Working from home during a pandemic presents many new opportunities! However, for some, the new work environment presents challenge and emotional stress. Yet for leaders, this new way of working can be an opportunity to increase engagement and connectivity with your team. If you are asking how might I do that? I will suggest three simple tactics: 1) Connect with your true self, 2) Connect with your employees, and 3) Co-create team.
1) Connect with your true self
As a leader, you must show up authentically and be willing to live your values, show your vulnerability, and empower others to do the same. The two go hand in hand when you present yourself as who you truly are, and you’ll quickly see how authenticity helps establish and grow engagement. While it may seem strange to wear your imperfections with pride, this depicts honesty, humility, and self-awareness. You’ll be living your values while building trust and reducing fear among your employees, who will view you as a human being, just like them. After all, we NEED trust more than ever during this difficult time.
In your leadership role, sometimes you’ll feel completely overwhelmed by the chaos. Well, guess what? That’s totally fine. There’s no need to hide it, and there’s certainly no need to apologize for it.
Struggles don’t make you weak. They make you human. Do not be afraid to share your struggles with your employees! In fact, they’ll feel refreshed by your openness. Your employees will then feel empowered to share their own struggles without fear of judgement or ridicule.
I recently led an interactive Zoom meeting with several participants. The meeting began with cliché responses such as “I’m good, how are you?” and “No complaints on my end!”. However, when asked how I was doing, I opened up about my current struggles and frustrations, much to the pleasant surprise of my participants. Following a brief pause for processing, they then took turns sharing their respective struggles in detail. Also, several of them thanked me for “allowing” them to unburden themselves. Much tension had been lifted from that meeting, with everyone breathing a collective sigh of relief. That’s right, we’re human, allowed to struggle, and certainly encouraged to be open about it. Not surprisingly, our meeting was productive and transparent, with thoughtful feedback flowing throughout.
While you may want to look strong and be the rock that your team needs, don’t forget who you are and how you let your true nature and values shine. Here are some things to experiment with:
- Several times each day, pause, and do some deep breathing. Step out of the chaos and truly center yourself. It can be as simple as planting your feet on the floor, shutting your eyes and take several deep breaths
- Identify a physical gesture that will bring you back to center. I cross my arms across my chest and then release by opening up my arms. Neuroscience tells us that we can shift our emotions more quickly through physicality than through trying to think ourselves into another state. I use this several times a day in our current environment.
- Observe yourself! Document what you discover while increasing self-awareness. You may ask yourself:
- What am I feeling?
- When do I fear saying “I’m sorry”?
- When do I fear saying “I don’t know”?
- When am I afraid I’ll make a mistake”?
2) Connect with Your employees
To truly understand and care about your employees, you must get to know what matters to them during this time. Show your commitment to your employees by doing the following:
- Engage in quality conversations with them regularly. Ask open-ended questions to learn what matters to them professionally and personally (interests, passions, and motivators). What are their stressors while working from home?
- Follow back with them while providing honest feedback. Ask more open-ended questions to learn how you can better support them. Make sure they have the resources necessary to succeed remotely. Even with these resources, accept that their remote work won’t always measure up to their office work, which is simply the nature of the structure. Along the way, find out how they’re doing professionally and personally.
3) Co-create team
During this difficult time, you must engage with your employees more frequently and on a deeper level than ever before. With your employees feeling isolated while working from home, they need frequent contact that is genuinely thoughtful and intentional. Be honest and transparent. Provide hope but be honest. Even if you don’t know exactly what the future holds, being honest and trustworthy will keep employees engaged. Listen to your employees and encourage them to share their perspectives. Look for opportunities for employees to grow and learn through this time of rapid change. You’ll be amazed at the results:
- Morale will improve – Your employees will trust you and appreciate you reaching out. Not surprisingly, they’ll then feel better about themselves, their work, and how it adds value to your organization.
- Productivity and quality will increase – One of my employees recently supported her daughter through some health concerns. We gladly accommodated the employee, who adjusted her remote schedule accordingly. As a result, while the quality of her work briefly suffered, it has since improved because she was accommodated, respected, and appreciated.
- Hope will ensue – You must continually remind your employees to be hopeful. Hope doesn’t reflect blind optimism, delusion, or Pollyannaish nature. Hope inspires your employees to keep grinding through the struggles, on towards future possibilities. Furthermore, they’ll feel inspired to instill that very hope in others who share a common purpose.
While leading through this difficult time, you must show up authentically with a willingness to reveal vulnerability. Along the way, your words and actions must show that you truly understand and care about your employees. As challenging as it may be, try to view this pandemic as an opportunity for growth in your role as a leader. After all, if you can stretch as a leader during this difficult time, you’ll be that much stronger and more effective in your role once the pandemic has ceased. The engagement created will transfer and be appreciated when you return to your workplace.