How Organizations Thrive even with Empty Offices
How Organizations Thrive even with Empty Offices
COVID-19 has brought with it unprecedented levels of negative impact to many people, families, businesses and communities. The negative impact on businesses is undeniable. Yet, having observed what has been happening over the last few months, I do also see how COVID-19 also presents us with the rare opportunity, to help our organizations begin to thrive further.
This strange relationship between crisis and opportunity is nicely captured by the Chinese word for crisis, 危机, which carries with it the meanings of danger (危) and opportunity (机).
And contrary to what we think, steering our organizations to thrive does not require big budgets, for a start, but a belief and dedication that it is possible. It is accessible to organizations of all sizes, small or medium enterprises and multi-national companies.
We need to look into helping our most valuable assets, our teams, thrive amidst this challenging period.
In this article, we want to share with you a few practical handles on how leaders can begin to help our people and organizations thrive.
1. Equip our People to Perform
Despite the varying levels of comfort we may have about our teams working from home before COVID-19, we all have been thrown into the deep end of the pool, when working from home became necessary to break the virus’ chain of transmission.
While we may lament the “new normal”, we can also make the best of it to help our people work effectively in the given circumstances.
- Reviewing workflows and revising processing times – Our work is greatly connected to others’ work. So it is without a doubt that with the safe distancing measures being put in place, our workflows and processing timelines will be affected. We can proactively counter this by engaging our team members to review our workflows, work out a realistic processing timeline and effectively communicate this to our partners and clients (e.g. through emails, websites and autoresponders).
- Investing in necessary tools and automation – In our reviews of our workflows, we will gain valuable insights into the challenges our staff face, which may be exacerbated by the fact that many are working from home without the usual tools. Equipping our teams with the right tools and automation to do their work not only prevents errors, help our team stay effective, it also communicates that we are having their backs. By doing so, we allow our people to conserve the needed bandwidth to contribute more meaningfully.
- Encouraging effective communications – With our team members working from home, they are faced with the tremendous stress of juggling the roles they play at work, in their families and in caregiving all at the same time. The risk of burnout, especially in our top-performers, is real with our staff being pulled in multiple directions by varying demands at any one point in time. As such, we can help them better cope by moderating the flow of information such as (i) simplifying the process of communications e.g. sticking to email rather than communicating through multiple channels e.g. WhatsApp, slack etc and (ii) adopting effective emailing practices (see the Email Charter). And where necessary, we can call for a meeting.
- Conducting focused meetings – Our teams are inundated with online meetings, so much so that a new term “zoom fatigue” has been coined to describe how we are all wearing out from the sheer number of online meetings. We can help our people to perform well by calling for meetings only when it is necessary. Situations when a meeting is warranted:
- when it helps our teams cut down the need to process through endless email threads to work out something which could otherwise be resolved in a single meeting,
- when it is necessary to communicate matters which may be misconstrued and cause negative feelings,
- when there is much value in bringing people together to brainstorm,
- when it helps team members to “see” each other (provided their webcams are turned on) and bond even as they are working apart, and/or
- when it helps new hires to settle into the team as they get to interface with their fellow team members and learn the ins and outs of how things are done in the organization.
The focus should not be on the quantity of meetings but the quality of meetings. Meetings should be well planned to effectively discuss pressing matters within the allocated time. We should limit the number of meetings our teams need to attend in a day and we need to ensure that an agenda and time limit has been established for these meeting.
Nothing hurts our team more than a meeting that lacks focus and which goes on and on, leaving them to pick up the pieces after the meeting as they jump back to clear their backlog, with whatever mental bandwidth that is left.
2. Enhance our People’s Well-Being
Our recent study on the nature of stress faced by people in Singapore brought about by COVID-19 showed that 100% are stressed and that 4 in 10 reported elevated stress levels. High stress levels have been observed in relational, physiological and digital stressors. This inevitably will affect our people’s ability to bring their best to work.
Here are a few handles to help you build your staff’s personal well-being.
- Giving autonomy to work out their own routines – Depending on the make-up of our team’s families, our team members may find it challenging to work in a predefined set of working hours. Perhaps, for team members who are parents of toddlers, the 1 pm-3 pm period may be a challenging time because they have to tuck their children into bed. Some may find working after their children are asleep or in the wee hours, free from any disruptions, more productive. The key to helping our team members work effectively from home is to clearly delegate work, communicate the deliverables and deadlines and then allowing them to work out their work commitments around their routines at home.
- Honouring our team members’ need for rest – No one can keep going without resting. Allow our members to rest and honour their need for that by not communicating about work especially during weekends and public holidays.
- Growing awareness of Stress – Help your team understand what is stressing them out and allow them to work on strategies to deal with the stressors. For a start, they may take the COVID-19 Stress Quiz we developed to not only gain insights into their stressors, but also learn strategies to address the stressors. It is only with awareness that we can do something about it. You may also wish to run a version for your team to gain insights into your team’s stress. You can refer to “Journeying with You” below for more information.
3. Engage with our People with Care
Working from home during COVID-19 brings with it a host of new challenges. One such challenge is that of the inability to interact and relate with others given safe distancing measures.
Psychologist, Abraham Maslow, indicated that we all have the need to feel a sense of belongingness and love and this is met through the relationships we have with our families, loved ones, colleagues and friends. Without fostering a sense of care, concern and camaraderie, work can become cold and transactional. It will soon take its toll on the mental well-being and eventually the productivity of our team members.
Providing a psychologically safe work environment will go a long way in preventing burnout.
- Authentically check-In with our team members – Provide the option for your team members to contact you should they need to talk about their work or if they need support. Take the time to check-in with them. Drop them a message, an email or give them a phone/video call. If you are connecting with them over a phone/video call, be sure to also make an appointment with them so they can be prepared to take the call. Be authentic during the check-in by also sharing how the pandemic is personally affecting you. Remember, we are all experiencing the pandemic of this nature for the first time and we are all still figuring things out. Most importantly, hear them out and allow them to share openly without being interrupted.
- Appreciating our team members – Stephen Covey, author of the best-seller “7 Habits Of Highly Effective People” once said ‘Next to physical survival, the greatest need of a human being is psychological survival – to be understood, to be affirmed, to be validated, to be appreciated’. Everyone, from the CEO to the facilities maintenance personnel, all needs and wants to be appreciated. Speaking your staff member’s language of appreciation would go a long way in helping them feel appreciated. You may wish to also read our article on appreciation.
- Providing access to help – When necessary, you may wish to encourage a team member who is going through a tough time to seek help or access the employee assistance programme in your company. Just like how we need to seek medical attention from a doctor when we come down with a cold, some of us and our team members may also require a little help from a trained mental health professional to work things out and get back on their feet, so they can be up and running once again. We can gently encourage them to seek help and help facilitate that.
4. Journeying with You
We hope these handles would help your team to begin to grow in resilience, and to help your organization thrive as your most valuable asset, your people, thrive.
In pursuing our mission to help people, families, organizations and communities to thrive, we are offering a complimentary run of the “From Stress to Zest” webinar as well as a customized COVID-19 Stress Quiz, for you to gain insights into the stress level of your team. This package (worth S$1000) and is open to the first 7 organizations to indicate interest by 19 Jun 2020.Bring "From Stress to Zest" to my Organization
James is the Lead Thrive-Synergist & Founder of Emmaus Strategies; a social enterprise that “fuels good”. It does this through Mental Well-Being programmes for individuals and organizations, as well as Strategic Volunteer Partnerships consultancy and training for non-profits.