• May 11 2020

How Leaders Can Thrive in Times of Virtual Uncertainty

When things are uncertain, employees want connectivity the most. Here’s how managers can deliver against that need.

Much of the world is practicing necessary social-distance measures to stem the COVID-19 outbreak. Companies are following state and city guidelines by asking their “non-essential” employees to work from home. 

For employees, this may be the first time they’ve had to work remotely. For managers, staying home is uniquely difficult—without any “real” face time with their coworkers, they have to rally the troops, maintain staff morale, and keep projects in motion. 

It’s hard enough to manage virtually under “normal” circumstances. Doing it during a volatile crisis presents new challenges.

While we’re all stuck at home, employees are craving connectivity and new ways to be engaged. There are several steps managers can take to mitigate new mental stresses and deliver against their employees’ needs. We call this new reality “virtual uncertainty.” 

During times like this, when you can’t just turn to the person next to you and ask a question, both leaders and their team members should know where to turn for accurate information—whether that’s details about changes in company strategy and performance or specifics on particular clients.

Leaders should also craft empowering messages designed to reduce their employees’ anxiety. Only so much is within your control during a global health crisis, so focus on the constants, like your company’s mission and values, rather than on external factors.

When your workplace is virtual, it’s easy for employees to feel disconnected. It’s vital for leaders to encourage a consistent cadence; meet with your subordinates regularly, and encourage team members to connect frequently on their own. And once you get that team cadence going, ask for feedback on how the new meeting cadence and structure is working for your team. 

At ExecOnline, we moved our senior management team gatherings from one to three times a week. At the end of the first couple of weeks of meetings, we asked how the schedule was working. We agreed on some tweaks so that the flow of the meetings works better for everyone. And since this virtual reality is likely to keep evolving, we’ll continue to tweak the plan as we go.

You may be tempted to dive right into the business at hand when you connect with your team. Instead, remember to build time into every meeting for empathy. It doesn’t have to be complicated—it just requires you to be human. Ask people how they’re doing. Joke about the kids running around in the background of someone’s camera on a Zoom call. People want to connect on a human level right now, so make it a priority. 

When you’re working remotely, it’s especially difficult at large organizations to maintain work that cuts across multiple departments. We recommend leaders consider new collaboration opportunities: for example, if you’re hosting a meeting, think about how you can bring in people from different sub-functions and weave them into the same conversations. 

Even if your company was working remotely before COVID-19,  this moment is a totally different reality. By planning against virtual uncertainty, you can mitigate the additional mental stresses to your entire workforce.

Our Founder & CEO, Stephen Bailey, recently wrote an article explaining the top 5 things that leaders should do in order to thrive in virtual uncertainty. To read the full article, click here.

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