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How to Support Your Team Through a Crisis

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Jalene Ippolito April 8th, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on businesses across the globe. Companies of all types, size and industry are being hit with changes. As a business owner or leader, you’re likely focused on adapting the organization to the “new normal” and thinking about what comes next. Meanwhile, in the background, your employees are equally challenged as they adjust to new ways of working and try to balance new requirements at home. The reality is that this is a stressful time for everyone.

Now, more than ever, your team needs to see you (and the other leaders in your organization) front and center. Your business may have changed overnight, but there’s one thing that doesn’t have to change – your corporate culture. Helping your employees feel connected to their colleagues and the company is critical, particularly when your team isn’t physically together. Fortunately, there are steps you can take with minimal effort to support your employees through this crisis.

Be present, visible and available

In the last few weeks, you’ve likely spent a lot of time with your senior managers running numbers to understand the impact on your business and developing a strategy to manage through the next several months. This is certainly important work that needs to be done. But keep in mind that your team needs to know you’re available to them. There’s a great deal of uncertainty for them as well, so be visible. Implement a version of office hours, where you block off time in your calendar specifically to field questions from your team or just chat if that’s what they need. You can set aside time each day or a few times a week. Whatever frequency works for you, be sure to communicate it to your team and stick to your schedule.

Above all, remember that your team is looking to you for guidance in how to respond to this situation. If you never have time to talk with your employees, they’ll take that as a cue to communicate less, which can negatively impact your team in the long run.

Create stability with regular routines

In the early days, you should increase the frequency of your regularly scheduled meetings. And if you don’t have standing meetings with your team, now is the time to schedule them. Keep in mind that every team and individual may need a different frequency. Some people will appreciate a 15-minute daily check-in to review priorities. Others will be comfortable meeting once or twice a week. Talk with each member of your team to choose the schedule that works best. Once those meetings are set, stick to the routine. The key here is having regular, predictable touch-points with your employees.

Provide multiple modes of communication

In a previous post we talked about using video calls to keep your team connected. This is our number one tip to get as close as possible to a face-to-face conversation. For instances where a video call doesn’t make sense, give your people options for communication. Email is the default in many organizations, particularly when working remotely. You might want to add instant message to the mix as well, for those quick questions that you would normally walk down the hall to ask.

To help your team communicate effectively, provide clear guidance on when to use each communication tool. And encourage your staff to make use of their calendar, Skype status and out of office response so that others can clearly see when they’re available.

Be transparent about how the business is adapting and what it means for your team

There’s no doubt that the current situation is uncertain and rapidly changing. Naturally, your plans for the business will change as the situation develops. While it may not be realistic to provide daily updates to your team, communicate consistently and honestly about how you’re adapting. You may have shifting priorities, delays in major projects or even new initiatives that are necessary to maintain the business. Schedule an all hands call with your team to share these developments, so they understand what actions are being taken. Following your conversation with the larger group, schedule a call with each individual to discuss how these changes impact their role and work priorities. Remember, your employees want to help navigate this crisis with you, so let them know how.

Offer encouragement and emotional support

The uncertainty of our current reality, along with imposed restrictions to help flatten the curve, can be stressful for many. You may have some employees feeling the strain of caring for young children and working a full day all at the same time. Some may feel anxious due to social isolation. And others may be facing financial struggles if their significant other’s job has been impacted by COVID-19. The current stresses are plentiful. As a manager, you can listen to their concerns (work related or otherwise). Acknowledge their stress, empathize and work with them to find productive solutions, where possible. For individuals that are feeling isolated working from home, let them know it’s OK to have online coffee chats with their team members throughout the day. Encourage them to keep in contact via instant message or chat channels. In any situation, communicate with confidence and reassure them that you will pull through this as a team.

Offer resources to help your team manage stress

For many people, the simple things they used to do to manage stress have changed. Take exercise, for example. It’s well known that regular exercise reduces stress and anxiety, leads to better sleep and gives you more energy. But with the gyms closed and many cities restricting outdoor activities, it can be tough to get that exercise in each day. Help your team overcome this by sharing links to at-home workouts that can be done with minimal equipment. Here are a couple that we’ve shared with our own team:

Mindfulness exercises and meditation are other valuable tools to deal with anxiety and stay calm during periods of stress. There are tons of great resources to find online. Or you can share some of our favorites:

Encourage and provide opportunities for social interaction

When your team is together in the same building every day, social interaction is easy. People catch up on the weekend activities every Monday, stop to chat while they refill their coffee or eat lunch together. All of this can (and should) still happen when your team is working remotely. You just have to be deliberate about making it happen. When you have team meetings, dedicate a few minutes of social time at the beginning of the call. Schedule group coffee breaks or lunches over video conference. You could even schedule a virtual happy hour every Friday. It gives your team a chance to connect and offers a needed break from work to help keep people focused.

Outside of video calls, look at other creative ways to engage your team. Setup a social chat channel on Slack, Teams or Yammer for the ‘water cooler’ talk. Use this as a dedicated channel to lighten the mood – share jokes, funny quotes or videos to give your team a laugh. With the current situation, they’ll appreciate it.

Reflect on what you’ve learned

Eventually, this will come to an end. But we shouldn’t rush to go right back to life and business as it was. When the crisis subsides, take time to reflect on what you’ve learned and how you can use that to improve the business. Make this a company initiative – pull in your employees to get their perspective. We’ve provided a short list of questions to get you started, but feel free to go beyond this and let your team guide the discussion.

  • What have we learned from this experience? Individually? As a business?

  • What areas of the business were most heavily impacted? Why? Is there anything we could do to avoid or minimize similar impacts in the future?

  • What gaps have we identified in our systems and processes? How will we address these?

  • What have we learned to do better or more efficiently?

Above all, remember this: we’re all in this together. That’s the message you should be communicating to your team. It’s a challenging time, but there’s also opportunity to be had if you can rally together.

Find more content on managing through the COVID-19 crisis in our SMB Survival Kit: Leading Through Crisis.

April 8th 2020
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