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What Leaders Have Learned During the COVID-19 Crisis

November 2, 2020

By: Wendy Sheaffer

People likely feared it after watching movies about it - but deep down never imagined it would truly happen. Even when it started to happen, a lot of people were saying “not us” or “not here.” Boy, were we wrong! COVID-19 was declared a pandemic on March 11, 2020, and the world, as we knew it changed.

Business leaders had to quickly adapt. Teams that had never worked remotely were suddenly quarantined at home and forced to figure it out on their own. Employees looked to their leaders for guidance in this unprecedented time, many feared they’d lose their jobs, and for many that fear also became reality. Over six months, more than 60 million Americans filed for unemployment insurance — that's more than the number of claims filed during the 18-month Great Recession. (Business Insider October 8, 2020)

Difficult and painful as it has been, tough times make us grow and learn. Here are some of the biggest lessons leaders have learned through the pandemic:

Remote Work Can Work  

Many leaders dismissed the idea that remote work would be sustainable. They weren’t convinced that people could get as much done at home as they would in the office. They knew that if their employees went remote, they wouldn’t be able to micromanage them the way they would in the office. 

A lot of leaders had to give up that control, in a sense, when COVID struck. Happily, most leaders found that, when push came to shove, their employees stepped up and worked beautifully at home. This had a lot to do with employees being less stressed. They didn’t have to spend time commuting, and they could be close to their loved ones. Leaders were also pleasantly surprised to discover that they could effectively manage a remote workforce. 

It’s great news that this new way of working is working, because for many we aren’t going back to our former office environment anytime soon – possibly never. (NYTimes.com October 13, 2020) 

Transparent Communication and Emotional Intelligence are Critical

Leaders have also learned that transparent communication and emotional intelligence are more important than ever. When you don’t have your team working right in front of you, it’s critical to be more open about what is going on. This includes updating the team on company numbers so that they truly understand how things are going within the business.

Additionally, during meetings and one-on-one coaching, it’s now clear that asking how an employee is doing is truly important -- not just a formality. Leaders don’t need specific details, but if their employee is having a hard time, then they need to be aware. That way, they can figure out a way to help. This not only protects the team’s productivity, but it also makes the employee feel cared about, important, and heard. As a result, that employee will be more engaged and loyal in the future. 

While work at home has offered more flexibility – studies find that this pandemic is wreaking havoc on stress levels caused by concern for our families, managing class work while our children learn online at home, and we juggle competing schedules with our new home office mates. While we’re all doing all of this juggling, we’re also working longer days.  (Harvard Business School September 14, 2020

Checking in regularly with your employees and making sure they are “OK” goes a long way. Empathizing with your remote worker’s unique circumstances is more important than ever. Help your employees by focusing on output rather than number of hours worked and be sure to coach and recognize work quality, rather than the time taken. 

Take time to laugh over our humanness and celebrate our imperfections. Since everyone is at home, leaders and team members alike are learning about each other’s lives outside of work. Sometimes, video calls can result in embarrassing or awkward moments. Anyone who has had something go “wrong” on a Zoom video call can relate. Babies cry, dogs bark, and cats will walk right in front of the camera. While folks may blush for a moment, it’s not a catastrophic event. Now, most people just ignore these minor distractions. We’re all human, and we’re all giving each other some grace.

New Technology is Our Friend

In the past, some companies would roll out new technology slowly. The process would include extensive beta testing and troubleshooting. Those times are gone. Now, leaders need to take quick and decisive action. 

Any company that didn’t have chat software needed to make a swift decision, implementing one as soon as their employees went remote. Businesses without cloud storage had to make that change quickly as well. There wasn’t time to make sure it was perfect. Leaders are now realizing that this is ok. Done is better than perfect (if there’s such a thing, anyway). The rapid changes also forced “technologically shy” employees to just jump in and not be coddled, which is a good thing for their growth and development.

In fact, a recent McKinsey study asked executives how long they expected it would have taken their companies pre-pandemic to digitize 12 different activities and how long it actually took them once the coronavirus hit. When it came to remote working, companies moved 43 times more quickly than executives thought possible. Technology and collaboration tools are a positive addition to our work cultures.

Tough Decisions Need to be Made Faster

The choice to go remote was a tough decision, but it had to be made quickly. There wasn’t a lot of time to “workshop” the idea. Companies needed to keep their employees safe and making business operations virtual was the best way to do it in most situations. There was no time for leaders to second guess themselves. 

All changes had to be made quickly -- even though not everyone was on board with every single decision. However, if changes are made with honesty and compassion, then they will be better received, despite being difficult to hear and deal with. 

“Times, they are a-changin’,” used to just be something that was said, but it was never as true as it is now! Leaders must adapt or be left behind. This has been a learning opportunity for us all. We have learned how we can still work together even though we are apart. We can still be close despite the distance. Leaders have learned that teamwork, even when done remotely, still makes the dream work! There will continue to be more to learn as we figure out what our “new normal” is.

How to Adapt to our New Normal?

There are many things you can do as a leader to support your business needs and your employees during this unprecedented time.

  • Have check-ins before a group meeting to make sure everyone is doing ok. Check in with each employee privately, too. 
  • Adapt quickly to technology. Doing so is more important than ever before. It’s essential for your team to work effectively remotely.
  • Communicate often. Being transparent about upcoming changes will help your employees adapt better and feel more connected to you and the company. 

How Omnia Can Help

Hiring, just like everything else, has changed. Let The Omnia Group help your organization hire the best talent to work remotely, lead a team through Zoom calls, and keep morale high! Our behavioral and cognitive assessments are a great way to discover the top candidates for each job opening you have. We also offer virtual workshops on hot topics in hiring and employee development that you can watch anytime! Contact us today!

Final Thoughts

Every decision made after March 11, 2020, dictated our new reality going forward. After a while, it became clear that nothing is going to go back 100% to the way it was. Things have been irreparably changed. Going forward, we all must adapt. Have you learned anything from COVID-19 about leading a team that wasn’t mentioned here? 

Wendy Sheaffer

Chief Product Officer at The Omnia Group, an employee assessment firm providing the power of behavioral insight to help organizations make successful hires and develop exceptional employees. Wendy joined Omnia as an analyst in 1998 and is a subject matter expert in using Omnia’s 8 columns as a tool to make more-informed hiring and development decisions and effectively engage staff. She works directly with clients and Omnia staff to provide a deeper understanding of how to use personality data to meet business goals. Wendy provides strategic direction on client requests, projects and product training sessions. For more information, email info@omniagroup.com or call 800.525.7117.

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