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Leading from a Distance: Tips for Supportive and Compassionate Leadership During COVID-19

Written by Marie-José (MJ) Bourassa on March 23, 2020.

Are you leading an offsite team? Perhaps for you, leading virtually is old hat, or perhaps it is your first time navigating this type of work environment. In times of uncertainty, caring and effective leadership is critical to maintaining workplace and employee wellbeing. Here are some basics to generate trust and demonstrate compassionate and supportive virtual leadership.

1. Be socially present.

  1. Write a short good morning and good evening email or message to your team.
  2. Acknowledge receipt of a team member’s message, especially if you cannot get back to them with a full response just now.
  3. Get familiar with free social media connectivity options – Zoom, Skype, What’s App and use these where appropriate – and use them (while respecting workplace information protection policies)!

2. Be empathetic.

  1. Recognize that your staff may experience a range of feelings that may or may not resemble your own. You may feel energized and challenged by the new dynamics of working from home. Or you may feel unsure, overwhelmed, and demotivated. Your team members may feel isolated, disconnected, and disoriented, or they may feel calm, energized, and committed. Once you recognize this, you can adjust your expectations and interactions to meet your employees where they are at.
  2. You cannot assume how people feel. So, ask them! Reach out to your team members for one-on-one chats. “Hey, I am checking in to see how you are…how are you feeling?  How are you setting yourself up at home?  What are some challenges and how can I help?”

3. Create inclusion and virtually shrink the social distance.

  1. Invite team members to share pictures of them working at home! We are all human. Don’t worry about the dust bunnies or the pile of books in the background!
  2. Start and end your team calls and meetings with a one word “check-in” and “check-out”. Here’s how:
    • Make sure everyone has a list of participants.
    • Say that from this point forward, you will start and end meetings with a one-word check in and check-out.  It can be a feeling, a thought, a verb, a noun, any one word that conveys your “personal space there and then.”
    • State that the word “pass” is appropriate if you wish to pass.
    • Go first to model the exercise (the first few times).
    • One word only, and others listen in silence.
    • Name someone on the participant list to go next.
    • Invite that participant to name someone else on the list, and so on.
    • After all participants have shared, including “pass” answers, express thanks and make an appropriate comment or offer based on what has been said.
    • Remember to check-out at the end of the call.
    • Make this a practice and move beyond the initial discomfort. You will see how it helps to keep connected and real.

4. Mind your etiquette.

  1. Re-read your emails and texts before pressing send, noting:
    • Did you include the right people?
    • Are you mass-emailing for ease when you should first write one-on-one for respect and clarity?
    • Is your tone only matter-of-fact or is it also caring?
  2. If you are holding offsite business meeting with select team members, ask yourself: Am I doing this because I am personally closer to them or is this something I do in the normal course of work? Please be transparent to others that you are meeting. As part of building and maintaining trust, it is important for staff to know where the team members are, what your own schedule is and if you are meeting with teammates.
  3. Remember: Accord praise and encouragement in public and keep personal learning conversations private.

5. Get comfortable managing for results, and not bums-in-seats.

  1. Where and when people perform their work is secondary. It is what they produce that counts.
  2. Ensure you and each of your team members have clear and shared understanding of the work at hand and the targeted progress for the week. Try to avoid day-to-day micromanagement; people need space to manage their new daily reality.
  3. Remember: Trust breeds trust. Mistrust breeds mistrust.
  4. Encourage your team to share their working patterns to help them find their groove at home. Some may work 3 hours in the early morning before the kids get up, 1 hour during the day when they are at play or napping, and 3.5 hours after they have gone to bed. Respect the accommodations that people must make in this new reality.
  5. Don’t expect all your team members to all be online and available from 9-5 as usual. Learn their schedule and agree to a common time where it makes sense for key people or the whole team to connect in the day or during the week.
Be open. Know your weak spots. Work on them. Build trust. Learn and grow. Build a better workplace.

NewLeaf Performance works with individuals, teams and organizations to help them Lead. Engage. and Act. to Fulfill™. their worklife.

Leadership and Mental Health in the Workplace

Wellness in the Workplace

Picture of rocks

Just like the ever-changing seasons, organizations must constantly adapt to their environment, whether it be strategic objectives, human resources or organizational climate. Because an organization is only as effective as its employees, it is necessary to take care of them.

Mental health is an important element of employee well-being and effectiveness. When employees feel that their voices are no longer heard, that their skills are not valued and that leadership does not align with their personal values, the effects can be disastrous on work climate.

Leadership, therefore, has a direct impact on workplace climate, health and well-being. Leaders must be humble and open. They must also consider the importance of future generations. Students and future employees are much more exposed and aware of all aspects of mental health. Because it is a subject that is much less taboo for them, they will expect an organizational culture that takes it into account.

It’s Never Too Late to Do Some Good

I still hear executives expressing that they are not there to be liked by their employees or to contribute to their personal fulfillment. Hearing that saddens me every time. Leaders need to understand that they can really make a difference in the lives of employees.

Here are some ways that leaders can make improvements:

  • Recognize the humanity of each individual and his or her skills
  • Know and perfect your own emotional intelligence
  • Do not let your fear of seeming incompetent take over
  • Align shared employee values with the company’s mandate
  • Be present with employees, greet them, engage them in discussion and include them with authenticity
  • Organize short quarterly meetings with all your employees
  • Organize an annual retreat

The gap in performance and well-being between a team focused on control-and-task and a team focused on innovation-and-empowerment is enormous.  Research shows that the ROI in a healthy workplace can be up to sixfold.

We Listen to You!

We favor self-determination by our clients because they are best positioned to know that something is not working optimally in their organization or in their management team, for example. Tell us about your observations, fears and objectives for yourself as a leader, for your team and for your organization.

An analysis of your cultural values will provide an excellent starting point for identifying the issues and initiating a dialogue with you and your team.

Article published in the journal Le Droit-Les Affaires (summer 2017)