How to Manage Employees in a Time of COVID-19
Updated: Apr 13
One moment, things feel relatively normal. Sure, your calendar’s stacked with back-to-back meetings, and the coffee machine’s broken and your team still has a pitch it needs to finalize for a brand-new client and it’s due by tomorrow – but none of these things are new. It is the way of the world when working in our business. You win some days; you lose some. The important thing is to dust yourself off and get on with the show: On with the commute to work. On with the long, tedious, necessary meeting. On with the next make-or-break pitch. That’s how it’s always been.
Then along comes… a global pandemic; a contagious virus that seems plucked from out of a bad horror movie. One day you’re reviewing your team’s pitch-deck as usual… the next day you’re sheltering in place and working remotely from home, using whatever small amount of time you have between conference calls to search for life’s new necessities: a two-week supply of food and medicine. Daycare for your kids, face masks and hand sanitizer. Making sure you’re washing your hands, disinfecting all the right surfaces at home and maintaining the proper distance from other people when you’re out getting exercise or running errands.
But as a manager, you’ve got other tasks beyond those (unbelievably important) things. You aren’t afforded the luxury of worrying only about yourself and your family – you’ve got employees who are feeling every bit as uncertain and stressed as you’re probably feeling.
Now is the time to make sure your employees know you’ve got their backs – and to make sure they’ve got your organization’s back in turn. You need to ensure the people who work for you aren’t overwhelmed by everything they’re suddenly facing. In a moment of genuine crisis, you need to set an example that shows the people you manage how to maintain their focus, productivity and drive to succeed – without flinching or succumbing to the anxiety suddenly malingering around them from every possible direction.
Here are a few things you’ll need to bear in mind while managing your workforce through these strange times.
Be Sensitive to their Sensitivities
A little bit of empathy goes a long way in any leadership position – and now is the time to let that quality shine. Amid a global pandemic, employees will naturally worry about a thousand different things: everything from their unfamiliar new work environment to their job security. You need to make yourself available on a personal level to address their concerns and worries. The more you can be transparent with them and show your genuine compassion for them as individual people, the greater their ability to trust your leadership – and keep plugging away at the workaday necessities at hand.
Set Clear Objectives
Every employee wants to understand clearly what is expected of them – and that goes tenfold in circumstances like these. As a manager, you can help maintain workers’ morale and sense of purpose by defining the goals and objectives you expect them to meet. Even if those goals are already well-defined, it doesn’t hurt to go over them again for clarity. That way, you provide them with reassurance and consistency – and keep the “fog of war” away from intruding on their work.
Don’t Be the Boss – Be the Role-Model
Rain or shine or global pandemic, you need to provide a model for your employees when it comes to personal behavior – and how that behavior reflects your organization’s values. Poor management has a lasting, negative psychological impact on employees, decreasing their motivation and performance.
In the case of COVID-19, instances already abound of discrimination based on race or place of origin – including occurrences in the workplace. Discrimination of that kind will always remain irrational, hateful and intolerable. As a manager, you need to set clear lines of communication and be aware of any form of bias-based behavior.
Acknowledge Efforts – and Reward Achievements!
Just as every employee likes to know their objectives in an organization, they also like to know when they’re meeting – or surpassing – those objectives. Even if it’s just little things like public acknowledgements, shout-outs and unofficial “awards”, it’s good for people in the middle of a crisis to feel – and know– they are valued and appreciated.
It’s times like these that test the patience, empathy and competence of every single employee in a fast-moving business – no matter how patient, empathic and competent they might be in ordinary living. And it is times like these – when the whole world seems to be reassembling itself day-by-day and hour-by-hour – that good leadership and management will be essential to the success of your organization.
Adapted from Gartner's Corporate Leadership Site.