We saw it coming when hospitals and healthcare workers in China started sounding the alarms in January. Public health officials here in Ohio and around the country jumped into action and began executing their emergency plans to expand hospital capacity, establish widespread social distancing, and educate the general public as quickly as possible.
As we inch closer and closer to the “peak” of this first wave, many of us are feeling restless and helpless at home. Schools are closed, our favorite restaurants and bars are empty, and we’re largely working remotely. Isolation, uncertainty, and fear are everywhere these days, and frankly that’s understandable.
We can’t all just push pause, however. We have to keep educating our kids, we have to keep raising money and fighting for the issues and causes we believe in, and we have to keep working to elect progressive candidates who will help us invest in a stronger public health infrastructure to avoid the next deadly pandemic. Even though our worlds have turned upside down, we have to keep going.
Here are some tips to help you settle into your new normal and keep your teams engaged.
1 – WALK AWAY FROM THE ZOOM
Zoom is our preferred remote conference software at The Fairmount Group. We love it, and we can’t work without it. However, keep in mind that you don’t need to be connected via call, Zoom, or Slack 24/7. Talking into a camera all day is exhausting, especially when your kids and pets are running around your house. Let your team members set their own pace and work independently in their new environments. Limit yourselves to 3 hours of video conferencing per day, and make sure every session has a clear agenda.
2 – CUT EVERYONE SOME SLACK
If you’re a manager who watches the clock and needs to see butts in seats to know people are being productive, this is going to be a really hard time for you and I’m sorry. Luckily, there are some great online therapy options right now. I’d suggest spending your time working through your issues there instead of taking your anxiety out on your employees. Your teams aren’t going to be productive. The world is falling apart, there are a million distractions, and we all need to accept that.
Lead with compassion and trust. You hired these people because they’re smart, competent, and the right fit for the job. They can handle this with your support, as long as you don’t micromanage them.
Start every morning with an acknowledgement of your own vulnerability if you feel comfortable doing so. Something I say often is, “It’s really hard for me to reply to emails or texts today. I’m still learning how to work without childcare, so please be patient with me.” Hopefully, this will help your team members feel safe being honest with you, too.
3 – ACKNOWLEDGE DIFFERENT WRITTEN COMMUNICATION STYLES
Before assuming that email was rude or snotty, ask yourself if it was just sent in a hurry? Without the added benefit of visual cues to aide our interpersonal communication, it can be really easy to misunderstand an email or a text message. Be open and honest with your team about your preferred communication style from the beginning, and ask everyone to be extra patient with their coworkers – particularly those who don’t usually communicate primarily through email.
4 – BE AVAILABLE AND CONSISTENT, BUT NOT RIDICULOUS
If your typical work day starts at 10 and ends at 6, do your best to answer emails and calls during those hours. Remember, though, that everyone is going through a terrifying global health crisis and juggling many different things at once. If your team members need to step away for an hour or two to put their kids down for a nap or take them for a walk during the day, make sure they feel supported in doing so. They absolutely will not be able to work otherwise.
For your team members who need a more consistent routine, set regular check-in times to make sure they have the resources they need.
5 – DON’T GET STUCK IN THE COVID-19 REACTION CYCLE
Yes, we have to react and respond to current news. Particularly for schools, faith organizations, and direct service groups that interact with the public. Treading water isn’t enough though. Now, more than ever, it’s important to set three goals every week and stick to them. Set quantifiable benchmarks and track them in a transparent way. This doesn’t need to be a complicated online dashboard – you can just use a Google Doc.
These goals should be related to your organization’s strategic plan and not directly related to COVID-19 response. Examples are fundraising, program development, and outreach.
April 1 is a good time to set some weekly and monthly goals to get you through this period of uncertainty. Take a few hours this week and map out your team’s path forward. You’ll be glad you did.