I coach technical leaders and executives in the Bay Area and large swathes of my client’s companies are working from home because of COVID-19.
I’ve summarized some suggestions from discussions over the last few weeks to help managers lead wisely.
Ask people how they are doing
Obvious, important and frequently forgotten.
A simple technique is asking “On a scale of 1 to 10, what is your anxiety about coronavirus and why?”
On a small team video call, you may want to include guidelines such as “Share why in 10 words or less” or “Let’s avoid soapboxing” if you feel that is necessary.
This simple exercise can
- Build trust and empathy in the team, as they recognize what’s going on for others.
- Help people verbalize what may be unconsciously affecting them.
- Surface unexpected issues that impact the team or company.
Acknowledge diverse impact
Some of your company may be remote workers whose routines appear unchanged and do not understand all the commotion.
Some may be single parents with kids, who are now being kept home from school, and whose work output will be significantly reduced.
To some, the routine of work provides structure and stability. To others, deadlines and projects can feel like a terrifying weight given what’s around them.
Some are caring for elderly parents. Others have urgent surgery scheduled, vacations cancelled, friends coming to visit, babies about to be born… the list goes on.
Being aware and raising the awareness of your team there are drastically different experiences will help you manage more effectively and your team to communicate more empathetically.
If you’ve done the exercise above and identified what people are really anxious about, you should have an idea of what needs to be communicated at an individual and company level.
I’ve heard people wanting to know about healthcare coverage, project timelines, immigration status, economic impact… To the degree that you can, make sure you are proactive and open with communication.
Additionally, be conscious of how you are communicating. Telling anxious people that they are panicking or overreacting is unlikely to help.
Be aware of isolation
For some, working from home may increase their sense of anxiety and isolation. Processing the firehose of news on your own can be a scary. Consider additional team video connections, more regular 1:1’s, or external coaching.
Be aware of yourself
We all have our own anxieties, biases and personal situations. Spend some time reflecting on how these are influencing your leadership and communication.
Awareness will help you to be a “non-anxious presence”. This excellent expression coined by Edwin Friedman captures the goal for how to be with your team, your company and the rest of your community.
I hope these suggestions are helpful. Let me know what’s working for you.
This crisis can be an opportunity to build more resilient individuals and culture — let’s stand together and help each other do that well.