How the pandemic has changed the focus of leadership

By Chris Singleton, Learning and Development Consultant

No one could’ve predicted the challenges that the pandemic has put on our workplaces. Despite the inexperience of operating during a global pandemic, leaders countrywide were left with no choice but to quickly strategise, adjust and overcome. 

In the midst of a third lockdown, with 36% of employees in the UK exclusively working from home – some leaders are undoubtedly feeling the strain on relationships with team members. In addition to some working from home with increased workloads, others remain on furlough, disengaged, with feelings of uncertainty and minimal communication.

Since the start of the pandemic, home working has limited the way managers can both effectively lead and support their teams. Although some prefer working from home, operating with little to no face-to-face interaction can create a multitude of social gaps between leaders and employees. 

Working separately from team members whilst adapting to new working practices, can leave employees feeling neglected, undervalued or confused about their roles. These struggles, coupled with the added stress of employee’s home lives, can lead to significant dips in individual and collective morale, missing deadlines and, at worst, declines in mental health and resignations.

In periods of detachment, change and uncertainty, it is vital for leaders to both connect with and inspire team members. With the hopes of reinvigorating your teams, we’re bringing five aspects of good leadership back into focus. 

Communication

Communicating with team members at home has provided leaders with a deeper understanding of their team members’ home lives. Some may be living alone and feel cut off from the rest of the team. Others may live in congested or busy households, with other family members also needing privacy to interact with their colleagues. The importance of understanding and accommodating each person’s situation through authentic, empathetic conversation cannot be overstated. This will build rapport, strengthen relationships and develop trust between you and your team members. 

Additionally, the uncertainty of the ongoing pandemic is leaving some employees in a state of emotional fragility. Now more than ever, it will help to focus on providing consistent, positive feedback. 

There are many new communication tools available, enabling you to host regular team and individual check-ins.  Use these platforms to remind your team members of their value.  These regular check-ins will not only help with your team member’s wellbeing, they afford you the opportunity for transparent and honest communication. Reducing uncertainty and the tendency to cover communication ‘black holes’ with speculation and guesswork.  

Flexibility

In the last 10 months, our way of living and working has drastically changed, often against our will.  This has afforded our team members little opportunity to exercise control over their working day. To redress this imbalance, leaders should allow team members as much autonomy and control over their working days as possible. Many are coping with the working needs of other household members and having to homeschool children. 

Wellbeing

Living in uncertain times has turned the spotlight onto the people behind the work, rather than the work itself.  Most importantly, this includes being fully aware of mental health. It’s no secret that adapting to our new way of living has produced a range of reactions from stress and burnout, to anxiety and loneliness, feelings of hopelessness and helplessness, and dealing with traumatic events.  

Now is the time for leaders to ensure that they’re aware of and sensitive to, mental health issues in their teams. Our sister company, C2C, has developed a range of mental health courses, offering insights into the importance of positive mental health in the workplace.

Having the combination of positive mental health and strong leadership will only yield positive results. There’s strong evidence that workplaces with high levels of mental wellbeing are more productive – addressing wellbeing at work can increase productivity by as much as 12%.

Motivation

Some employees are self-motivated, requiring little incentive to complete their workloads. Others may feel demotivated and battle to prioritise work.  In any situation, consciously showing people their value, feeding their self-esteem, and giving them purpose will only yield positive results. 

It’s more important than ever to find out what makes your team members tick. Staying engaged in projects at work whilst working in a different environment at home provides a challenge in itself. How we motivate may have to change, including re-thinking how we incentivise and reward employees outside of the work environment. It may be time for the leader to take a more holistic view of their team members and think more closely about what will reward them outside of the office. These rewards could be:

  • Personalised gifts
  • Shout-outs in internal communications for outstanding work
  • Online wellbeing classes
  • Additional annual leave
  • Hosting virtual meals or breaks together
  • Involving them in new projects

Opportunities

Despite the obvious struggles we’re all facing, it’s important for employees to understand that the current situation offers unique opportunities for them to flourish. More downtime, reduced commutes and increased interaction with significant others can afford everyone the chance to rethink and reshape the path they are on.

Now is the time to grow and develop all our workers, including those on furlough. 

The change in work patterns may also provide leaders with the chance to involve team members in new projects outside of their normal job roles. They may have the time and opportunity to refine their skills, take on extra responsibility, set new goals and enrol in training. Team members should be encouraged to think of this time as a ‘boost’ button which may empower and inspire them to take their career to the next level.

Whilst living in a world of remote working, leaders need to move collaboration, adaptation and employee welfare to the top of their priorities list. Fine-tuning leadership skills will yield a more productive and healthier workforce, as well as assist in meeting goals as individuals and a collective.

Highly successful teams are managed by skilful leaders, who pay attention to detail in everything that they do. While navigating through an ambiguous time where workloads are increased, relying solely on video and phone calls for communication – the need for exceptional, interpersonal skills in leadership is greater than ever.

Chris has over 25 years of experience in management and 20 years of experience in learning and development. She has spent much of her career motivating and training the next generation of managers, using her unique motivational approach to refine the skills of leaders in a wide variety of settings.

For more information on The Executive Development Network (EDN) and our next level management training visit https://edn.training/.