This year, many of us experienced a different kind of March Madness—managing the logistics of transitioning onsite employees to a safer-at-home, work-from-home model.
Arming this newly remote workforce with the supplies and technology they need to be productive was just the first phase of the challenge. Now, organizations have to find a way to help those employees feel supported, motivated, and connected at a time when fear is high and face-to-face human interaction as we knew it before is in short supply.
Where do you begin? What kinds of things should you be doing? And how do you help your managers help their teams cope in these emotionally challenging times?
Here are a few strategies, approaches and ideas to get you started.
There is no one, universal solution
“First and foremost, realize there is no one-size-fits-all program that will do the job. Everyone is different, with unique concerns and needs. So, it’s important to take a step back and find a way to understand what emotions your employees are experiencing,” explained Jenn McColly, Global VP of People Connection for SAP Concur. “Then, you can work with your leaders to really support and lean into their people.”
The best way to gain this insight is simply to ask. If you create a space in which employees can share what they’re feeling, chances are, they’ll open up.
“We reengaged with a partner to prepare some sessions for our employees on how to maintain emotional well-being in times of uncertainty,” McColly said. “We asked anyone who was willing to share, via chat, what they were most worried about. For some, it was financial stability. For others, it was how to balance home schooling with a full-time job. For others, it was being single without any outlet for face-to-face social interaction.”
Those responses provided the insight into the needs of different groups of employees, which enabled McColly and team to create their own programs, as well as secure prepackaged tools, videos, and other resources that addressed those needs.
Remember: It’s not all about business
Today, every manager has to take on an additional role—helping his or her employees navigate through this difficult time. In most cases, this means becoming more involved and emotionally engaged than they may have been before.
“Work with your leaders to remind them that now more than ever, it’s not all about business. Help them check in—really check in—with their people, and find out how they are, and what they need based on their particular reality. Our role as a people manager is about managing emotions,” McColly said.
Sometimes, that means stepping out of their comfort zone.
“I have a smaller, younger team, with a lot of people who are single or at the start of a relationship,” McColly said. “Only a few of us on the team have kids.”
Because her team loved to come together and have fun, McColly had to get creative.
“I created a weekly touchpoint, where everyone owns a day and plans a virtual event,” she said. “We’ve done team Jeopardy!, someone has done a TikTok tutorial, someone has shown the team how to do a facial massage, and I recently hosted a cooking show.”
According to McColly, it’s all about giving people an opportunity to come together and have a little fun—even if they’re miles away from each other. “Social distancing doesn’t mean social isolation, we just need to get creative in how we stay socially connected when we aren’t able to physically come together.”
Helping managers stay dialed in—but not mentally drained
Managers now have an added responsibility that may not come easy. So, give them the coaching they need—and also make sure they have an outlet to deal with the stress that comes from being an emotional sounding board for their team.
“You have to engage your leaders by giving them the perspectives and the tools they need to engage with their people,” McColly said. “Help them realize that it’s not about productivity alone but employee health and well-being. It’s about leading with empathy and extending a tremendous amount of grace—and that won’t come naturally to everyone.”
Part of that responsibility is being cognizant of behavior changes and signs of distress.
“Stress manifests itself in different ways. So, as a leader, you have to stay dialed in to your people,” McColly said.
Is someone who is normally very vocal on conference calls suddenly silent? Does someone look more tired than usual, or thinner than usual, or is the normally punctual person now late to meetings—or doesn’t show up at all?
All could be signs of a bigger issue.
“You also need to find a way to take care of your managers and to give them some sort of outlets for their stress as well,” McColly said. “There is an additional toll, an additional burden on them. Listening to people’s stresses, and helping to manage people’s emotions all day, is important, but can also be exhausting.”
Give them the direction and the tools, but also give them some sort of release valve.
Find a new way to offer events and travel incentives
The more normalcy you can bring to the equation, the better.
“We’ve continued to produce our biweekly newsletter, but have altered the content to make sure that it’s relevant, tone sensitive, and that we’re amplifying our available tools and resources,” McColly said. “We’re moving our quarterly, all-hands meeting to be 100% virtual, and rethinking how we’re handling our sales incentive trips.”
The goal is not to cancel an event or program, but find a new way to reinvent it to fit within the guidelines we’re all adhering to now.
Keep giving back—and maintaining perspective
If your organization has a culture of corporate responsibility, it’s essential to make sure you find a way your employees can keep giving back.
“Talk to organizations your company supports to learn ways you can move to virtual volunteerism, so your employees can continue to give back to their communities, even though they can’t physically go onsite,” McColly said.
The act of giving is not only important to regain a sense of normalcy and purpose, but it’s also a good way for your employees to mentally step away from their own stresses for a while. Doing something good for someone else is often the greatest panacea.
Above all, do something
Amid an ongoing crisis, there is no business as usual, or life as usual. By recognizing that fact, and seeking out ways to keep your employees safe, supported, and connected, you will protect your company’s most valuable asset—and ultimately, build a stronger team.
Want more tips on employee engagement from Jenn McColly? Check out her recent LinkedIn post, Staying Ready During COVID-19.
For more information on SAP Concur, and our automated, mobile travel, expense and invoice management solutions, visit Concur.com.