Leading after lockdown
Coronavirus has changed how we look at the workplace, probably impacting how we manage our teams for the foreseeable future. Politicians describe the world ahead as “the new normal”. Business leaders of once close-knit teams should find new ways to manage their employees. Many of those employees are working from home in larger numbers than ever before, or even thought about.
Leading after coronavirus lockdowns is a new challenge. Whilst many of us have some experience in dealing with a remote workforce doing so through a crisis of such magnitude is a massive challenge. There are no simple solutions as each situation is unique. Some issues are common across the board however – enabling with technology, focusing on communications, looking after people, and ensuring the strategic value and opportunities of workforce diversity and workplace inclusion are maximised.
Are all the necessary tools in place?
Had the coronavirus crisis happened even only a few years ago, the impact on business would have been much worse than it is today. We now have fast broadband, affordable and efficient video conferencing and work-sharing platforms, virtual private networks, and more. Even before the crisis, many people already worked for at least part of their week at home.
The first stage is to ensure that everyone has the necessary hardware and software, along with the required training in their use. Executives and managers should pressure test systems, and deploy exceptional security measures to protect both businesses, individuals and importantly customers. (There’s been a massive rise in phishing and other cybercrimes.) Have you discussed with every member of your team if they have the resources they need?
Communication, communication, communication
Communicating effectively in the face of crises is the most vital aspect of strong leadership. Leading after coronavirus lockdowns requires even more exceptional skills than before. Planning is crucial. Leaders must maintain communication with each stakeholder, including employees, customers, suppliers, investors, financial markets and more. Flexibility is vital. Everything is in flux. As more information and knowledge becomes available, the decisions we make today may not be valid tomorrow.
Employees must be kept on board. They need to know how you are protecting their health, that their jobs are as secure as can reasonably be expected, that you will not abandon them when the going gets even tougher. Equally, they need to know what is expected of them and to feel their special efforts are making a difference. Use a service such as equativo, the platform to engage, empower and enable employees to allow your teams to confidentially raise opportunities, concerns, and seek support and guidance.
Your suppliers, markets and other stakeholders in your supply chain need to know your needs and abilities to maintain markets. Your banks and financiers need to know about your financial outlook. The list goes on. Honesty and transparency within the bounds of company confidentiality is a practical approach. Have you done the outreach needed and connected with each stakeholder?
Wellbeing and mental health
Frequent and in-depth communication is a crucial part of maintaining the wellbeing and mental health of remote workers. Leading after coronavirus lockdowns must ensure that individuals feel connected. While many people can embrace remote working effectively, others may have a much harder time.
Leaders must minimise the impact of stress and fear on their employees. Often just talking about the problems can help. For example individuals may welcome daily check-ins by people managers, or see them as intrusive. It is always going to be a delicate balance, but it is essential to find it. Make sure you have those regular check-in points with each team member, according to what you both agree to and works for the business. Also consider how mental health in the workplace can be perceived.
Inclusivity and diversity
Crisis management does not mean we can abandon any hard-earned gains in workplace inclusion and workforce diversity. Everyone will be experiencing some of the same challenges as well as unique ones – and under-represented groups may be disproportionately impacted. In leading after coronavirus lockdowns we should take extraordinary measures to provide the additional support they may need.
An increased awareness and cultural acceptance of remote working can create new opportunities. For example, allowing greater flexibility on work hours that can help parents and carers. That the technology deployed for remote working could provide the opportunity to engage more people with disabilities. Think through all stages of an individual’s employment at the company using a tool such as this useful employee life cycle perspective.
It is also important to realise that many home workers will lack an ideal workspace where they can work effectively free from interruptions from other household members. School closures will likely exacerbate this problem. Having said which, with so many more people having experienced this now, we can expect that there will be greater human acceptance of such dyanmics going forward for those working at home.
Diverse workforces and inclusive workplaces are the best approach to the multiple problems we currently face. Two examples of how different groups are affected differently by the crisis are How Racism And Inequality Have Left Minorities Most At Risk From Covid-19 and the Unique Impact Of Coronavirus On LGBT+ Community ‘Will Disproportionally Affect Us’ . For instance, some groups may be more fearful than others about the possibility of losing their jobs. Management must encourage open communications and a culture that allows people o speak up and ask questions as in the current climate it is more likely that they will feel hesitant to stand out.
When leading after coronavirus lockdowns we should, and need to, continue to make progress during the societal and business challenges that remain ahead of us.
In this article I’ve just scratched the surface of leadership through the coronavirus crisis. Undoubtedly strong leaders are emerging and making a massive impact in many aspects of business.
Yet everyone is struggling to find the best solution in an environment that is constantly changing. The most significant resource available to leaders are the very people they lead; inclusivity and diversity are fundamental to developing the best solutions.
As we exit the crisis and people return to the workplace in phases, as leaders you should take even greater care to ensure previous gains in workplace inclusion and workforce diversity are secured and developed further. It is those with the least power who are most likely to slip through the net as unemployment inevitably rises.
Strong leaders can prevent this from happening.
Steven has extensive experience in strategic executive leadership having led large business units at Fujitsu. Steven has had full and operational delivery responsibility for $1bn annual revenue business, including sales / growth, of full-service range (consultancy and change programmes, to operational IT services) to multiple clients. Leading business through changes in strategic direction, crisis management, transformational turnarounds especially those delivering business critical services to clients such as Public Sector / National Government. Steven engages well with C-suite executives and senior stakeholders, including in previous roles with UK Government Cabinet Ministers.
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