For many of us, the experience of working entirely from home is a new one. It has required us to rethink the way we work and function as a team. Many of the routines, patterns, practices, and processes we have created over time are no longer effective, and we’ve had to institute new means of collaborating, getting our work done, and elevating the people around us.
With all these changes, there’s bound to be confusion and concern among employees about what’s expected of them. Fortunately, leaders can do a lot to sooth these fears and provide clarity. Below are a few practices I recommend.
Deliberately model what you expect to see
For many employees, working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic has meant navigating a new work environment with new demands, distractions, and interruptions – each of which brings additional stress and frustration. In these circumstances, employees need guidance on where the company can be flexible (e.g., work hours or pace) and where they need to toe the line (e.g., company values).
It’s important to communicate your expectations, whether verbally or in writing, but the most effective strategy is simply to show employees what you expect. Images are powerful, and right now they have the power to clarify and reassure. It’s one thing, for example, for an employee to hear from their manager that it’s okay for them to take a moment here and there to tend to a child’s needs; it’s quite another for an employee to witness their manager tending to their own child’s needs. The former instructs; the latter makes the lesson real. In my own practice, I put 2-3 breaks with my family each day on my public calendar, so employees understand that taking a few minutes out of the day to care for your family is not only accepted but encouraged. Showing rather than simply telling also emphasizes the shared experience: We’re all in this together.
Share your own challenges and creative solutions
Employees won’t see most work-from-home challenges that their leaders face on a day-to-day basis, but knowing their leaders are in the same boat can be both comforting and confidence-building. Share with your team the challenges or emotions you’re working through, and any personal learnings you’ve had about ways to manage this crisis. Your employees don’t necessarily have to do things the same way you do — you’ll get better engagement, focus, and commitment by trusting them to find their own strategies. The more important thing is to communicate that they can be open with their challenges, and that those challenges are legitimate and there’s hope for the future.
Reach out socially and encourage employees to do the same
I’ve encouraged the teams here at ThinkHR and Mammoth to schedule regular, optional social time together. Midmorning coffee hours and late afternoon happy hours have been popular. We also recently celebrated our families with a virtual “Bring Your Kids to Work Day” bingo game. I hosted, and we were thrilled to see 50 kids join the call.
Employees may be hesitant to start or participate in virtual social events, especially during work hours, if they don’t feel the activities have their leader’s support. You can set an example here not only by giving the green light to occasional fun occasions, but also by participating in them. I try to join one virtual team happy hour each week, and I’m confident I get as much or more out of it as our employees.
I also recommend regularly asking your team members on an individual, unplanned basis how they’re doing and what they may need. Encourage them to do the same with their colleagues. We don’t have the benefit of spontaneous office encounters to strike up conversations and check in with each other. We all have to be more deliberate about personal interactions. As elsewhere, you can set an example here.