It’s one of those dates you’ll remember as long as you live: March 11, 2020. The US implemented a ban on all travel to and from Europe. Utah Jazz star Rudy Gobert tested positive for coronavirus, and the NBA suspended its season. Other major sports leagues followed suit the next day, and by the weekend, nearly every store, school and office in the country was closed and stay-at-home orders were implemented. The pandemic was here and life as we know it was upended.
In the initial weeks that followed, we adjusted and made due. We held our trade shows online and moved our conference rooms to the cloud. We invented concepts like virtual happy hours and drive-by birthday parties. We turned our bedrooms into offices and our kitchen tables into classrooms.
Strangely, the seismic nature of this sudden change was somewhat invigorating. Individuals worked harder than ever. Teams produced more than ever. Companies banded together. "We can really do this," we all seemingly said in unison, a message reinforced by virtually every freshly cut TV commercial.
But then the inevitable happened: time passed. More than half a year, if you can believe it. Summer came and went. The virtual school year started anew. All those uplifting commercials disappeared. The new normal just sort of became normal, and before we knew it, “we can really do this” turned into “really, we’re still doing this?”
Therein lies the (new) biggest challenge facing leaders in the all-remote workplace. How do we fight fatigue and keep teams energized, invigorated and productive? How do we ensure that individuals, teams and companies as a whole maintain a spirit of positivity and hope? Let’s take a look at a few simple strategies leaders should consider.
Put the Onus on Your Leaders
Certainly, everyone needs to adjust to some degree or another. Everyone needs to step a little outside of their comfort zone. Everyone needs to find ways on occasion to just “make it work.” And everyone realizes that. But the more you can put the onus on your leaders to be the ones who have to adjust, to be the ones who have to “make it work,” the better off you’ll be.
For example, if a leader hosts a weekly meeting that two of her team members can no longer make because they have to tend to the virtual schooling needs of their kids, put the onus on the leader to figure out an alternative arrangement, not the other way around. When leaders find ways to make things work, everyone else tends to follow suit. Resourceful leaders inspire resourceful teams.
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Lead From a Place of Empathy
The challenges of the all-remote work world are as much emotional as they are physical and logistical, and the number one emotion employees need from their leaders right now is empathy. Everyone is handling the pandemic differently. Everyone faces a different set of personal challenges. As a leader, it’s critical to understand what your employees are facing on an individual level.
Look, most employees don’t want, need or expect you to solve their challenges. They just want to know that you understand and empathize with them. A healthy dose of grace and compassion will have more impact than anything else you can offer as a leader.
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Create Sharing Spaces
You can’t be empathetic toward others unless you know how they’re thinking and feeling, and you’ll never know how they’re thinking and feeling unless you give them opportunities to share. Expecting people to keep their problems at home was an archaic and unrealistic concept long before the pandemic, and it’s even more so now that our workplaces and our homes are the same.
So be active about learning how others are feeling by encouraging them to share and creating safe spaces within which they can do so. For example, before diving right into your agenda, carve out time during 1-on-1 meetings to ask someone how they’re doing, and be willing to lead by example. You can’t expect others to share if you’re not willing to do the same.
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Mandate Time Off
In a world where you’re already “home” from work every day and there’s no place to go or travel, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking you don’t need to take any time off. Don’t allow that to happen to you or your team. Whether it’s through floating half days or by making it a requirement to take PTO, see to it that your team takes time off to recharge, and again, lead by example by taking time off yourself.
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The less we’re together and the less we interact, the harder it becomes to see and appreciate our successes. That’s no trivial thing either. Celebration is a vital source of workplace energy, one we simply can’t afford to lose if we hope to keep our teams motivated and our businesses thriving. This is where great leaders can make a world of difference. Be the energy and optimism your team needs. Be the voice that identifies, calls out and celebrates the small successes. A team that celebrates together is a team that achieves together.
Hitting an emotional wall is inevitable in times like these. The only question is what happens when you do. Companies that ignore the warning signs will be knocked flat. Companies that lead with empathy, create opportunities for sharing and understanding, and prioritize well-being will eventually push through. The choice is ours.