Covid-19 and its impact on Leadership

Julie Ann Chan
29. April 2020

The Coronavirus is immediately impacting almost all aspects of life. An area in which changes have been most noticeable for us is our work. Last week we explored, how to survive an involuntary stint in Home Office. Today, we will look at the changing requirements on leaders during these unpredictable times.

How to take lead during the crisis

Hardly any leader has been prepared to respond to a crisis of such magnitude as the one we are currently experiencing. Nonetheless, she/he must step up and do her/his best to bridge the chasm of company requirements and the employees’ needs. The primary responsibility of organisations today is to keep their workforce healthy. At the same time, economic decisions need to be rapidly made and implemented resulting in new patterns of work. Such a challenge can only be met by continuously adjusting to the developments – always keeping an eye on the effects of previously implemented measurements.

Some of the biggest changes are due to the fact that many employees have been sent into Home Office. This hitherto unknown distance brings its own challenges (some of which we have explored last week). In order to navigate the situation successfully, it is critical to ensure the flow of communication to your staff and to build and maintain trust.

Trust, Accenture claims in an article published last week (COVID-19: Managing the human and business impact of coronavirus), depended “on leaders demonstrating their care for individuals as well as the wider workforce and community”. Laying open, how decisions are made and anticipating their people’s changing needs, the global professional services company emphasises to be vital.
“Trust”, explains DreiKreis co-founder and director Johanna Kerber, “is the foundation on which our success is built. Covid-19 just highlights that our efforts over the last years to create a solid base and to establish sound communication between all stakeholders has been worthwhile.”

The impact of Covid-19 on leadership
DreiKreis founder and director Johanna Kerber counts on clear communication and supporting her team during the crisis.

Define work hours and breaks

Most people aren’t used to working from home. It may be difficult for them to switch from private into work mode and vice versa and make clear distinctions between times where they answer and times where they don’t. Help your staff by defining core rules. How about an on-time between 10 AM and 4 PM, with an hour’s lunch break? The rest of the applicable hours could be distributed freely. Make sure that your team knows how to switch off during break and after work. Respecting private time becomes paramount when work moves into our homes. And this way, motivation can be kept high.

Clear communication

Managing remotely, say experts, requires a basic framework for how you want communication to work, both with your staff and among the team. This should be established as early as possible. Make clear, which safe channels can be used, during what times you require staff to be “on” and to respond immediately. Clarify, when it is okay to switch communication channels off and how having a break could be communicated?

Another often disregarded aspect of managing virtually is giving feedback in a way that is unambiguous and leads to a surge in motivation. Make a point in telling your staff regularly about what they do well. And since the subtler ways of body language, tone and mimics can get lost across the ether: be outspoken! Criticism is best delivered face-to-face. That way what you want to say won’t be misconstrued. Resist the temptation of keeping it written and take the time for a video chat, maybe over a virtual cup of tea.

Offer support, refrain from controlling

Support is essential to keep the morale high and your team motivated. Flexible and individual solutions need to be found for team members that have trouble adjusting to the new routine. There may be additional responsibilities like home educating children or caring for elderly relatives, technical and sometimes emotional issues. Know your team and their requirements. You don’t? Now is a good time to start asking questions.

DreiKreis co-founder and director Johanna Kerber explains: “I’ve got children at school age and know how strenuous such a situation can be. But there are other difficulties that my staff are dealing with that I might not understand fully. Calling my team regularly, asking them about how well they cope is essential. This way, I find out about possible problems early on and can offer help. On top, I feel that I am bonding with my employees in a different way from before.”

However, much you might feel the need to know what is going on, it may be more damaging than helpful to constantly fish for information. You might feel a sudden loss of control as your employees are no longer visible and your ability to make adjustments seems limited. But remember: trust is a two-way street. In order for your staff to trust you, you need to believe in them. Offer your support, let your team know, they can approach you with any problem. “I have changed the way I lead meetings,” says Kerber. “Where I would have made sure we stuck to schedule I now leave more room for friendly banter and non-work-related talk. It’s so important in order to keep the spirits high!”

Sharing worries, finding solutions together

Not just employees face uncertainty, but so do you. Will the company survive and how? What adjustments will be necessary in future and how much damage will have occurred.
How about sharing some of you worries as well as strategies in coping with them? Most people appreciate a human leader. And the situation will be so much easier to deal with when you pull together, creating a sense of value and team spirit. Brainstorming on possible solutions furthers creativity and a positive outlook towards the future. You are not used to this type of leadership? Use the crisis to try something unfamiliar, you will reap the rewards.

Keep spirits up

Although several countries, including Austria, are already easing the lockdown, it is to be expected that employees will continue to work remotely for the foreseeable future. Managing the situation successfully and transiting into the new normal that comes next will depend largely on how well you lead your staff through the crisis and especially how effectively you manage remotely.



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