Adapted for a column written by Keri Higgins-Bigelow, livingHR CEO & Founder, in Tampa Bay Business Journal on March 20, 2020.
There are still many unknowns as we navigate the COVID-19 epidemic as employers, employees, and simply as humans. However, what we do know is that this is a clear opportunity for employers to show their people that they care about them and their families by treating them with compassion and understanding. Setting them up for success with actions, policies, and tools they need to do their jobs well will also ensure that the world of work goes on despite what’s happening around us.
Here are 8 tips to lead through the COVID-19 crisis, and any crisis, in an effective, responsible, and highly humanized way:
- Lead with Empathy: This is the time to rise to the occasion by making decisions and acting with others in mind. It’s easy to become entrenched in your own situation, so pause to think about the fact that everyone has their own situation to grapple with and you won’t always know what that situation is. Empathy in this unprecedented situation means creating space for understanding.
- Give people power over their own situation: With so much out of our control, giving people the opportunity to take hold of their own situation is key. The best decisions to keep individuals and their families safe likely look different from person to person. Sweeping rules and policies are likely to add anxiety and frustration. Now is the time for options.
- Give people a reason to connect: With many organizations choosing to go remote right now, giving people a reason to connect is essential. Whether that’s actual work conversations, a book club, or a quick daily video chat, giving people those opportunities to regularly touch base with their fellow humans will go a long way to avoid feelings of isolation and support their whole-self wellbeing.
- Physical/social distancing: Recognizing the CDC’s recommendations for social distancing is important, but resist the urge to turn into a robot. You can still show empathy and kindness in your body language, gestures, and facial expressions.
- Provide reliable information and resources: Hone in on reliable, fact-based resources and provide those to your team. Here are a few examples to start:
- Scientific example – CDC: Regularly Updated Coronavirus Frequently Asked Questions & Answers Page (In this FAQ guide, gather all of the information you’ll need to respond to frequently asked questions including symptoms and testing information, travel guidelines, and how to protect yourself.)
- Legal example – Constangy, Brooks, Smith & Prophete, LLC: Coronavirus Resource Page for Employers (As the COVID-19 outbreak evolves, Constangy has created this resource page for employers to stay abreast of the latest guidance and provide answers to frequently asked questions. This resource center is made available for educational purposes only, to give general information and a general understanding of the law.)
- Humanized work example – livingHR: Human-first approaches and tips for leading remote workers and tips for embracing remote work.
- Employer-specific example – Department of Labor: DOL Coronavirus Resources (The U.S. Department of Labor has resources to help workers and employers prepare for the COVID-19 virus.)
- Mental health example – Ginger: Four tips for company leaders to manage fear, and encourage hope and resilience (During the Coronavirus Outbreak; a perspective from Ginger’s Chief Clinical Officer, Dr. Dana Udall) & Ginger: 4 Ways to Manage Your Mental Health During The Coronavirus Outbreak (A few self-care resources that Ginger has utilized as part of their own communications planning with their leaders and own employees regarding COVID-19.)
- Also, follow your local government sites for localized updates and news.
- Default to doing what you can do to help people: As an employer, think about your means and capabilities to do something to support your people right now. It doesn’t matter the size of your organization, whether you’re large or small, the gesture will go a long way to make your people feel cared for, considered, and connected to their work.
- Provide basic resources: Make basic and tangible resources not only available but obvious. Sourcing things like sanitizing wipes, paper goods, snacks and non-perishable food, etc., will allow employees to focus on their work instead of worrying about finding these in-demand items.
- Migrate to remote work (to the extent possible): We know this is not possible or an option for all organizations, but remote work should be considered and implemented to the extent possible. That said, it’s important to arm your team with the expectations and the tools that they need to do their jobs outside of the office. This includes communicating responsibilities, regular check-ins, virtual meeting attendance, as well as technical items like laptops, chargers, headphones, etc.
This won’t work for everyone, but here’s what livingHR is doing to prepare our team to go remote:
- Notifying clients we are working virtually and offering additional ways to support them
- Providing food kits
- Distributing cleaning supplies (including a creative solution to distributing the industrial-sized hand sanitizer haul that we got our hands on)
- Utilizing text, zoom, and chat channels to ask questions internally
- Restricting work-related travel for employees and providing information to address other travel
- Offering to tool our team with items that will help minimize distraction when working from home (sound machines, noise cancelling headphones, etc.)
- Creating back-up buddies for unforeseen circumstances that working remotely may introduce
- Reminding people to take mental breaks, walks, and use apps like headspace and calm to find daily peace and resets
- Encouraging breaks from media
Lastly, here are some tips for working remote from real humans who work remote:
- Keep your routine (wake-up times, meals, etc.)
- Do a lap around the house
- Switch your physical location at some point throughout the day for at least 30 minutes at a time
- Take a “mindless TV” break over lunch
- Take care of chores that will bug you throughout the day when they catch your eye (i.e. dishes or laundry) before starting your work day
- Utilize mental health and/or meditation apps
- Catch some vitamin D by breaking or working outside
- Find your friends on Spotify and share your workday playlists
For now, to reiterate: lead with empathy, stay safe, work remote (if you can), and try to minimize what will cause your employees additional stress.
Here for you,
The livingHR Team