If the Fourth Industrial Revolution has increased the speed and changed the way we work, COVID-19 undoubtedly has pushed many companies to play catch-up and be ready sooner rather than later.
In the last couple of months, thousands of employers worldwide have rushed to implement or complete their remote-ready efforts as millions of employees have transitioned from offices to their homes. Whether your team was partially remote, or your company did a complete switch to remote work, leading your business and your people during these times will test most of what we know about leadership.
If there is a silver lining in this otherwise disruptive work pandemic, it would be that the current environment will force changes that could ultimately elevate the employee experience around the globe.
Here are three important focus areas to help you lead in a COVID-19 world:
1. People first.
Focus on business continuity but make your people’s well-being the priority. Your business for the next three months is really all about people, not profits and margins. Your employees will need your leadership during this unprecedented time which will alter what we have traditionally focused on as “success.”
Without question, everyone is anxious about their health, families and jobs. But equally compelling is our need to adapt and manage new realities, such as kids attending school remotely while parents work from home. Isolation on top of anxiety can take a massive swipe at a person’s well-being.
If not already, there will soon come a time where you will have to decide to protect your people or protect your profits. People need to know you care, especially now. How can you best protect them in their livelihood, but also in day-to-day living with needed supplies or adapting schedules? All of these “life” issues just got pushed to the very top of their priority list and the last thing they need is to contend with an employer who is too fixated on business as usual.
Your people’s ability to refocus and rapidly adapt to the current world at work is linked to your ability to respond and not just react. Encourage connection by having your teams hold virtual gatherings, reach out to one another, continue building relationships, schedule virtual lunches and happy hours and create a digital support system that will reinforce the idea that we are all in this together.
“Communication will need to remain transparent and authentic to be effective. With an overload of information being shared by the media, government and friends and family, rumors can travel fast and become the guiding principle for teams.”
2. Operate in smaller networks.
You may be operating in a hierarchical type of organization where directives and decisions cascade down from the C-suite. Over time, this type of structure will become less dominant due to the speed and agility needed in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. However, COVID-19 just dropped a hyper-accelerator into your workforce, sending millions scrambling to even access their work, much less be successful at it.
It is time to decrease control-and-command management and empower smaller teams’ broader decision-making so that you can respond faster to the rapid-changing environment. Use the power of small teams that can assemble and distribute capabilities and diverse perspectives to quickly make good decisions and produce quality work.
The closer these networks are to the consumer of your products and services, the better. This organization structural shift already has taken place in many workplaces, but COVID-19 will force us to adopt it at a wider scale and in many more organizations throughout the world.
3. Stop just sharing information.
The world has a lot of information flying in every direction, but we need actual communication where people listen, share, interpret and then take action. Most people need less information and, instead, much more human connection. This can come in the form of frequent and transparent communication. The ability to build trust will greatly be influenced by the ability to keep our companies and employees updated on what is happening, but also what the meaning is behind it.
There are plenty of online resources in terms of health, official measures and recommendations, but your people need to know they are in good hands during this pandemic. They need to see good decision-making and confidence, but not over-confidence that looks more like denial.
People want access to current and vital information that enables them to make the right choices for their family and their work. Communication will need to remain transparent and authentic to be effective. With an overload of information being shared by the media, government and friends and family, rumors can travel fast and become the guiding principle for teams. Maintaining constant and focused dialogue that allows two-way interaction plays a crucial role.
Whether you use email, an internal communication system, or a cloud-based platform, making it a priority to keep your teams updated will be critical. Stick to the facts, but don’t jump on the panic bus as we have a lot to do as a society and as leaders if we are to help resolve this crisis.
Additionally, I cannot say it enough to myself, but we have to keep in mind to remain calm. Maintaining an optimistic approach grounded in reality will help us make the best decisions to successfully lead our organizations through the next few months of uncertainty.
Scott Cawood, Ed.D., CCP, CBP, GRP, CSCP, WLCP, is CEO of WorldatWork.