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Leading people through the COVID-19 era

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As organisations navigate their way through a global pandemic and an irreversibly changed world of work, a number of challenges and opportunities take centre stage. Challenges include the ability to use technology, work with children at home, being worried about the health of your loved ones, physical disconnection and general well-being. Opportunities include the acceleration of digital transformation in the way we work. In times like these, showing empathy and supporting your people to remain engaged and connected through remote working, resultantly helping alleviate some of their challenges and support them to embrace the opportunities, is imperative.
Considerations and ideas on how to keep your people engaged, connected and productive through the outbreak of COVID-19.

Safety and security

The primary concern of any organisation should be the safety and welfare of their people. Stay abreast of any developments which require you to make important workforce decisions (e.g. regulation requirements, travel bans, evacuations, supply chain shutdowns etc). Start with examining which critical functions must remain on-site and which can be remote. Determine where you need to increase/decrease front- and back-office staffing to meet remote work considerations (e.g. increased helpdesk/support resources, decreased on-site support resources). For those remaining on-site, provide appropriate health and well-being training, set emergency health response protocols, as well as evacuation and sanitisation protocols. Ensure the accuracy of contact details, as well as emergency contact information for all your people. For those working remotely, develop a remote working policy clarifying eligibility, remote location confirmation, approved tools and practices (e.g. collaboration, virtual access, remote conferencing). Enable remote access to business critical applications and enhance cybersecurity. 

Finally, recognise that people may face different health risks depending on the type of work they do, where they do it and their own health status. Fairness across the whole workforce is key, and adaptability in an organisation’s response is necessary.

Connection

With work having moved to a virtual environment, staying connected with your teams, colleagues and clients is paramount. Having a sense of purpose and belonging is a basic human need which is even more vital in the current environment in order to remain engaged and productive. Just because we cannot physically be with each other does not mean we cannot be virtually connected - thanks to technology. Activities to enhance connection could include: regular check-ins/check-outs, virtual coffee breaks or lunches, virtual happy hours, virtual brainstorming in teams, public praise for goals reached and projects completed, etc. All these are important activities that can be adopted in the digital world, and allow for spontaneous and randomised encounters as one would have in the workplace.

It is important for organisations to ensure that their people have the enabling technologies/working tools, bandwidth capacity and load-testing, to accommodate rich, remote, yet connected, working experiences (e.g. video conferencing, live collaboration, virtual brainstorming and interactivity) and sufficient software licences where necessary.

Leading in a crisis

Everyday, leaders are called to make rational decisions amid turbulent change, as well as provide psychological and emotional support in uncertain times. While it is easy and often “comfortable” to get caught up in the day-to-day operational management of this constantly evolving crisis, it is important for leaders to take a step back frequently and think longer term. This allows them a broader view of both challenges and opportunities ahead.

Leaders are also expected to set a new standard in behaviour. They need to model the way, giving purpose and structure to everyday work. Spend time with your team to set your remote team working agreement or even remote work culture. Think about how and when you hold virtual meetings, what their purpose is, what behaviours are expected, how information is shared, how interaction with and between participants is ensured, what the individual needs of team members are etc. These are a few of the many questions leaders must help their teams find collaborative answers to.   

Lastly, leaders are expected to model the way on all of the above (and much more), on top of handling their own personal circumstances and anxieties as the pandemic unfolds.

Communications

During this period of constant change and uncertainty, our expectations of the future are disrupted, leading to fear and anxiety which reduce our sense of control and ability to process information, and thus make us risk-averse and defensive.  

Ensure proactive, empathetic and structured communications to all stakeholder groups. Consider who is most impacted by the crisis, what the impact is on them and who has influence on these individuals. Identify internal and external stakeholders and their individual circumstances, challenges and constraints (e.g. health status, home office infrastructure, remote working with young children). Messages should be based on factual and verified information communicated in a prompt, clear, concise and consistent manner. Consider using visual aids, graphics, stories and analogies to help people process the message. Utilise multimodal communication channels (e.g. top-down, such as virtual town halls and bottom-up, such as dedicated communication channels on COVID-19 issues where people can ask questions and receive guidance). Ensure cadence and sequencing of key messages so that everyone has equal access to information and communication networks. 

These communications are essential to build trust, manage public perception of the ongoing crisis, minimise misinformation/rumours, maintain workforce engagement and motivation, and reduce the impact on individuals.

Well-being

It is imperative that we ensure that our teams remain physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually healthy. We need to be vigilant about how the pandemic is affecting people when in isolation and make their well-being a priority.  

General well-being activities include: checking in with one another as much as possible; ensuring people take short breaks during the workday to recharge; inspiring people to build exercise and mindfulness regimes around their working patterns to help them stay energised, focused and resilient.

In addition to the above, cultivating a practice of gratitude is also very important for each person's emotional resilience. A good practice is to organise virtual gratitude meetings, where each person shares one thing they are grateful for, either personal, or relating to someone in the team.

In such times, assessing the needs of others and considering their feelings and experience is of paramount importance. While tough decisions need to be made in times of crisis, there is a need for everyone to look through a lens of empathy which will help in communicating and connecting more effectively. Recognising that your workforce is diverse and is experiencing different challenges and constraints, is the first step towards keeping them engaged and motivated. To sustain these behaviours, there is a solid case to support your people to balance workplace demands and family needs (i.e. childcare), deal with possible health issues, find ways to deal with general anxiety (such as virtual psychological support and coaching sessions) and provide ergonomic tips (and where appropriate the right infrastructure) for working from home.

New ways of working

More and more organisations are announcing that remote working will be permanent, even when the pandemic is over. Working remotely from home - or working remotely from anywhere - is a reality which is here to stay. It is crucial that organisations build capabilities to adapt to a remote work structure and keep productivity high. This includes adopting the right remote working tools, forming or updating relevant policies and procedures, embracing a culture of flexibility and managing employee engagement, performance, well-being and collaboration. 

One of the aspects of a remote working reality is the concept of remote learning. This creates an opportunity for upskilling people during possible downtime via online channels, such as e-learning courses, podcasts, virtual classrooms etc. Identifying and prioritizing must-have business and technical skills (such as data & analytics, remote working tools etc) is very important at this stage, as it will directly contribute to people's productivity, engagement and motivation.   

In a bid to maintain business continuity, practices such as hiring and onboarding are also being conducted remotely through the use of dedicated technologies. Both employers and candidates are quickly adapting to the new era of virtual talent acquisition, whilst striving to maintain top notch candidate experience.

Click here for key Virtual Hiring & Onboarding Tips for Employers and Candidates

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Philippos Soseilos

Partner - Advisory, PwC Cyprus

Tel: +357-22555606

Ani Tavitian

Senior Manager - Advisory, PwC Cyprus

Tel: +357 22-555724

Nicole Heracleous

Senior Manager, Advisory, PwC Cyprus

Tel: +357-22555148

Nicoletta Psyllidou

Senior Manager - Advisory, PwC Cyprus

Tel: +357 22-555652