Entrepreneur by Ben Erwin

There’s no doubt the coronavirus pandemic is testing us all, both personally and professionally. Every business and every person is experiencing the repercussions of this situation in their own way. We are all navigating through unpredictable times with no playbook at hand. As leaders, we are not only making strategic business decisions; we are setting the tone for how our companies are handling this uncertainty. 

I’ve always felt confident in my team and been grateful to work with such talented people, but they have truly blown me away the past couple of months. Their dedication, innovation, optimism, collaboration, patience, professionalism, humanity … everything. Throughout my years as a manager, I’ve genuinely never been more proud of a staff. We’re making things happen to keep our business relevant in this new reality and position us for optimum success once things level out. And the way we’re going about it is strengthening our team dynamic exponentially. Yes, I felt compelled to write this to express my immense appreciation for my team. But I also wanted to highlight a few specific actions I believe are contributing to these notable outputs. 

1. Stay calm.

Don’t panic — or at least work through your panic behind closed doors, if you need to. All we can do in this situation is take the changes and challenges in stride, and focus on moving forward. Contingencies are important, but endless “what if” spirals are detrimental to decision-making and morale. Identify what you can do and start making moves. By operating from a solution-oriented perspective, your mind is cleared up to think strategically and creatively. A rational demeanor will be evident (even remotely) and will set the tone for the team.

2. Assemble task forces.

In any unexpected situation, including COVID-19, individual responsibilities and departmental priorities shift pretty quickly. Certain skills become more essential, and employees may end up working closely with team members they may not have worked with previously in order to react to changes in the business.

With things moving rapidly, I’ve found Slack to be the most efficient for real-time updates, brainstorming, requesting information and even obtaining approvals or consensus. I have a few of these virtual working groups heavily active at the moment. I view them ask task forces. Not only do these new cross-team groups provide a diversity of expertise and knowledge, they also foster a sense of ownership. Seeing firsthand that your individual contributions matter and are being put into action is empowering and can encourage employees to keep thinking outside the box. 

3. Empathize.

Now more than ever, it is clear that we are all human. We all have fears and challenges related to this pandemic, we all have lives outside of the office, we’ve all adopted “athleisure” as the new WFH business casual.… This is the time for leaders to tap into our compassion, patience and humanity, and understand each person is likely doing their best within their physical, mental and emotional parameters. Early on in the crisis, I made it a point to speak directly with everyone, and gauge attitudes and opinions, to help create an informed foundation from which to work. As with most personnel best practices, understanding people’s circumstances takes more investment up front, but it pays off in the form of efficiency, productivity and mutual respect. 

The power of face-to-face interaction can’t be underestimated during trying times in general, whether you’re dealing with a remote work environment or other challenges. We’re doing everything via videoconference now, and it’s cultivated a team dynamic beyond what we had even when we were working side by side in the office. Everyone is in their own unique position when it comes to the stay-at-home protocol, and some people may feel much more isolated than others; video calls offer some much needed human connection.

4. Communicate.

Across the globe and across all industries, business strategies have inevitably shifted. So much is in flux, and the landscape is different from one day to the next. It is management’s responsibility to identify current priorities, relay those to the broader team and help guide individual work as priorities shift. Especially now in our remote workplaces, directional changes can get mis-communicated or not communicated at all. I’d urge leaders to err on the side of even more transparency than before in an effort to foster teamwork and a feeling of ownership. I’ve personally seen increased dedication and problem-solving from the team after they were made aware of the bold, forward-looking actions we were taking at the executive level. We really are in this together, and now is the time to convey that authentically and often. 

To make sure you’re reaching everybody with key messages, you’ll likely be repeating the same points during every internal meeting for a while. You’ll be reiterating objectives and priority projects via Slack or whatever other platform you use. It may seem like a lot to you, but keep in mind that most others are only receiving this information once or twice, and digitally at that. Try to keep your (now digital) door open for questions, ideas or other conversations.

5. Prepare for the future.

No matter how innovative and nimble a company is, we’re all going to experience a temporary slowdown in one way or another. This time period will affect various departments differently — some team members may just end up with less to execute in this moment. That does not mean they can’t be extremely valuable. Now is a prime time to think about big, strategic work we often push off in favor of more urgent projects. Maybe you have the starting point of an idea that needs to be fleshed out. Perhaps certain departments should take the time for strategy meetings to identify key goals for 2021 and beyond.

We each have a choice as to how to react to challenging situations like this. From the beginning, my team demonstrated immediate pro activity, teamwork, ownership and optimism. I’ve been seeing smart judgement calls, as well as thoughtful research and recommendations. I’m proud of our response and more confident than ever in our level of dedication to driving our mission forward. By remaining calm and measured, activating task force groups, leading with compassion and communicating clearly, I believe many more of us can realise similar team growth.

This article first appeared in Entrepreneur.

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