Working through COVID-19: Guidance for Leaders and People Managers

COVID-19 and how all of us are managing though it certainly represents the most significant moment of change in a generation. This is not just disruption. We’re experiencing an extraordinary time of dislocation. Many of us are being told to socially isolate in our homes. Others are being asked to continue working to support the response to COVID-19 or to ensure that the rest of us have the basic goods and services that we need. All of us have seen our retirement savings decline precipitously. And many are concerned about their jobs and the ability to support their families during this time of crisis.

There is a lot here and I am not going to address all of these challenges. I do, however, want to offer a few thoughts for leaders and people managers as they work through COVID-19 – both figuring out what it means for themselves and their people, and how to be as productive as possible at work during the crisis.

If you are a leader, think for a minute what that means for your people – especially the younger members of your workforce. While more senior employees have been through economic downturns, moments of crisis such as September 11th, 2001, and other moments of adversity, many of our younger employees have never experienced any of that. And now many of them are working from home without their usual support systems and feeling anxious about – and even afraid – of what may be ahead.

This crisis is still building, and you have an opportunity right now to ensure your teams are set up to weather the storm. It will require courage and adjustments on your part to make sure you can support your people and, by doing so, continue to deliver your business objectives in these challenging times.

So, here are a few thoughts to set the context.

In recent years, there has been considerable focus on mental health. Right now, people are more concerned for their personal health and safety than ever before. There may be anxiety on your teams for different reasons – some are grappling with childcare, some are concerned about elderly parents they may not be able to visit, or even their own underlying health issues.

We need to recognize that “it’s ok to not be ok” and encourage our people to share those thoughts with us, if they are overtaking their ability to function at work.

Many people are worried about whether or not they will be able to continue their work as their clients, customers and supply chains are all impacted. And they’re working quickly to figure out how they’ll get the work done without their usual resources.

Many are working from home now, if they are working at all. Even for those of us who do sometimes work remotely, doing it every day all day is not what we’re used to. And there are still many people who work in essential operations who have to go to their workplaces and wondering how they will stay safe and get things done with skeleton crews and new procedures.

Most people take pride in their work and want to continue to do great work. The question they have is “How will I do it?” – and “How resilient can I be?”, both personally and professionally.

This situation is evolving very quickly. It requires immediate and constant attention on the part of leaders. If you are in a leadership role, pause for a second to take stock of how you, yourself, are feeling. What adjustments do you need to make to your own mindset to get your people through this? What leadership behaviors might you need to change or improve? Finally, what actions do you need to take to put your people in the best possible position to succeed and come out on the other end of this stronger than before?

Your people are watching you for cues about how bad this really is and counting on you to be a calm, optimistic and resourceful touchpoint as the storm overtakes us.

So, how will you respond? Here are some tips:

  • Take care of yourself – physically and emotionally – so that you can take care of others.
  • Listen more than you talk right now in order to really know how your people are doing and to show them that you care.
  • Be their advocate. Do your best to provide the resources they need to do their jobs and be tolerant of the personal circumstances they are trying to workaround.
  • Leverage technology to create a connection between people.
  • Streamline processes and create new ones, where needed, so the organization can get things done.
  • Over-communicate, both with individuals and with teams.
  • Create stability by projecting calm and optimism for the future.

We’re living in a strange and scary time, which will eventually pass. Before during and after it does, leaders have an incredibly important role during this moment of dislocation.

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