When experiencing turbulence while travelling in an aeroplane, our eyes seek the nearest flight attendant. If they appear relaxed, calming the distraught passengers, a sense of relief washes over us. On the other hand, if they appear horrified, we will get anxious too.
It is the same with Managers. In times of crises, the team seeks out their leaders, hoping to see a calm face - a personification of courage under fire - so they can continue performing to the best of their abilities.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been an unprecedented event in recent times, hurling everyone’s lives into tremendous uncertainties while providing everyone with innumerable learnings.
Amongst these uncertainties, managers are being forced to reframe their approach towards employees. They have had to explore and adopt innovative working styles like going completely online, and empathetically dealing with stressed-out employees impacted by COVID or giving proper commiserations to those who have laid off, died or lost their loved ones to the pandemic.
Uncertainty breeds anxiety for both managers and teammates. Under these circumstances, the ability to lead determines the organisation’s success in tiding over this sea of changes. Therefore, the onus is on middle management to encourage, inspire and efficiently lead employees through this change as it determines the organisations’ ability to plan, transform and flourish.
Managers can achieve this by:
Optimistic Approach – Some managers go into an overdrive sharing all information they gather about the situation. When there is excess information floating around in times like the pandemic, it’s better to be cautious and optimistic in your approach and help employees plan for a healthy and improved future. Create a crisis team with exigency plans for critical roles; where required, split the teams and initiate flexible work arrangements.
Leadership Perceptibility – As managers, you are responsible for the organisation’s health, including delegating tasks to anxious employees competently. The best way is to be an encouraging coach who sees the employees’ potential and builds trust during these trying times. Have effective conversations with them, give them the freedom to express their views on the situation and equip them with the skills needed to accept the changed ways of working.
Comprehending the impact of the change on employees - Managers should understand the emotional upheaval in the employees’ lives as this is critical for their well being and that of the organisation. Communicate well and have a plan before you approach the employees, be decisive and not reactive when you prepare for the conversation, be honest, frank, accountable, dependable, offer your backing and aim to motivate.
The pandemic has forced many companies to slash wages and even lay off employees. However, this need not be the only way out; you can upskill the workforce’s ability and though challenging, provide them with the facility to work from home.
Remote working through a pausable solution comes with challenges like:
Interruptions and distractions – If you are a regular remote worker, you would have a dedicated workplace, away from the distractions. But if you are new to this, you are most likely functioning amidst all the interruptions at home. For example, you could be fighting for your space and time amidst children’s homeschooling, caring for the elderly and other regular household activities. As a manager, you can be receptive and communicate your understanding of the situation to your team members and encourage them to embrace the challenges and not get stressed out.
Technical backing – There will be other challenges like power supply disruptions, network connection issues and other infrastructural and technical problems. Valuable time is lost getting these in order. Managers can ease the situation by ensuring their team members have the accessories needed like laptops, dongles, and other hardware. In addition, you can familiarise them with virtual team meeting requirements and guide them out of any hiccups.
Exhaustion from screen usage – Remote working has given rise to too much screen time leading to fatigue. Though it’s an acceptable solution under the circumstances, more and more employees have reported health issues like headaches and eye problems. Managers can ensure that employees don’t overwork and encourage regular breaks.
Social seclusion – Managers and employees working in the confines of their homes has led to social seclusion, which could culminate in fractured collaboration efforts. Managers should tackle this before it snowballs and impacts productivity. Communicate with the team via emails and chats, hold direct interactions with the members who have personal issues, show them your support, motivate them not to give up or get stressed out.