The Coronavirus and resulting quarantine and social distancing measures descended quickly on a mostly unprepared workforce. Leaders had to act quickly to figure out how to keep their employees safe and their operations still running. This involved new systems to manage workflow, pivoting communication strategies, and re-prioritization of goals and objectives. The scale and speed of these changes have left many managers wondering how to effectively guide and lead their teams when they may not be able to interact with them in person.
There are lots of articles and webinars providing information and training on effective remote leadership, and while these resources are helpful, this is also a good time to remember that the fundamentals of leadership remain – what is essential during this crisis, is and will remain essential when we are all back in the office. Certain critical leadership skills have emerged during the Coronavirus pandemic – communication, focus on results and flexibility. But these leadership skills have always been critical. And whether in the office or out of it, employees won’t be lowering their standards for supportive and effective leadership.
The tools may change, and the circumstances are often out of your control – but best leadership practices are fundamental for a reason:
Every human interaction is some form of communication. Communication is not the most important thing, it’s everything. Leaders who communicate effectively are able to be successful leaders no matter the circumstances. When employees are remote, the tendency can be either to check in excessively and risk having the employee feel micro-managed, or to back off and rely on only formal means of communication – email and meetings – and risk employees feeling isolated and left to speculate about what’s going on.
How much should we communicate? It depends, how skilled is the employee in their role? Newer or less experienced employees will require more direction from you than seasoned experts. How confident or motivated is the employee? Tentative or jaded employees need more support and two-way discussions. Adjust the amount, frequency and nature of your communication based on employee’s skill, will, and situation. The pandemic has caused many of us to feel scared and unclear on what to do. For others it has afforded more time to be left alone to focus and get deep work done. Know your employees and how they feel, and adjust your communication accordingly. This communication strategy also works when everybody’s back in the office.
Set Clear Expectations for Results and Behavior
Employees want to know what you expect of them, and whether or not they’re meeting those expectations. Leaders who focus on results and behavior will be able to lead their people no matter their physical location. Be clear with assignments by using specific language. Describe your desired outcomes and parameters of the work and give clear deadlines and check points. Communicate a picture of what success looks like. Be objective with your expectations for behavior. What do you mean by “cooperate with co-workers?” Be specific about what you mean by “keep me in the loop.”
Resist the temptation to set expectations that may not be directly related to success. One example: instead of insisting that an employee bring pencil and paper to take notes in a meeting, state your expectation that they complete their action items on time and correctly – and allow them to use their own strategies for accomplishing those goals.
Be Flexible and Understanding
During COVID19, organizations have kept their operations running and generating revenue while many, if not all, of their employees have been working from home – attempting to balance workload and home life. And guess what? Employees are always balancing workload and home life. When everyone gets back to the office, remember what they achieved when you weren’t watching. Remember how they got their work done, cooperated with each other, supported customers and stakeholders, all while keeping operations flowing. And when they need time off in the middle of the day – for doctor’s visits, for personal business that must be done during work hours, to wait at the bus stop or get their child to soccer practice – remember that leaders who make it easier for employees to balance work and home, are leaders who make it easier for their employees to succeed.
There is nothing more important to a leader than their people. A great people strategy is what allows them to build great teams, engage future leaders, and ultimately – drive results. A crisis, even one that separates teams and changes work styles for the foreseeable future, should not appreciably alter your people strategy. Continue to prioritize engaging and motivating your people with effective communication, clear expectations, and flexibility – and you will find your teams are better able to turn current challenges into long-term opportunities for the organization.
Success Labs is a leadership development and management consulting firm in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. For more than 25 years, our expert team of consultants has worked with hundreds of companies to grow leaders, build teams and drive results through great people strategy. Contact us to get proactive about expanding your company’s potential.