Here we are, five months into the pandemic. Five months working remotely for many people and we’re seeing some strong evidence of resiliency. At the beginning of work-from-home mandates, surveys showed declining productivity along with declining job satisfaction and engagement among workers. More recent data reveal that those metrics are back to levels we experienced pre-pandemic when nearly everyone was in the office. For instance, Gallup says employee engagement has rebounded to a new high of 40% in their most recent measurement.
This is all great news. We are adapting to this new environment. Still, this is no time to take our hands off the wheel. There are troubling realities we need be aware of and there are actions and behaviors we need to adopt as leaders so we can help our employees and teams adapt to working remotely.
Hidden Challenges Of Working Remotely
The biggest challenge is isolation. Being separated physically from colleagues has potentially significant intellectual and emotional downsides. When we’re in the office, we tend to have numerous interactions every day that boost our thinking, our creativity and our mood. The quick conversation over the cubicle wall that reveals something important about a project. The idea sparked talking to someone in the cafe. Running into an enjoyable colleague you haven’t seen in a while. Gathering folks for a spur-of-the-moment lunch.
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These are all missing for the stay-at-home worker and not only limit the creativity and ideas that flow through the office but can harm our psychological well-being. Add to this the political, social, economic and environmental uncertainty in the world, it’s understandable that we’re experiencing more anxiety and depression. And this is where leaders can make a huge difference.
The Most Important Thing A Leader Can Do Is Communicate
The primary, most important thing that a leader can do for employees is communicate. Communicate more and try something new. A client recently shared that she is doing more informal check-ins and is conducting open work time on Zoom where her team gathers to work individually and collectively.
Communicate empathetically and vulnerably. Develop a culture of psychological safety where people feel safe talking about what’s on their minds. Ask people how they’re doing, listen openly and share your own struggles. We all have them. It’s part of being human and it makes stronger emotional connections.
Form cohorts of employees for a specific training or initiative. Make it a longer-term engagement where team members meet regularly and share what they’ve experienced and learned. This strengthens relationships and accelerates learning and progress.
Forming a cohort is especially powerful for new employees who are struggling to integrate in this environment. One of our clients each week meets with every new hire, holds an open conversation with the group and schedules meetings just for the new-hire cohort so they can connect.
There’s much more to productively navigating this environment. Over the next few weeks in Leadership Insights, we’ll dive more deeply into communicating in virtual teams, the value of creating cohorts as well other remote working challenges and opportunities. So, stay tuned and, in the meantime, let us know if we can help.