Pandemic worries, higher unemployment numbers, remote work, Zoom calls, and a switch to online shopping — things look different than they did a year ago.
“Given the monumental shifts in what ‘business as usual’ looked like last year, it’s very likely that 2020 is a harbinger of 2021 and beyond,” says Doug Holcombe, who works in business development for employee benefits at Hardenbergh Insurance Group. “Small to medium-sized businesses were forced to change the way they operated. Many had to navigate remote technologies to continue to serve their clients from home. This included providing employees with laptops, monitors, switching phone systems over to VOIP, and remote servers — all of which can be costly investments.”
This is a totally new experience for many shops, so we talked to some leadership experts to learn how you can respond even better to your team’s needs, while also helping them get excited about hitting your new goals. Here are five ways to rethink leadership, employee motivation, and team-building.
1. Lead with empathy and compassion
As a shop owner, you already wear many hats. However, COVID-19 has touched and changed people’s lives in such profound ways, that many people actively grieve what they’ve lost or missed while they’re working. Now it’s time to lead with even more empathy. If you haven’t already, you’ll probably evaluate your company policies and procedures about sick leave, time off or telecommuting, and evolve them to fit the new normal. You’ll also need to be more attuned to when a team member needs extra words of encouragement or to be referred to Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) for counseling.
“The best motivation for employees is to consistently show them how much you care about them through your actions. Support, validation, thank-yous, and great communication increase employee buy-in and engagement,” says Tyrone Robinson III, owner of Opportunities2Serve.
“When employees see their leader being real and honest, it can create a greater sense of commitment and motivation as in, ‘Wow, the boss is dealing with challenges, just like me,’” adds Chantelle Fitzgerald, founder and owner of Mindset Strategies. “For executives and managers, this new side of leadership means talking about how they’ve managed a work/life balance in this pandemic, what has kept them motivated and what values they hold. You can even share pictures of what motivates yourself and talk openly about what the last year has meant for you personally and professionally.”
It’s important to take this more empathetic leadership role seriously since just a few tone-deaf or dismissive responses or decisions can implode your team. “Nothing should be top-down in your shop,” adds Robinson, who works with SMBs including print shops. “It should be all-inclusive. Everyone counts.”
2. Offer support and validation
These days our work colleagues often feel like extended family, or at least part of our smaller pandemic-induced communities. “Within the last year, leaders and employees both realized how important support and validation are,” Robinson says. “In the scenario we’re in today, the leaders who’ve learned to adapt and grow know how to support and validate their workforce. That leads to increased employee buy-in and engagement because your team feels heard.”
The way leaders respond to uncertainty or change is another aspect of this leadership. “Leaders who listened to employee concerns and provided alternate work arrangements or accommodations grow trust,” says Robinson, who points out that even if employees wanted to work at home, other concerns and fears arise from that new arrangement. For example, a remote worker may feel less connected to the team, or worry that they’ll lose their job to someone who shows up in person.
“When you understand that change can also cause concern, and you listen diligently, your team bonds to you more,” Robinson says.
3. Make the most of your (virtual) meetings
Holcombe has noticed that SMB leadership goals have drastically changed in the last year. However, it’s even more challenging because of the remote work atmosphere. “There’s a much greater need to create a sense of unity, shared purpose, and motivation, all while speaking to many employees via a webcam,” he says. “As a leader, you can bridge the gap and make them feel valued in a few ways: host weekly video conferencing meetings, send staff lunches or gifts, and provide employees with a safe space to ‘vent.’”
When you check in with your staff via Zoom, Microsoft Teams, or Webex once a week, you can see each other and remain connected at a human level. “As a leader, it’s important to acknowledge that these are highly stressful times, so when you give your employees a space to speak, you’re indicating to them that they’re heard,” Holcombe says. “You’re showing that you care and empathize with the hardships the pandemic caused for them.”
4. Cut down on the meetings
Yes, this is counterintuitive to our previous point, but hear us out. Lots of people are suffering from the very real Zoom fatigue. We spend a lot of our time on these calls: 76% of employees participate in virtual meetings and say they spend one-third of their workday doing these calls with colleagues and customers, according to a study by global staffing firm Robert Half.
Meanwhile, 38% of workers say they’ve experienced video call fatigue since the start of COVID-19; 26% say the novelty and practicality of video calls have worn off, and 24% say they find virtual meetings exhausting and inefficient. In fact, employees say they prefer to communicate in other ways, like via phone, emails, chat, or text.
“Here are questions to consider as a leader to your employees: How can I be more supportive? What’s going well as an ally to you, and what isn’t going well? What could I be doing better to support your growth and goals? What opportunities are you looking for that I can help in creating a path for success?” poses Chantelle Fitzgerald, Mindset Strategies.
Fitzgerald challenges the leaders she works with to see if it’s possible to have a no-meetings week. If that doesn’t make business sense for your shop, how about one meeting-free day or afternoon a week? “This helps employees take a much-needed break and have more time to balance their other tasks,” she says. “If you want to start small, take that idea to a micro level and have a no-meeting hour across your shop each day. That’s equivalent to a lunch hour.”
If you make this a shop policy, Fitzgerald says, your team will get a “pause” during their day to eat, take a break or have a non-work focus. “They can take walks or even meditate,” Fitzgerald says. “Studies show that when we take breaks, we’re much more motivated.”
Pro tip: Send your employees short meditations like this “2 Minutes to Arrive” one from Fitzgerald, meant to be used when you’re bouncing from meeting to meeting. This 120-second break helps employees calm down and get geared up for the next meeting.
5. Simply say thank you
This is an oldie, but a goodie. When it comes to motivation, employees want to hear their managers say “thank you” more often. This is the top way that workers want to receive your positive feedback, according to a survey conducted by Reward Gateway. The main finding: 75% of employees surveyed agreed that motivation and company morale would improve if managers simply thanked them in real-time when they do a great job.
“I always say the best motivation for employees is to consistently show them how much you care about them through your actions,” Robinson adds. “Support, validation, and thank-yous via great communication increases your employee buy-in and engagement.”
For five more ways to rethink your management style, visit the alphabroder blog.