The Covid-19 virus has completely disrupted our world. Literally overnight, the way that organizations are required to work has shifted as everyone who can is being asked to work from home. At exactly the moment when people are fearful and uncertain about their futures—and when we need human comfort and interaction the most—we are using terms like “self-isolation” and “social distancing” for the first time in our lives.
While communications technology allows many of us to work from anywhere, it’s generally understood that the more we use technology, the greater our need for the “human touch”.
This is where Emotional Intelligence can guide us.
Here are a few tips on what you can do to help your staff feel connected to you and to each other and help them get through this difficult period as constructively as possible.
Have regular check-ins with your staff, both individually and in their work teams. If your staff normally work in an office, they’re accustomed to having conversations with others throughout the day—both work-related and social chats. This informal social interaction is crucial to maintaining morale and team spirit. Make sure that everyone can stay connected and that they know they can share their concerns with you.
Schedule individual calls with each of your staff members
Check-in with staff regularly to see how they’re doing. Some people may love working from home while others will feel disconnected and isolated. Do they have everything they need to work remotely? Are they set up with the right technology? Are they missing resources? Ask them what they need from you and how you can better support them.
Schedule regular virtual team meetings.
Decide how often you should meet. If you generally have weekly meetings, continue with them. In fact, regular communication and contact should increase.
Decide how you will be connecting. By phone, Video-conference, Zoom, Slack, Skype, WhatsApp, etc. Decide what will work best for your team and make sure that everyone has access.
Make the technology as seamless as possible. In every office, some people are more “tech-savvy” than others. Make it an opportunity to assist one another and share tech know-how. No matter what, avoid letting any colleague feel embarrassed or too shy to ask for help.
Run your virtual team meetings in a way that ensures that everyone can follow what is going on and contribute. Establish “team norms”. Everyone should use their mute button to ensure that there’s no disruptive noise. At the same time, this shouldn’t facilitate answering other e-mails or other forms of multi-tasking. Everyone should be fully focused on the team conversation. Ensure that everyone can hear what is being discussed and has an opportunity to contribute. Follow up any virtual meeting with written communication so that the results don’t get lost.
Dedicate time to have a “check-in” at the beginning of each meeting.
Make sure that everyone has a chance to be heard. Beyond the usual small talk before a meeting begins, this is a time for people to connect and to share what’s on their mind.
Have a question or theme prepared to discuss. For example, you could ask people to share what they need from each other at this time – or share what’s going on in their lives personally and professionally. Make sure that you dedicate the time you need to make this meaningful and set the tone for their experience. Don’t rush it even though it may not feel like you’re “getting work done”. It’s important for the leader to share what’s on their mind as well. That way, you’re modelling the behaviour you wish to see in others, and building trust and transparency within the team.
Bring calm and balance.
Most people are feeling anxious or fearful and may be in “fight or flight” as the full impact of the crisis sinks in. “How will my remuneration be affected?” “Is my job in jeopardy?” “Will the company survive?”
Lack of communication is worse than difficult communication in times like these. Rumours and misinformation can go viral overnight in an information vacuum. The leader should, as much as they can, communicate what’s happening at the organizational level – and ensure that everyone has equal access to them.
Some conversations may become quite emotional. Acknowledge the fact that people may be experiencing difficult emotions - and that this is normal.
Never deal with emotional issues in writing–always face to face–whether virtually or in person. If it’s impossible to do it in person anytime soon, don’t put if off. It’s important to have those individual virtual conversations so that your team members can fully express themselves and you can deal with their concerns together.
Bring some lightness into the mix
It shouldn’t all be “doom and gloom”. Plan virtual coffee breaks, lunches, after work drinks. Don’t forget to get together and have some virtual fun – just like the good old days of last week!
Jane Reichman Van Toch is a specialist in strengthening individual, team and organizational performance. She is a faculty member of the McGill Executive Institute and currently teaches on several popular programs including Powering Growth through EQ and Essential Management Skills.