Using empathy and trust to build a post Covid-19 future
As the hold of Coronavirus quarantine restrictions are slowly being eased, businesses are just now starting to raise their head above the parapet to face a vastly different future. The pace of this change is slow, but no less daunting because of it. We all know that things are going to be different, but how do we navigate what is being called the ‘new normal’ and what is expected of us as leaders?
While it’s difficult to predict the long-term impact that the pandemic has caused and there is still the danger that a new wave of the virus will knock us back to square one, we can mitigate the effect on the people around us by displaying some strong leadership characteristics and giving an optimistic outlook. After all, great leaders face adversity and present upcoming challenges as opportunities to develop and work towards a positive future. Here are a collection of tips to help you lead your team to a better tomorrow.
Create a new vision of success and communicate it
You need to consider what your new goal is. What has changed? What does success look like now and how is it different? Once you have established your goal, you can begin to develop the steps you will need to take to get there. But this goal is no good in isolation. It needs to be clearly communicated to your team, so that they have a good understanding of what you are trying to achieve and the role they play in this.
One positive from being in lockdown is that it has offered up a lot of thinking time. You probably already have a very good understanding of the strengths and weaknesses that your business has and the challenges that it now faces. Take this knowledge and use it to review your operating model and ways of working. What can be improved to help meet the new challenges? It may be that something worked well during lockdown and you can incorporate this into your standards, or you might need to completely rethink your operating model. Making these alterations and adapting is not a problem, but not being clear about what you want to achieve and why could be.
When the lockdown came into force, many leaders were suddenly thrust into a position of having to put a lot of trust in their team. They couldn’t ‘see’ them and had to have the confidence that they would fulfil any agreed objectives. For some this was easy. They had already placed faith in their employees and knew that they had the tools to succeed. Others may have found it more difficult and their mindset had to quickly readjust. Hopefully, those that initially struggled with the idea of placing this much trust in their team soon established that their fears were unfounded.
Generally, teams thrive when they feel a sense of trust. As long as clear objectives and ground rules are set, you can be confident that your team will be conscientious enough to rise to the challenge. Those that don’t are often the same people that pose a challenge in the office.
The quarantine has actually provided an opportunity for us to build on trust and work towards better working relationships that can provide an improved work-life balance. It would be a step backwards now to revert to a command and control style and we should grasp the opportunity to build on trust.
Provide structure and standards for productivity
Of course, providing new ways of working doesn’t mean that the rules no longer apply. In fact, it could be argued that structure and standards have become even more important. Think about how these new ways of working will need to be organised and brainstorm with your team to help establish some set ground rules. Your team will know what worked for them and what didn’t, so involve them in creating some clarity.
Some of the things you should consider are office hours, workloads, availability, contact times, methods, and expectations. What happened when you could no longer do X? If the impact was minimal, could you stop it completely? An example of this is meetings. These are often one of the key ‘time bandits’ at work. When they stopped, did anything change? There has to be a lesson there.
Consider employee wellbeing
Returning to work could well be a stressful time for your team and its important that you prepare for this. There are some of the more obvious and practical considerations to consider, such as sanitising and social distancing, which you need to have a clear operational plan for. Further than that, you should also consider the mental wellbeing of every individual and ensure there are standards in place to ensure they can get the emotional support they require, when they need it.
There are many workplace plans available that will help you address the key considerations and practical actions required for returning to work post quarantine, but as a leader the main thing you can do is focus on your empathy. Ensure you establish a heightened awareness of the emotional needs of your team, be there for them and consider if any unusual behaviours or actions may be triggered by something other than poor performance or attitude. Providing empathy and being supportive has never been more important.
Put the needs of your team before your own
It’s clear that you are going through a lot of the very same challenges as your team. However, it’s the responsibility of a great leader to put this to one side and show compassion and empathy, while nurturing a sense of solidarity and support. If you put others’ needs ahead of your own, you’ll benefit from a sense of shared wellbeing.
You should also remember that your team will be feeling a mixture of emotions and may be facing personal challenges that they have or have not shared with you. They may have health concerns for families or friends, financial issues, childcare needs, and a myriad of other dilemmas. It is a time to put the ‘rule book’ to one side and instead focus on a compassionate and considered approach to leadership. Although there may be some short-term pain, you’ll benefit from this approach in the long run.
Return to work – step by step
Your approach to returning people to work should be both cautious and gradual, while taking in the need for both a physically safe workspace and one that addresses the emotional needs of your team. Here is a rough outline…
- Use a plan and define the safe re-opening of operations and the business in general. This will include social distancing rules, sanitising etc.
- Begin the process of bringing people back to work. If you can stagger this, then it will help. Include plans for staying connected with people at home and remote workers.
- Provide continuous two-way communication throughout the process. Highlight the plans, safety factors, working practices and your vision for future operational goals. Provide clear communication channels and contacts for specific needs.
- Celebrate achievements and people who go the extra mile to support the organisation and its clients. Highlight the difference this makes.
- Have empathy and be aware of the needs of the team. Individualise your approach to personal concerns and be mindful of demands outside of work.
- Nurture a culture of innovation and discuss your team’s ideas on how to apply creative solutions to new ways of working and the opportunities that may arise.
- Where employees had to leave the organisation, remain connected and consider them for any new roles that may arise from re-structures.
- Be prepared to deviate from company policy where it obstructs common sense, hinders success, or creates an unnecessary burden on the wellbeing of your team members.
Listen to your team
Whatever the industry, the pandemic has completely changed the way we look at work. I’m sure there are many that are raring for things to go ‘back to normal’, but even the most dyed in the wool can see that the focus on work has changed for many and that there are a whole new set of challenges just around the corner.
The ‘work from home’ argument has swung firmly in the direction of more flexibility and many large organisations are examining the need for expensive office structures in affluent areas. Employees are questioning whether a long commute is necessary anymore and there is bound to be a demand for discussion on family considerations and an improved work-life balance.
Even where organisations do keep things running close to normality, there will be different considerations about how we collaborate and work as a team in the future.
Your role as leader is to listen and understand your team and provide a path for organisational success that everyone can work towards. To do that, you’ll need to pull on all your skills of communication and emotional intelligence, but most of all, to remember that everyone is working towards the same vision. This is of course the vision that you set out at the start.
Trainer Bubble provide a wide variety of training course materials and e-learning courses that will help develop the skills of your workforce. This includes e-learning courses on emotional intelligence, wellness and developing resilience.