As we begin to take the first steps towards reopening workplaces, a lot of business leaders are no doubt reflecting on the last few months, which for many will have been the toughest they will have faced.
Taking the time to reflect, especially during a crisis, is an essential skill for a leader. When adaptability is key and difficult decisions are being made without the luxury of unlimited time, being able to reflect in the moment can be hugely beneficial in both the short and long term.
Involve your team
When you’re a leader, then the buck stops with you. Yes, senior management teams provide a lot of support and decisions are often made following a consensus, but the leader needs to be ready to stand by that decision – or have the bravery to change it if necessary.
That doesn’t mean that employees can’t be involved in the process. At the outset of the pandemic, we faced the same conundrum as businesses across the country. How can you protect the business and protect your employees, when reducing the payroll is usually the only option to cut the majority of the costs?
When reaching a decision about how to navigate the business through the pandemic, rather than telling our staff what we were going to do, I reached out to everyone in the organisation, explained the decision and thought process behind it and asked for their support.
The response was extraordinary. Everyone gave their backing to our plans and offered to do whatever it took to help the business. This was before the furlough scheme had been unveiled by the Government and yet people were still willing to make sacrifices for their colleagues.
Communication is king
This example demonstrates the power of communication. By involving employees and being crystal clear in what you say, leaders can inspire trust, confidence and resilience. Even tight knit teams would have been rocked by the impact of the pandemic. The sooner you can foster a sense of “we’re in this together”, the stronger a team will become.
This is an ongoing process and it’s never too late to start. As workplaces begin to reopen, honest and direct communication is required to ensure that everyone understands the next steps of the process. That may be new office rules that adhere to social distancing regulations, asking people to take on additional responsibilities outside of their normal role, or managing a mix of full-time, part-time and furloughed staff.
Employees will look to their leaders for guidance and clarity at this time. Giving regular, honest communication will form the bedrock of a resilient team.
Adapt for the individual
No two people’s experiences of the lockdown are the same. We all have different challenges to face, from working at home while looking after children to dropping off a client call because of a bad Internet connection. As a leader, one of the most valuable things you can do is check in with each team member individually. Work talk can even take a backseat during these conversations – connecting on a personal level is just as important.
When you understand the different needs and stressors of each individual, you can adapt your approach accordingly. Let the employee with young children know that their work schedule can be flexible to suit their needs. Perhaps the employee with poor Internet can come to the office once a week for that important client call.
I think we should focus here on providing a space that works for individuals, whilst maintaining safety.
Providing spaces that work for the individual will benefit the collective as everyone will be supported in the way they need it. Of course, this needs to be done with safety in mind. Plenty of employees may value the social aspect of workplaces which won’t be the same as before. One possible solution is to make use of outdoor spaces more, either at the office or encouraging walking team meetings.
These efforts will not go unnoticed and will help build resilience, as employees who feel supported and appreciated will be ready to repay that in their work.
The pandemic has provided a unique learning opportunity for leaders. Our leadership abilities have been tested and we have seen how our teams react to adversity. It’s up to us to take the positives from the previous months and use them to strengthen the organisation in post-COVID times.
More flexible schedules. A better work-life balance. Deeper levels of trust between all staff. The knowledge that teams can support each other to get through any situation. If leaders can build on these elements then the business will be more resilient than ever before.