by Deb Boelkes, author of “The WOW Factor Workplace: How to Create a Best Place to Work Culture“
As the pandemic churns on, your employees may be getting somewhat settled into their strange new routines. But don’t be fooled: Even as they get acclimated with Zoom meetings or working in masks, their anxiety hasn’t gone away. If anything, it’s just gone underground. That’s why it’s up to you as the leader to remind them just how much you care, even as you engage, inspire, and challenge them.
Heartfelt leadership is needed more than ever in times of great fear. And the good news is that striving to be this kind of leader is nothing new. Best-ever bosses have always sought to WOW employees by showing them authentic love.
Of course, love is only part of the story. Leadership actions that create Best Places to Work include things like sharing pride in your mission, products, and services; empowering workers to feel they have a career instead of a job; challenging them; teaching skills that help them succeed; and helping them feel happy, fulfilled, and successful in their lives by fostering friendship, camaraderie, and a sense of belonging.
Employees still need all of these things. The pandemic hasn’t changed that. And the good news is, none of them are mutually exclusive. In fact, all the things you do to create a WOW culture automatically show employees you care.
Here are my tips:
1. Build trust by keeping team members informed.
Whatever it takes, find ways to inform team members about what is going on, what’s expected of them, and what they can expect of you. This builds trust. Pick up the phone, make a call, or send emails or an occasional text to keep team members updated in real time. Be transparent. Share what you know. The more they know about what’s going on, the more connected, comfortable, and assured they will feel.
Tell your team members you want to be kept informed by them, too. Eagerly encourage them to contact you, at their convenience rather than yours, to ask questions, express their feedback about what’s working or not working, and share their concerns. Let them know your ‘virtual door’ is always open.
2. Pay attention to those who don’t do well working alone.
Some people feel isolated, depressed, and unproductive when working alone. These are the team members at greatest risk of becoming disengaged. If you have the chance to do so — and if your situation allows — encourage these people to volunteer to be part of small groups that rotate into the office or warehouse every few days. It will give them something to look forward to, help them stay productive, and bolster their sense of self-worth, well-being, and belonging.
3. Be especially considerate and forgiving of those with family issues.
Some people may find it difficult to work from home even under normal circumstances. But now, with most schools and daycare centers being closed, working from home can be especially challenging for those who must now also perform duties they usually pay others to perform. Be mindful that some workers may struggle with weaving their business responsibilities around additional responsibilities of homeschooling and childcare.
Single parents may be particularly overwhelmed by managing both work and family duties, especially if they have infants or toddlers and no one else to rely on for assistance. You as the leader might even be struggling with these things yourself. Offer team members the option to change their work schedules to best coordinate the sharing of responsibilities for homeschooling, fit in nap times when infants are napping, and so forth.
4. Offer creative options to ease their burden at home.
Anticipate that for most everyone, regardless of whether they must now work from home or are still on the job in the workplace with added workload, work-life balance will be a greater challenge than usual. Offer the option for team members to select from a list of home-delivery services, to be funded by the organization, to help reduce the stress and ease the burden in unique ways.
Home-delivery service options might include a month of laundry service; a “meal-in-a-box” dinner service (such as Blue Apron, HelloFresh, Sun Basket, etc.); provide a replacement for regularly subsidized school and/or workplace lunches by having lunch delivered daily (such as pizza, salad, soup, and/or sandwich); a short-term subscription to online yoga classes… and send the gift of a yoga mat via an online or local retailer.
5. Understand what makes employees tick and why they work there.
Don’t underestimate the importance of having regular performance reviews and professional development one-on-ones, especially during times like these, even if such meetings must be held online. Just because jobs are no longer as plentiful as they were just a short time ago, never assume your best team members won’t jump ship. Ask them, “What keeps you at our company?”
If you haven’t done it in a while, ask about their career goals. Make sure they know they have your support in working toward achieving their dreams and desires. Determine how, in the current situation, they can best align their unique strengths, evolving professional objectives, and personal needs to best support the organization’s new objectives.
6. Foster networking between team members.
Help every member of the team and beyond to build and maintain meaningful relationships while working apart. Create online task forces, as needed, to solve new problems that may now come up. Ask for volunteers from different departments, from key customer accounts, and/or from suppliers to keep ideas flowing and everyone engaged (both in and outside the company) and working together to achieve common goals.
7. Schedule plenty of “fun” breaks.
Encourage team members to periodically get away from the computer, especially if working from home. Suggest they take advantage of scheduled break times to do things they normally may not be able to do when working from the office, such as spend time with the kids or their life partner, take a walk or bike ride for a change of scene, or just take a nap. Take advantage of this unique opportunity to work from home.
Further, help keep team members connected through online all-hands team chats at the beginning of each week or each morning. Consider hosting an online “happy hour” once or twice a week, or an online coffee break at some point during the day to let team members share ideas and catch up informally. Encourage team members to display their special talents, such as singing or playing a musical instrument, during an online team meeting. Have fun and enjoy the chance to build a new sense of belonging and family in entirely new ways.
8. Allow for more flexible scheduling.
If this is your industry’s busy season, allow team members to take comp time at their preferred times. Rather than mandate work schedules, allow team members to work out their own work schedules with each other, if possible. Likewise, if possible, give team members the option to work non-traditional shifts, perhaps three or four days per week, or a different number of days or hours on/off shift to best coordinate with their life partner’s schedule, child rearing demands, etc.
9. Do what it takes to make team members feel appreciated.
People will do anything for leaders who praise their efforts and are appreciative, especially in times of struggle. Be especially forthcoming with good news and praises for jobs well done.
Job satisfaction surveys prove again and again that simply appreciating someone’s work can be more important than any other factor in employee engagement. The recipients of your appreciation will most likely be inspired to put forth an even greater effort to ensure they will be thanked again. That’s why the military gives ribbons and awards to soldiers. It keeps their hearts and minds in the battle, especially when the going gets tough.
Your team needs all the support you can muster right now. Everyone is doing their best to adapt to the situation and keep business moving, but we still have a long way to go before things return to normal. If you lead with all the generosity and love that’s in your heart, you will empower everyone to show up each day ready to be their best.
Deb Boelkes is not just a role model heartfelt leader; she’s the ultimate authority on creating best places to work, with 25+ years in Fortune 150 high-tech firms, leading superstar business development and professional services teams. As an entrepreneur, she has accelerated advancement for women to senior leadership. Deb has delighted and inspired over 1,000 audiences across North America. She is author of “The WOW Factor Workplace: How to Create a Best Place to Work Culture“.