Okay, so let’s all stop saying things like “new normal” and embrace that as a society, we have all just been through over a year’s worth of trauma that we are working on recovering from. Unfortunately, trauma like that does not leave you unchanged. You, and the teams you manage, are not the same humans you were at the beginning of 2020 when the clock happily struck 12 am on New Year’s Day, and everyone was getting new gym memberships. Our workplaces, our schools, our lives, and our daily interactions look a lot different now. That means those in leadership positions must recognize the changes and adapt to our teams’ needs to function in this current environment. Here are some tips to help you!
- Mental health is going to be a prevalent issue – pay attention! Your team could be suffering from all sorts of anxiety that was not there before. They could have anxiety about coming back to the office; they could have anxiety about leaving their family after over a year at home; they could have anxiety about wearing a mask or getting sick; they can have pandemic fatigue from constantly having to address all of the above. Either way, it is essential to understand that the individuals you are working with may not be the same ones mentally or emotionally that you are used to having on your team. Make sure you take time to address individual work/life integration needs, self-care needs, and pay attention to signs of anxiety. You are not your team’s health care provider, but if someone’s performance is being impacted, now is a good time to proceed with caution on performance improvement plans and ask first how you can help them feel supported to be successful. You will get more buy-in and eventually healthier team members.
- Make sure they have the proper resources. This can be technology, time management skills, decision trees, or more. Technology is critical here. You need to know that they have proper setups to be the most productive at home. Beyond just sending laptops out, consider a technology stipend for team members who need better configurations at home. Teach them about a proper ergonomic desk setup (i.e., not the kitchen table), invest in headphones for everyone, and make sure you have implemented a solid team communication method. Tools like Slack and Microsoft Teams can help your staff stay connected throughout the day with instant messaging and video calling features.
- Organize regular meetings but do not overdo it! I have found that most teams have replaced the office water cooler chatter with just being on non-stop zoom calls all day. We have zooms to talk about EVERYTHING. You will burn your staff out like that, and you will not give them enough time to be productive. Your team does need a regularly scheduled slot where they can all be face to face discussing the status of work, delegating tasks, and keeping up their team connection, because they need quiet work time too. You can help them manage their time by instituting one day a week with no meetings or instituting “quiet time” at varying points throughout the day. It also helps to streamline communications that do need to happen. Multiple communication methods, such as teams, email, phone, etc., can become overwhelming. We all get burnt out on our email inboxes, and now it seems that has spilled over into other channels. Help by setting some ground rules about how each communication method should be used, how often they should be checked, how quickly your team is expected to respond, etc.
- Utilize project management tools. This is critical! You will never get the same type of work cadence and flow from a fully remote team that you get from an in-person team that can all sit nearby and keeps everyone productive throughout the day. To keep everyone flowing, it is crucial to ensure a centralized task location with regular status updates and clear delegation. Suppose you were going to try to bake a pie with a group of humans not physically located in the same spot. In that case, you would have to make sure you were very clear about what ingredients are needed, the step-by-step instructions, and the checkpoints throughout the process to check their pie progress against expectations. A robust project management tool can act as the centralized location for this to happen. It provides you as a manager the ability to review status and progress on projects without interrupting your team’s workflow for constant updates.
- Recognize achievements and reward good performance. We may have forgotten about positive reinforcement amidst pandemic life. Yes, many employers struggled, staffing changes were constant, but we seem to have left achievement recognition on the side of the highway as we sped along. Now, more than ever, your people need to be reminded that they are appreciated and praised for doing a good job. See mental health in point number one. The fact that you even have team members who were willing to adjust, adapt, and stay on board through so much change and home life challenges is a testament to their commitment to their organization. Do not get stingy with the gold stars; a little recognition can go a long way to keeping your team focused and motivated.