It’s hard being a people manager today. Your normal routines have been upended. The same is true for the people you work with and who work for you. Some are stuck at home with family and children sharing a lot of together time in close quarters; others are alone. Building on my previous post, below are some tips for managers to help you navigate these unchartered waters brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic and the need for physical distancing to “flatten the curve” and slow the spread of this highly contagious novel coronavirus.
There is no one size fits all set of recommendations that will work for everyone. Some of these suggestions may resonate more than others. One thing to keep in mind, especially if you’ve gone completely virtual, is that you still need to carry out all the managerial tasks that you are normally responsible for. But remember that virtual is harder and takes more time, preparation, and effort. Check out these 15 tips and mark those that will work for you.
Re-prioritize. The pandemic has forced us to adapt how we work. With adapting comes the need to reprioritize what’s essential – the “must do” – from the merely what’s “nice to do.” As a manager, this is a time to be a bit ruthless with setting your priorities. Mission critical activities rise to the top, the non-essential drops to the bottom, and those activities in the middle need serious triage. The Eisenhower Matrix (Urgent versus Important) can help you triage.
Streamline. As you prioritize, think about ways to streamline workloads and work processes. With focus and the greater clarity it brings, see if you can find ways to do the essential work more easily and seamlessly.
Find your tempo. Every team, every workplace, every business has its own tempo. Seek to find a new rhythm with your team, whether you’ve migrated totally online or adjusted hours for in-person work. Realize that some work will need to speed up, while other work tasks will necessarily need to slow down. Since these are not normal times, people realize that something’s got to give.
Provide structure. A big complaint these days is “What day is it?” Day blends into night and the work week into the weekend. Since we’re unable to go out as before, days lose their distinctiveness. For many, it is easier to work round the clock. They complain that their work days are longer than ever. That’s why it’s incumbent on managers to provide structure such as defining core hours and helping workers maintain boundaries, including for themselves. Work-life integration remains an issue. This is a marathon, not a middle distance race, and we’re only at the beginning.
Overcommunicate. It’s never a bad practice to overcommunicate, but today it’s a necessity. Be sure to check in with your people regularly, if not daily. Allow time for the personal conversations such as simply asking “How are you doing?” rather than jumping straight to the task however efficient or comfortable that might otherwise seem. Ask: “What do you need?” and “How can I be helpful?” Radio silence is the worst thing you can do at this moment.
Be open to feedback. With all on your plate, this one might seem like another burden. Being open to and welcoming feedback will help you lead and manage better. Your team members will have suggestions for improvement and may notice things that you missed, such as an employee with a sick child at home or elderly parent that they can longer visit. It’s also an opportunity to hone your ability to receive and give feedback.
Be visible. Yes, you still need to be visible and not just on the web calls. Being visible in the new context means making your presence felt, touching base with employees regularly, catalyzing conversations and problem solving, focusing on purpose, and giving voice to priorities as well as concerns.
Manage stress. These are stressful times, with new stressors rearing their heads – on top of the normal stressors. While some introverted employees might be enjoying the time away from the office, extroverts are withering on the vine from the lack of in-person contact. Be attuned to personal dynamics, and don’t neglect to manage your own stressors as well.
Show compassion. People have a lot going in their lives. With the virus spreading, we will soon all know someone, or someone who knows someone, who has personally lost someone to the virus. On a webinar today about 30% (of about 200 people) said they had a loved one, friend or colleague who had been diagnosed with Covid-19! That number will only go up.
Reduce uncertainty. So much is up in the air. Your staff want to know whether they will have a job, whether their salary will be reduced, what actions your organization is doing to reduce risk of viral infection. It’s important that you seek to reduce perceived uncertainty. The more certainty and predictability you can provide about the workplace, the less the daily stress and the better for employees.
Maintain standards. It’s too easy to let things slide because of the pandemic. Why shower, shave, change your clothes? It is important that the coronavirus doesn’t become an excuse for letting things slip due to lack of attention or effort. Standards, especially for core activities, are needed to deliver the goods and services that others depend on from your team. Standards are about fulfilling your team’s purpose which is related to serving others.
Navigate ambiguity. This is a new skill that managers will need to learn – coaching through ambiguity. You thought coaching employees in normal times was hard! As organizations are adapting, not everything is sorted out. There’ll be new initiatives that are not fully formed, tasks that are not yet clear, and other work that is being deprioritized. There are many works in progress. Your role is to coach people through this, helping them make the day-to-day adjustments.
Be intentional. Mindfulness, being fully present in the moment, helps us have the presence of mind to be more intentional and purposeful in our words and actions. A recent HCI webinar made the useful distinction between “mindful” and “mind full.” The former is purposeful, the latter a state where your mind is full of thoughts and often worry. The former is better than the latter. As a manager, ask yourself “What do I need to do to move from mind full to mindful?”
Model the way. People look to leaders for guidance about how to behave. Being a model for others today requires you to manage your own anxieties and fears like never before. Self-care is more important than ever, even as you own normal ways for doing so might no longer be available. Focus on what others need from you as their manager. Draw on your own resourcefulness to rise to the challenge to offer steadiness and grounded confidence. And remember to ask for help if you need it.
Manage your mood. The mood of the leader, like the virus, is contagious. That’s why it is important for you as the leader to manage your mood. In times like this, you don’t want to be too optimistic or pollyannaish, too dour or pessimistic, or to play the jokester. It’s important to find the right mood and tone. On that score, there is a lot to be said for grounded optimism, a sense that we will ultimately get through this while acknowledging the reality is that there are tough times ahead. And there’s still a lot to be thankful for, such as being healthy or having a job.
Remember to breathe. Corona is a respiratory illness. Paradoxically, to combat it we’ll need to learn how to breathe deeply. Together, let’s take some deep breaths to center ourselves, gain the presence of mind to apply our knowledge and skills, and collaborate to devise a path to overcome it and recover. Inhale, one…, two…, three…. Exhale, one…, two…, three…. Repeat. As many times as needed.