Amplified Leadership: Top 5 Ways of Motivating Through COVID + Beyond
It was a surreal moment when our organization of 16,000 employees was told we’d all be moving to a work-from-home setting for a few weeks to stop the coronavirus that was spreading across the country. I gathered up my office equipment (March 18, 2020), and never in my wildest imagination did I consider not returning for what has now become 12 months.
Nevertheless, here we sit. What sounded impossible, quickly became our reality. An organization with no plans for mass telecommuting was now doing just that. It was imperative to get virtual work protocols put into place immediately. Let’s face it, not everyone has interest in working from home, and those who do may struggle without proper leadership.
A few weeks into this arrangement it was very clear that the pandemic was going to wreak havoc for an extended period of time. It was time for leaders to rise to the occasion like never before. After all, motivating a team on a regular Tuesday can be a challenge. Now spread that team across town (or even the country), add a pandemic to the mix and then keep them at home for a year (with no specific end in sight). This was hard; a true test of leadership skills. Let me share some tips from my own perspective as a leader. None of these concepts are new, but it was time to amplify.
1. Be Available
Recreating an office environment in a virtual setting takes work. It’s not as simple as just switching the communication method to telephone. The water cooler conversations were gone; the cubicle drive-bys were no longer possible. Informal communication methods were suddenly missing. The good old conference calls took a back seat and WEBCAM’s were now expected and anticipated. Texting became more common place. I set up a Cisco Webex Teams chat space and it quickly became a high-traffic communication method. It still runs “hot” today. We use it for business, as well as to share funny stories and GIFs. I also set up daily 15-minute huddles to gather for updates and to just connect.
2. Be Flexible
For a lot of team members, working from home was the least of their concerns. Many had to find a way to balance their work with being a homeschool teacher. As a leader, there was no cookie cutter approach to working through this. Each school district put together their own plans for virtual, in person or hybrid learning. And no one asked for my input. Business norms had to be moved aside.
I worked with each team member to come up with the best way to manage through this. After all, there was absolutely nothing anyone could do about it. Trying to fight reality was not going to end well for anyone. It was time to re-think the 8-5, M-F workweek, and I adjusted where needed and welcomed kids and pets to video calls. We embraced this as our new normal.
3. Be Empathetic
Living through a pandemic basically sucks. In addition to those who had to maneuver the logistics of homeschool, we were all living under a dark cloud of fear, separation, uncertainty and sadness. I had to understand that each person on my team would be impacted differently and would handle things in their own ways. I heightened my awareness to any individual challenges that surfaced and was helpful, compassionate and understanding … more than ever. I encouraged team members to step away from time to time to get outside, go for a walk, listen to some music … take PTO if needed. Mental health became a focus and priority.
4. Be Transparent
We were (are) all in this together. There were no simple answers, and there was certainly no end in sight. It was important to recognize that and to be up front with all communication related to the pandemic, our company response to it or anything else that was happening within the organization. This was not a time for withholding information. Being forthright, even when details are fluid, is essential to maintaining trust.
5. Be Grateful
Team member appreciation and recognition had to be amplified. It was not satisfactory to just assume that the team knew I appreciated them. I had to tell them and tell them regularly. For me, it has not always been natural for me to recognize someone for just doing their job. However, under these circumstances I not only had to become comfortable with it, I had to become good at it. It changed me, and in a positive way.
As I write this, I have no idea when I’ll be able to pack up my office equipment and move it back to its appropriate location. Nothing about the last year has been easy or predictable. And to make matters worse, we entered 2021 with a false sense of new beginnings. While we look forward to brighter days, we’ll continue to laugh about those moments when a colleague forgets that the webcam is on and does something funny or embarrassing. “You’re on mute” will remain a part of every web meeting, and pets and kids will be an extension of our team.
I’ve grown as a leader. My team became closer and more supportive of each other this past year. Instead of daily huddles, we did reduce them to twice a week, but instead of 15 minutes they sometimes go on for an hour. This time together is important. I know all this warm/fuzzy stuff may not be comfortable for everyone but trust me … as a leader it is time to take yourself off mute, step outside that comfort zone (maybe grab some hand sanitizer) and make a positive difference to your virtual team.
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Scott Gire is an HR services area manager for Oasis, a Paychex® Company, in West Des Moines. He leads a team of HR professionals who consult with business leaders on strategic initiatives.