home. For example, tools like Slack, Asana, and Dropbox can keep projects organized and advancing even when everyone is physically apart.
3. Communicate what you know about the timeline.
While public health experts and economists say the path to normalcy will not be quick, this situation is almost certainly temporary. Make sure your employees know that they’ll be back in a collaborative work environment eventually. Regularly update employees with what you know and tie your decision to return to the office to a specific event, such as when schools open back up. Doing so will reassure your employees that you are monitoring the situation and intend for business to resume as normal as soon as it’s safe.
4. Be transparent about the health of your business.
Transparency can help employees feel empowered and reassured during an uncertain situation. For example, according to a PayScale report, more than 80 percent of employees would be OK with below-market pay if they knew why it was necessary.
Your employees are probably nervous about their jobs, so be an open book about your company’s financial health and the steps you’re taking to ensure success in the future. The more you can tell your employees, the better they’ll feel, freeing them up to focus on work and preventing any negative knee-jerk reactions. You also need to admit when you don’t have the answers. Enlist your employees to help solve roadblocks.
5. Be honest about your employment outlook.
Don’t make promises you can’t back up. Now is probably not the time to tell your employees that everyone will still be on the team once this crisis blows over. If you need a reality check, consider that more than 700,000 American workers lost their jobs in March alone. Even former big success stories like Bird have had to trim its workforce: The electric scooter rental company recently laid off 30 percent of its workers via a live conference call.
While you can’t promise job safety to everyone, you can promise that you will be the best possible leader and do everything in your power to get the company safely through this storm.
COVID-19 has thrust business leaders everywhere into tough times, but know that we’re in this together. Summon your courage and compassion, think long-term, and support your employees, and you’ll surely survive to the other side of this storm.