As we practice social distancing and work remotely, the danger of becoming an emotionally distant and unavailable leader is as real as the health threat from COVID-19.
If your leadership style was mostly hands-off before the virus-induced lockdown, having employees work off-site might threaten to freeze daily communication channels as never before. More than ever, it is critical that social distancing does not create professional and personal distancing that can, ultimately, damage our brand and bottom line.
We landed upon several strategies ‒ pre-, mid- and post-pandemic ‒ that might help all of us in this strange new world of work.
The trauma epidemic
Our Dasher culture has always recognized that many on our team, most of whom are economically fragile, have experienced trauma in their lives. From addiction and homelessness to domestic violence, incarceration, illness and grief, many wonderful team members have endured great trials. Appreciating their life stories, we endeavor to meet their needs as they live and work with the after-effects of trauma.
Today, our team members understandably are grieving as they adjust to an avalanche of loss: They might have lost loved ones, their life savings, major family plans, cherished time with those they love, and more.
We must be supportive, so that they not only can cope, but thrive.
Because our culture emphasizes face-to-face interaction, we have concentrated on maintaining connectedness through the latest technology and frequent virtual meetings.
As author Dale Carnegie writes in his seminal work, “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” the universal need shared by every human being is the desire to be appreciated, to feel valued and essential. Frequent check-ins to see how someone is doing and what he or she requires are all part of fulfilling that foundational need.
From camera-shy to being in the spotlight
By feeling fully connected, your team members can come to you with their needs, despite not being in the same office space.
While Zoom seems to be the app du jour for conferences, we use Microsoft Team almost exclusively, and we find ways to connect with our members regularly. Video drives engagement, and when used correctly, it can help our team feel more like part of our family.
We meet at regularly scheduled times. We have a morning stretch, an 8:30 a.m. coffee, a noon lunchtime and a 2:30 p.m. water cooler conversation. This frequent interaction helps to transcend loneliness while minimizing the risk of miscommunication so prevalent in emails and texts that hide body language.
We also deployed a survey to collect data on how COVID-19 is affecting our team members’ lives and work. We aggregate the data, so it does not intrude upon their privacy.
Through it all, we do not focus on our needs; we focus on the needs of our team members. We are always asking, “What do you need?”
Many employees say they need educational resources for their newly home-schooled children. Co-workers often help buoy these efforts, and we connect parents to online lessons and TV programs. We even built a parenting resource on our own channel. This team engagement and support at all levels drives loyalty and retention, and even can reduce trauma.
In addition to frequent and meaningful group sessions, we have many one-on-one conversations. About the only thing I can’t do is put my hand on someone’s shoulder.
Maintaining full contact
By hopping on the camera often, we more readily can troubleshoot workflow issues as we queue print jobs from home or discuss a project.
It has become self-evident: Our high-contact, culture-driven business model is not only a recipe for success, it is a necessary approach to bake goodness into the product and service mix. We can resolve problems easily, answer questions instantly and support one another as if we were sitting less than six feet apart.
Your team members might not all be in the same room, but they can all be in the same space.
Sharon Ryan is the owner of Dasher Inc., is a data-driven, customer contact services operation in Harrisburg with a focus on communicating complex messages to diverse populations.