As I was walking around my neighborhood this morning, a jogger, with a small dog on a leash, greeted me by saying: “Good morning!” After a second, he yelled back: “Oh, I mean good afternoon!” Then he turned back to me in frustration and hollered: “I never know anymore what time of day it is. Crazy, huh!” And he chugged on ahead.
I chuckled with this brief exchange because he represented many of the views I am feeling and hearing from others—all due to the unparalleled challenges of COVID—19. All of us are finding ourselves in this foreign, uncharacteristic situation where today is merely “Blursday”. Each day runs right into the next, and the next, and the next….
A New Set of Pressures
Successful leaders strive to be aware of the unique pressures of today, and their impact upon the emotional well-being of their people. They realize that their needs are real and directly affect their performance--negatively or favorably. When these needs are recognized and met, there is a remarkable increase in their positive performance. Minimizing or ignoring these needs will result in negative or undesirable outcomes.
The emotional needs of your people are real, and they have a direct impact on performance. Right now, workers are dealing with an entirely new set of demands including:
- Working crazy hours
- Balancing family and work issues when everyone is at home
- Staying healthy and sane
- Meeting new demands of the organization.
- Stress fatigue
Emphasizing business results is a very critical element of the organization. But it is even more challenging to meet your people’s emotional needs, which directly impact their ability and desire to achieve the results that the business requires. During a major crisis like COVID—19 compounds the challenge even further. These new pressures make supporting the emotional needs of your team all the more urgent. There is a strong correlation between meeting their emotional needs and their level of individual engagement, and it is especially imperative during this time of extreme uncertainty and stress.
An executive I am coaching shared this thought with me:
“Working differently can cause angst unless folks are provided guidance, boundaries, and expectations associated with operating successfully in their new environment.”
Over the past few weeks, I have recorded several of the behaviors and techniques I’ve observed that leaders are doing to meet the emotional needs of their virtual teams. As you read through this menu of options, consider using them with your remote, working-from-home teams.
1. Virtual Team Engagement Tips
- Revisit your team operating principles to double check that the team is following them.
- Leaders need to exaggerate behaviors they used to do before COVID—like the amount of information, the frequency of communication, the clarification of assignments, and the welcoming of questions.
- Reaffirm the strength of the business to give them security.
- Accept that your people are trying to squeeze in things each day, like never before.
- Ask for ideas to address challenges and issues.
- Aim for a higher level of communication between boss and direct reports.
- Establish routines with your teams.
- Emphasize that everyone is in this boat together.
- Address the increased need to prioritize.
- Provide and encourage appropriate humor. Consider something like a “funny for the day”.
- Remember that what you are needing from your boss is likely similar to what your people are needing from you.
- Give more responsibility to make decisions.
- Provide your people the resources they need.
- Designate one day a week that is completely different from the other six--a no-work day.
- From my collection of leadership gems, share and discuss with your team this one:
“The greater the uncertainty, the greater the need for
assurance, support, communication, and encouragement.”
2. Virtual Team Communication Tips
- Have candid team discussions about teleconference etiquette: How to prevent interrupting others, recognizing and respecting each other’s comments, allowing time for social connections, and when video can be optional.
- Provide daily messaging.
- Prioritize the well-being of each person.
- Recognize that everyone receives and processes information differently. Provide information via multiple methods.
- Institute daily video check-ins. These are merely to say “hi” and see how everyone is doing personally. These moments are NOT focused on work issues. They are focused on your team as people!
- Actively encourage and solicit questions from all team members.
- Include personal, light-hearted, fun moments during team calls.
- Recognize that many are working insane hours.
- Let everyone know that they are NOT alone.
- Be consistent in sharing the latest information with them.
- Be more flexible with the treatment of team members.
- Remember that team calls don’t need to take up all the scheduled time. End early if the agenda is over. Give them a gift of time--they can always use it.
- Recognize that everyone has a need for more information and regular communication. They need to know:
- What is going on?
- What are the latest happenings?
- What is expected of me?
- What are my resources?
- Who do I go to for the problems I face?
- Share and discuss with your team this leadership gem:
“The single greatest hurdle to effective communication is
the assumption that it has taken place."
3. Personal Emotional Needs Tips
- Leaders are feeling the same stresses that the team is. All are human and need to set boundaries for themselves.
- Leaders and team members need to admit when they are wrong, seek advice and feedback, and ask for support and help.
- Have genuine, candid talks about what is really happening—good or bad.
- Recognize that the small talk that used to take place in the office environment is no longer being provided.
- Show personal interest with one-on-one calls, chats, and screen times.
- Appropriately learn the personal issues they are dealing with.
- Have virtual office hours--blocks of calendared time during the week of open video office hours. This time is for any issue or question they have. It can even be just to chat. The topic is up to them. It is an open forum.
- Acknowledge that all are carrying an emotional weight that never seems to get put down.
- Be on the alert for special needs.
- Recognize individual accomplishments--large and small--among your team and peers.
- Have greater flexibility and understanding with family situations, recognizing that people have other demands placed on them.
- Acknowledge that being continuously at home with no diversions, makes it is easy to get sucked into work to avoid boredom. This is not always healthy, and can actually impair productivity.
- Refrain from sending e-mails on weekends and outside work hours unless absolutely necessary. Your team may feel compelled to respond to them during their much-needed downtime. Set up time delay delivery on e-mail so if you do send e-mails outside of work hours, the recipient receives them during the business day.
- Help them manage their workloads to avoid burn-out.
- Celebrate small wins!
- Address the greater need for alone time to recharge.
- Be sensitive to stress and watch for tell-tale signs such as increased errors or decline in work quality, lack of focus, or deviation from normal productivity. When these symptoms are noticed be proactive. Offer help right away. Appropriately engage others in the conversation when these signs emerge. Your job is to help them be successful so act quickly to have an open and honest dialogue on how to get through the challenges together.
- Be careful to not burn out your key people, the ones you most depend on.
- Honor and respect their domestic privacy.
- Revisit the challenge that all are having regarding working-from-home boundaries. Have the team share success tips. Offer support and suggestions for improving the situations they are struggling with.
- Introduce sharing forums that cover best practices, success stories, and heart-warming acts of kindness and service.
- Encourage breaks, days off, and flexible work schedules.
- Understand that some may be challenged to be as productive as they were pre-pandemic due to external factors such as child care and personal stress. Provide flexibility and mobilize the team to support them.
- Yes, work needs to get done, but this is where priorities are important. A leader must help set those priorities to prevent them from getting overwhelmed.
- It is vital that team members realize they are NOT alone, and resources are available to help them when they are struggling to keep up with work.
- As a leader, consider this leadership gem:
“They may not remember what you said,
but they will remember how you made them feel.”
4. Social Needs Tips
- Encourage social engagement and special interest groups to replace former office social connections. Consider and discuss with your team these virtual options:
- Parent groups to vent and hear solutions
- Cooking groups to share successes and recipes
- Bike groups for exercise
- Pet groups for cute stories and pictures
- Virtual happy hours
- Book clubs to explore thoughts and adventures outside of work
- “Water-cooler” chat time to make up for not being in the office
- Encourage “fun.” Note that the term “fun” now has a totally different meaning in this pandemic environment.
- Take your team to a virtual lunch. Schedule food delivery to each team member, and enjoy an hour break from the day to chat about anything.
- Share and discuss with your team this leadership gem:
“A coil pulled too tight loses its spring.”
As so many of us are now working virtually, the responsibility lies with the leader to recognize and meet the communication, emotional, and social needs of their teams. Successful leaders adjust their tools to address this new challenge that their people are facing. Being on the alert for various manifestations of these needs during virtual meetings is essential for the leader to inspire continued and sustained performance.
Incorporate several of the suggested options given above, and watch the results across your teams. You, too, will observe what I did—that there is a definite correlation between your meeting your people’s needs and their desire to achieve what you need from them.
Even after this COVID—19 crisis ends, the need for meeting your team’s emotional and social needs will still continue. Many now feel that the “new normal” will include more working from home and telecommuting situations than ever before. The old paradigm of actual, literal office gatherings will never quite be the same. Leaders will have to continue to face today’s virtual challenges. Consequently, I encourage you to keep the above suggestions close at hand, as you will very likely need them tomorrow as much as you do today.
Consider the following to determine your effectiveness in meeting your people’s emotional needs:
- Over the course of your virtual meetings, carefully watch the involvement of your team members to see if they are struggling emotionally with the challenges and limitations they are facing.
- Have one-on-one calls with them to maintain a personal relationship that allows you to sense their emotional well-being.
- Encourage your team members and other associates to establish new ways to meet social needs.
- Continuously reinforce with your team that all of you are in this together, and open feelings of frustration and pressures are understandable and natural.
- Seek feedback on current communication methods to see if they meet the team’s needs.