2020 has been an incredibly difficult year for so many of us. Our lives have been turned upside down, great losses suffered, and with a tumultuous geo-political situation in the background, 2021 cannot come soon enough.
COVID-19 has ushered in a radical change in our daily work practices, with more people than ever working remotely and with a host of new work/life balance challenges now a daily reality for many of us. This has also presented new challenges for business, so let’s explore some ideas on how companies and their leaders can continue to be compassionate employers during this uncertain time.
1. Help people be productive at home
At time of writing this article, multiple notable companies such as Metro Bank, AirBNB and Deliveroo have confirmed they are extending home working policies into 2021. Some companies such as Twitter have even announced that staff could now be allowed to work from home permanently even after the pandemic eases.
Google announced it would reimburse up to 1,000 USD for employees to buy equipment that enables working from home – something mirrored by others such as ride-sharing app organisation, UBER giving home-based employees a 0 bonus to help improve their home office set-up.
Great gestures for sure, but I realise this policy may not be as easy for your company to facilitate – especially as revenues and profits tighten. The key element to this is not just enabling ways to improve people’s physical space, but also their digital one too. As well as ensuring your team have the right monitor set-up, also consider if you have the right type of collaboration tools to help them be productive digitally as well? Is email and Zoom cutting it for you? Assuming you are now well versed with the likes of OneDrive, Google Docs and Dropbox, consider other productivity tools like Slack, Asana and Monday to help your team’s workflow.
Try to offer a smaller amount, an expense plan or reimbursement overtime or loan equipment to your team? Even a small gesture can make your employees feel valued and that you genuinely care about the changing way they’ve been asked to work for you.
The key here is to also reflect on how you feel yourself as an individual, as well as your role as a leader or manager in a company. Are you also tired and have ‘Zoom fatigue’ from endless video chats? Have you experienced a child or family member walking into the background of an important meeting, or being accidentally on mute as you deliver a really important message? I am sure you may not have had the rejuvenating break somewhere sunny that you’ve come to rely on to recharge either. Make sure you are encouraging breaks whenever possible.
2. Provide direction – or acknowledge when you can’t
Many of you reading this will be facing a tough trading environment and possibly facing into the reality of making some of your workforce redundant in order for your company to survive.
A key mistake to avoid here is thinking your employees are not also aware of reality. They are probably as aware as you are that your company is having a tough time, and with the media full of predictions of recessions and problems, they are sure to be thinking about their future.
Key to this is providing clarity and direction as and when you can, and also not being afraid to admit when you cannot provide absolute certainty. As leaders and managers in business, your role now – more than ever – is to provide as much clarity as you can to your team.
A compassionate request here – although technology has really helped over this troubling time, if you do need to provide bad news that may seriously affect someone’s life, please, please ensure to do it with empathy and in as private, considered way as possible.
3. Focus on your team’s motivation and energy
Although already a cliched term, 2020 really has seen all of us experience ‘unprecedented’ change, in our professional and personal lives. As a result of life events, your workers are likely to be feeling exhausted, have depleted energy and concerns about their future.
Of course all things should be balanced with the need to retain productivity, but its imperative your team retain their energy level to get through the next phase of the pandemic. A practical suggestion is to regularly ask your team how they are feeling and not waiting until they tell you they are exhausted! Keep your eyes open – the tell-tale signs of increased irritability, lack of focus and forgetfulness may be indicating they are a little burnt out. Keep checking in – in fact check how people are more than ever.
Increasing flexibility will also help to keep energy levels high. Citigroup Inc gained headlines during the pandemic for surprising employees with an extra day off after working “harder than ever” in response to the coronavirus pandemic – a move replicated recently by Google as well. Can you do something similar?
I’d suggest now is a time to park concepts like fixed yearly holiday allocations and focus on what your team need. This is as true for executive leadership as anyone else in your business – now is the time to realise everyone is in this together and leading by example is also taking a break.
Being told after your morning team meeting to take the rest of the day off to recharge (although reinforcing they are not in any kind of ‘trouble’ of course) might be just the thing a team member needs to hear – or pre-plan a long weekend for your whole department. Trust me, their productivity will not suffer, and you might be surprised by how it helps you too.
4. Get together
The reality is that for many of us it won’t be business as usual, with a raft of new safety measures and organisations with much-changed priorities. If strong leadership was vital during the crisis, the challenge that is to come will require an even more empathetic set of skills.
As well as checking in with your team members 1-2-1 on a much more regular basis, do not forget to bring your team together outside of your regular daily meetings. Having a daily team stand-up or get-together is of course a great way to connect, but it will no doubt be filled with normal daily business.
COVID-19 has seen many in-person traditions move online of course, but I am still amazed by how few companies have embraced ideas such as virtual ‘team drinks’ on a Friday night, or midweek ‘quiz’ nights and other fun things. Try it if you have not – it really does make all of the difference.
Depending on your company’s health and safety policy, or local country interpretations of social distancing, also consider if you can do some form of physical meet-up. It really can be transformative to remember what life was like before this all began!
This can be done in a number of ways – a casual meet-up for a coffee in a park, a walk or getting together outdoors. As amazing as video technology is, seeing each other really is a different kind of experience and it will feel great to connect together.
Of course, do things safely, and respect those that can’t, or don’t feel able to meet up in person. Even as some start to return to the office, recent research from LinkedIn found about 57% of professionals don’t yet feel safe returning to work, and 63% of professionals would choose to continue working from home given the choice.
This is a clear signal that the way we’ve always worked is indeed changing and teams need to adapt accordingly and tackle this head-on. Try to provide a full video link-up for anyone who can’t attend – or if it is more social, even using a phone or tablet to include people can make all the difference. It is crucial everyone feels together right now no matter their circumstances.
Also use these moments to agree and create new ideas or goals that can motivate everyone to aim for something before you get together the next time.
5. Continue to support all types of wellbeing and employee needs
In this article I have focused on some of the ‘new’ aspects of working life a compassionate employer needs to consider as we transition out of the present crisis.
Coupled with a growing sense of desperation in many cases, we are also yet to fully understand the implications of the incredible emotional toil this time has created – with thousands continuing to suffer and die. Mental health professionals already experiencing a spike in demand and are braced for more. Divorce is predicted to rise, and the sales of alcohol have never been higher.
Connected to this, all of the usual, and often tragic life events are unfortunately likely to still occur. Family loss, bereavement. Please make sure you offer time and flexibility to people effected. In these times people may need longer to recover – weeks or even months.
Now – and going into 2021 – supporting your employees’ wellbeing is more important than ever in this regard. Once your employees are ready to attempt a return to work, ensure you personally invest the time to support them through this transition – a lot has changed for them, their personal circumstances and ability to get support from others may also be affected by COVID-19. Ensure you continue the dialogue into the future – you need to be taking care of your employees more than ever.
I hope this article has inspired you with practical ways to double your efforts to be compassionate and treat your biggest asset (your team) with respect. As we have discussed it can also be relatively small gestures such as unexpected holidays, flexible working, enabling ‘work from anywhere’, as well as recognising and supporting wellbeing and mental health that can make all the difference. Finally, as a business leader or manager, please also remember your own needs during this time – you also need to look after yourself.
Thanks. I really appreciate your time in reading this. Please let me know what you think of this article in the comments below. You can also find me on social media @DrGeraintEvans.