6 ways to lead through the COVID-19 crisis

COVID-19 has significantly impacted the way in which we live, interact, and work. During times of crisis, people turn to leaders to guide them through uncertainty. Your people are your greatest asset, and it’s more important than ever to lead with empathy, and to make decisions that support, protect, and reassure them.

Here are 6 tips for how to be the best leader possible during these unprecedented times...


1. Communicate and empathize

Clear and concise communication is more important than ever. You may not have all the answers right away, and that’s okay. If for example, your benefits will be changing, you can share that you are thinking over specific issues without having to get into specific details just yet.

According to a survey by Gallup,“employees who strongly agree that their leader makes them feel enthusiastic about the future are 69 times more likely to be engaged in their work.” Be optimistic in your internal communications around COVID-19, but don’t sugar coat anything. Balance optimism with facts, and backup the reasoning behind your decision making with data. Never share information that hasn’t been confirmed. Ensure you are consulting reliable sources to avoid spreading misinformation.

You may be in the unfortunate position to communicate about difficult decisions at this time (hour adjustments, salary reductions, layoffs, etc). Be as transparent as possible about the current state of the company. Transparency builds trust and secrecy breeds fear.

2. Discover major challenges

What are your employees really thinking and feeling at this time? Remember, COVID-19 has affected each and every member of your staff either directly or indirectly.

We are all living through the same crisis, but each of us experiences “crisis” differently. Stressful situations can trigger our brains to release a flood of hormones, also known as the fight-or-flight response. Everyone has an automatic response to threat or danger, but we all have natural inclinations towards one of the “4 Fs” (fight, flight, freeze, or fawn). Your staff may react to COVID-19 with fear, apathy, anger, sadness, and even denial.

Consider distributing a survey to get a pulse for how your staff is handling the crisis. Remember, a “one size-fits all” approach won’t work. Customize your survey to reflect your staff.  

3. Avoid micromanagement

With many teams being completely remote, it’s tempting to want to check in frequently to see that projects still continue to run smoothly. While it’s good to keep the lines of communication open, be sure you aren’t sliding into the dangerous territory of “micromanagement".

Instead of asking managers to list what they’re working on every day, ask them what their goals are and what you can do to help them achieve those goals. By communicating in outputs and clear KPIs, you develop mutual trust without being overbearing.

4. Prioritize well-being

Encourage daily social interaction among your teams, especially interaction that are just for fun, and not only to catch-up on work. Show up to “virtual happy hours” and make yourself available for questions. This is a great way to maintain a virtual “open door” policy.

Consider expanding mental health benefits where possible. Two Chairs, Calm, BetterHelp, and TalkSpace are all mental health platforms that can be used virtually. We also recommend creating fitness initiatives (like competitions around who can take the most steps per day), or team Zoom fitness classes. Sometimes employees just need to take a day for mental health. Encourage employees to do so, and make it known that there will be no repercussions for doing so.

Don’t forget to lead by example. Enable others to express how they’re really feeling by sharing your own thoughts and feelings. Use paid time off or sick time when needed, and embrace new policies by taking them in stride. Stressed and need a “mental health” day? Being transparent about taking time off to care for yourself is an important way to build trust within your business. Employees will never feel empowered to take the time off they need to care for their mental health if they’ve never witnessed it in their leadership team.

5. Ensure tech is up to par

Your current task management system may have worked well when your team had the advantage of proximity and in-person communication. Now that your teams are working remotely, is your technology still aiding project flow and communication? It may not seem like the right time to implement big changes, but it could actually improve productivity.

Consider exploring new programs (where budget allows) that can be easily integrated. Be sure to set teams up with the right monitor, desk, and ergonomic set-up, and test out different video conferencing technologies until you find one that’s right for you. Depending on the size and needs of your teams, some video chat services may be better than others.

6. Embrace a different future

It’s hard to say what a post-COVID future will look like, but we can assume that the practice of remote work will become a more consistent part of working life. Many businesses have found that the continuity of their culture does not rely on in-person communication.

Hiring managers should take this opportunity to establish a system for video interviewing and explore tools and resources that will allow the company to complete new-hire paper digitally. Consider working with an experienced recruitment consultant to facilitate the hiring process, and get the right people in the door sooner.

For more information, be sure to download our new guide on how to get remote onboarding right.


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