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Leading Teams Through a Pandemic: What’s Changed?

In this blog, I look at how the pandemic has changed how we are leading our teams and the lessons learned. For business leaders, long recognised leadership skills of adapting, guiding and innovating have been pushed to the extreme. Some continue to meet the challenge with vigour whilst others are faltering.

With renewed hope, our thoughts turn to a possible return to the office, bringing with it a reflection on how leadership has changed.

Be Flexible about Work

A growing percentage of people want a hybrid/flexible approach to their working hours. Over 50% of employees say that they are looking to work from home three or more days a week. A quarter reporting they would leave their employment if they had to return to the office full-time. This is a direct result of remote working and signifies a departure from the traditional team leadership style of all-seeing and all-knowing. It is a fundamental change in how we lead.

Leaders who are successful in managing this change are trusting their employees to deliver. It is an outcome-focused view based upon the effectiveness of staff rather than that of micromanagement and presenteeism. The future office space will reflect this as a place to connect and collaborate rather than oversee staff.

Build Purpose into Community

A key consideration for leaders has been how to keep staff connected and maintain a community whilst physically distant.  Technology has become more prevalent for leading teams that are engaged while reducing feelings of isolation. Supporting your employees is an aimable goal but this goal must include helping them find your purpose. A recent McKinsey article suggests that employers risk losing talent if employees’ purpose isn’t a priority. The article also reveals that “more than 70 percent of the employees we surveyed said that their sense of purpose is largely defined by work…”.

Daily virtual coffee breaks became popular for many at the start of the pandemic. This overuse, often with no set purpose, is not reflective of real life. In the office, you would be unlikely to stop to chat daily with your whole team at the same time.

There is a craft to effective virtual communication for business, with leaders now turning to communication with a defined purpose and outcomes. In the virtual environment, creating opportunities for purposeful connection is key. It can help to use experienced virtual facilitators to build events that are engaging, effective and purposeful.

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Communicate to Reduce Uncertainty

Staying connected and communicating with the wider organisation is vital for leaders and business success.

The change in working patterns and behaviours caused by COVID-19 resulted a dramatic rise in mental health issues, stress and a feeling of unconnectedness. Employees report feeling uncertain about the present and the future. In fact, a recent Envoy report reveals that up 66% of employees worry about returning to the workplace.

In David Rock’s SCARF Model, he discusses the human brain and its preference for certainty. It makes sense – we feel safe when we know what to expect. Poor communication and uncertainties can lead to stress and reduced job satisfaction. Staff in organisations lacking communication from leadership are 3x times more likely to suffer from burn-out.

As leaders, we may not have all the answers, but transparent and regular communication is important even in times of volatility. Those who offer clarity and ask for staff input have seen productivity rise. People feel motivated when you include them in decision-making and reassure them that someone is in charge.

Make Employee Wellbeing a Priority

Employee wellbeing is one of the most considered topics among leaders today. The pandemic has led to an unprecedented mental health crisis in the workforce. Left unchecked, it could have drastic implications for individuals and business.

In this new working environment, leadership has an important role in improving staff wellbeing. Since 2020, many are re-evaluating their careers and purpose. In order to retain talent, leaders need to show them how their goals fit with that of the organisation.

A workplace in which they feel connected and able to contribute is vital.  This TED talk by Amy Edmonson is a fascinating insight into how leaders can contribute to a connected workplace with a focus on psychological safety. Leaders must create an open dialogue environment where staff can speak up with ideas and questions without the fear of embarrassment or repercussion. By enabling this, you encourage innovation and reduce stress.

Leaders often face challenges. Yet, the pandemic is a challenge and a catalyst for change like no other. It has changed how we are leading teams and how we view the role of leadership.

Top Tips for Leading Teams in Changing Times

  1. Be clear with your objectives, focus on the outcomes and trust your teams to deliver.
  2. Consider how you can connect your team effectively and implement a plan.
  3. Drive regular and transparent communication to reduce feelings of uncertainty.
  4. Create an environment with a shared purpose, where your employees can ask questions and thrive.

If you’d like to find out more about how I work with heart-centred leaders and organisations, get in touch on 07980 838945 or email me at [email protected] 

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