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Putting People First in Times of Pandemic Crisis and Daily Challenge

There has never been a more important time for organizations to supercharge their employee engagement as we tackle the wide and deep effects of the Black Lives Matter social movement and COVID’s effect on workers’ lives. The need for change is very heightened in this moment in history, and while that needs to be on a global and national level, it starts in our communities. It starts with the people we interact with every day. It starts in our (virtual) workplaces.

Senior leaders are in a unique position to make or break a virtual workplace’s culture and now is the time to focus on support for their people. This is key to longer-term success as economic turmoil subsides and more resilient organizations move forward.

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Over the past four months, workforces have demonstrated an impressive level of adaptability to new ways of working. Employees have “showed up,” turning kitchen tables into 24/7 offices and home-schooling their children. Social movements and individual and group actions toward eradicating racism and other inequities in our communities have taken on new energy and determination.

In return, organizations must supercharge their engagement with employees, opening dialogues, gathering feedback and offering positive and supportive on-the-job experiences. Here are thoughts on three ways to lead in the right direction.

Foster connection, openness and belonging

Unlike other large crises, we are feeling the impact of two massive events and movements at the same time. The impact is deeply personal: what we see happening around us is happening to all of us, but in very different ways. So, as workers deal with exponentially higher stress, they are more likely to feel isolated and disconnected from their work environment and team activities.

In uncertain times, people seek comfort, clear information and a want to feel they belong.

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As business leaders restore and reinvigorate their organizations, it is essential to reinforce access to information and human connections that support solidarity and belonging. If this type of openness was not typical of past practices, decision-makers can leverage this period of change to rethink old ways of working.

A time of challenge does not have to be an obstacle to an organization’s progress, it can be an opening for awareness of fresh options, creative problem solving and learning. This moment presents an unparalleled opportunity to demonstrate compassion and to make getting through this difficult time a priority shared with all stakeholders, especially employees.

Make the commitment to putting people first

Despite the world being more connected than ever, medical experts say people are lonelier than ever. Former US Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy, in his 2019 groundbreaking book, Together, wrote that loneliness has become a serious public health concern, affecting health and work performance and contributing to social polarization. Imagine how easy it is for the changes in our daily lives to intensify those feelings.

Humans are social beings who seek community with others. We have an innate desire to belong. Companies are a critical community in their employees’ lives.

Effective leaders know the importance of creating a vibrant environment for their workforce, one that nurtures their skills, encourages open and honest dialogue and rewards their efforts.

More than ever people need to feel they are rooted in something they value and that what they do matters.

If there are additional programs the business can put in place to help de-complicate employees’ personal lives (childcare, counseling helplines) or assisting with stress, anxiety or financial worries (fitness, mindfulness or financial planning apps), those can be resources of important solace and calm.

Make remote connection points into routine habits

Everything that has happened over the past several months has been catalysts for broader change. As we address important change, it is essential to foster relationships between team leaders and team members. All levels of organizational management should be thinking about how to build deeper, more empathetic relationships by increasing points of interaction and communicating as openly, honestly, and often as possible. Respect the power of access to information and seek continuous feedback.

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Today’s technologies do a great job of enabling communication and collaboration in a virtual teaming environment. Use streaming video, facilitated virtual discussions, online pulse surveys and online “idea boxes” to keep the lines of communication open. Encourage facilitators to pose open-ended questions and urge team leaders to support the integration of the whole person into the workday by taking regular breaks to refresh and giving time and space to anyone who wants to share personal experiences.

People want to matter, to make a difference.

But, senior management must take deliberate action and put the communication tools and processes in place to bring in all points of view and enable everyone to count. Leaders who put people first and guide with authentic interest and support can have a positive and productive impact on fostering engagement, loyalty, and a sense of belonging.

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