By now, it’s clear we will be dealing with the effects of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak for some time to come. The vast majority of “non-essential” Australian businesses have shut down, stranding thousands of employees in their homes—for their protection and everyone else in our besieged communities.
At the same time, business in one form or another goes on.
While the idea of working from home is nothing new, what is different in the midst of a global pandemic is the spectre of enforced isolation for weeks to come. Plus, all the related stresses that accompany the challenges of remote working while balancing the needs of a spouse, partner, children, and/or extended families.
Thus, business owners and CEOs have the additional responsibility of doing all they can to assist their teams in coping with the stress and anxiety of our times. Here are tips to keep in mind:
Emphasise communications and transparency.
Recognising we’re all in uncharted waters, business leaders should try to maintain a constant flow of information and updates regarding work policies and the state of the business. The situation calls for as much transparency as possible with respect to operations, financials, etc. Knowing the people in charge are striving to stay in touch will help calm anxieties among employees.
There’s a tone that leaders can take in their communications that demonstrates they genuinely care about the plight of their employees. Acknowledge the difficult times in which we live, and the specific challenges your team members face. Offer whatever assistance is available (such as an Employee Assistance Program) and remind employees that they can come to you or a designated company representative with their work-related questions and concerns. Don’t leave anyone hanging!
Keep employees informed.
Business closures, shortened hours of operations, issues around customer service, and so on—all of these and other concerns are likely to emerge in the coming days and weeks. When circumstances require any change in company policy, make informing employees of these changes your #1 priority. (Also remind them of existing policies that are relevant to work-from-home conditions.) Your employees should never be left wondering what to do in a business-related situation.
Focus on solutions, not problems.
There may be times when it’s appropriate to reach out to employees and ask for their assistance with a specific challenge. In such cases, it can be very helpful to offer suggestions of your own that indicate you’re grappling with the problem at hand, but also welcome their input. In times of crisis like this, employees are begging for leadership. But they may also have valuable input to offer in terms of customer service, operational processes, or related matters.
Encourage employees to take care of themselves.
Many small businesses pride themselves on being a kind of family. That’s great, and in calmer times helps promote the sense that “we’re all in this together.”
But now, facing highly uncertain times, it’s important to remind employees that you care about them not just as paid workers for your organisation, but as people, too. When you come across useful health tips, share them with your team members. And remind them that taking care of themselves and their loved ones is the most important thing they can be doing at this time. Get plenty of rest, do whatever is possible to temporarily distract themselves from all the bad news out there, and keep in touch with family and friends online.
There’s never been anything in modern times that comes close to what we’re all experiencing with coronavirus. It’s a new era, with exceedingly difficult challenges for everyone, including business owners and CEOs who have a special responsibility to help their companies and employees to get through the bad times, and come out on top later on.