The New Normal of Leadership: Connecting Others in a Disconnected World
By now, the novel coronavirus has likely had a direct impact on your day-to-day schedule; be it travel cancellations, the closing of your child’s school, or the inability to enjoy a dinner out with family and friends. For many, COVID-19 shines a light on alternative methods to being “open for business”. Doctors are practicing telemedicine, retailers are expanding their online shopping efforts, and those in traditional office settings are transitioning towards working remotely.
For those seasoned in remote work, this new normal is just another day at the office. However, for the vast majority of people who are working remotely or managing remote teams for the first time, navigating the new normal can be challenging – especially during a public health crisis. When things are swirling around you, it helps to remind yourself of things you may already know but need to keep top of mind.
So, what’s a leader to do now in this new normal? No matter what, employees look to their leaders for guidance, answers, and support. Here’s a reminder of things you can do right now to be a connecting and supportive leader to your remote and disconnected employees:
- Acknowledge the Challenge. Remind your teams that their health, and the health of their families, is your top priority. During times of stress, it is important for them to take care of themselves (proper sleep, exercise, nutrition). Acknowledge that they are being asked to work in a different environment, perhaps more intensely, but nonetheless, you will be there to support them. You are in this together.
- Communicate Often. Repeat. Increase the frequency with which you connect to your employees, customers, shareholders, and community. Early, honest, and transparent communication from a leader in times of crisis and uncertainty can help reduce anxiety and promote a feeling of ease. It’s OK to not have all of the facts. Be transparent and update others as you learn more.
- Outline Remote Expectations. How will your teams stay in touch with one another? Call, email, IM, text? Our team is currently using WhatsApp and have also used Slack before – many messaging platforms are offering free usage during the crisis. What style makes most sense for your team? How are employees expected to communicate with their customers/clients during this time? How are you, as a leader, being looped in? Set the expectation that even though they are remote, traditional office hours and reachability are maintained.
- Keep it Real and Utilize the Best Features of Video Conferencing. Connecting, and seeing, your teammates maintains a level of normalcy that has been lost. Ahead of video meetings, distribute any background information that way the meeting is a conversation, not a presentation. If presentations are necessary, utilize screen sharing to guide the conversation so all participants are on the same page. Afterwards, regroup and discuss via video. It is also wise to designate a facilitator—one to guide conversations, take pulse checks, and gather real-time feedback.
- Pause Before Deciding. While you likely feel the need to remove a lot of uncertainty, avoid the tendency to confuse action with results. Don’t immediately react to everything you see or read unless it is an immediate health and safety related matter for your employees. Pause and reflect. Slow yourself down and gather (or wait for) facts and data. Then, make an informed decision. Frantic leaders create frantic followers.
- Model a Spirit of Patience and Practice. If this is your organization’s first time navigating remote work, there will be bumps along the way. There will be ambiguity and it will be uncomfortable to address sensitive, tough topics in a virtual setting. Encourage your teams to lean in and trust that it will get easier in time. Reduce the confusion, stress, and ambiguity by giving your team members tangible ideas to guide their at-home work. Then when things go wrong – and they will – be patient.
In a matter of days, the hyper-connected world as we know it has never felt more disconnected. Now more than ever, your visibility as a leader is crucial in keeping team morale high. You’ve likely heard many of these ideas in other settings before, but now more than ever these can help you be a connecting leader in a disconnected world.