• Scott McInnes

90 | Staying Connected during Covid

Scott McInnes CEO of Inspiring Change Consultancy At the Office

So hands up - a bit of a cheat this week. Back in March (yep, nearly 11 months ago) I ran a free webinar for leaders on practical things they could do to maintain a connection with their people, most of whom were remote working.

And if that advice was important then (which it was!) it's 1,000 times more important now!

If you want to watch the actual webinar, you'll find it here - it's about 40mins. If you don't fancy listening to Scott's dulcet Scottish-ish tones for 40 mins, there's a summary of the key points below. :-)

With many under lockdown (for the third time in some cases) and with the added pressure of home-schooling, job losses, worries about parents and grand-parents, business leaders have to think differently about how they lead and communicate.

Yes, it’s still a bit of a crisis, but, handled well, it could easily be turned into an opportunity – the opportunity to test (albeit under duress) home working for large swathes of the working population. It's highly likely that we;re going to be turning to hybrid models of working so it's important to practice what that looks like from now!

Below, I’ve summarised the seven things that I said leaders needed to do in order to motivate, engage and lead their people through these times of change.

1. Acknowledgement – this is a big change In the mid-eighties, William Bridges did some really important work in the area of change and transition. In it he talked about New Beginnings, about giving people hope for the future.

But the first of his three stages of change was endings – helping people to let go of what they had before. He said that, until you can do that, it’s almost impossible to get them to change.

So, acknowledging the change and what people are going through is really important.

What can you do?

  • Before you take on your colleagues, ask yourself how YOU are

  • Reaffirm things that haven’t changed

  • Balance reality with hope

  • Create opportunities for people to say how they’re feeling – reveals ways you can perhaps work with them most effectively, both 1-1 and in a group

2. Be consistent With 24x7 news coverage and social media going at 500miles and hour, it’s easy to get lost in misinformation. It’s a leader’s role to be a guiding light in the storm and, in a work setting, to be fully aligned with communications coming from trusted sources (generally your internal comms team or, in smaller companies, your exec accountable for communications)

What can you do?

  • Check your sources and only use centrally issued communications

  • Give information to your teams in line with other leaders, managers or external releases - timing is often key

  • Don’t overwhelm your people - provide information in bite-size chunks that they can easily process

  • Don’t be dragged into rumour-mongering – you need to be the ‘single source of truth’ for your people

3. Translate and contextualise messages Company-wide messages are typically pretty generic – they have to be. A key part of a leader’s role is to translate those messages for your team.

What can you do?

  • Think about what a company announcement or new update means specifically for your team

  • What impact does it have on you and the work you do?

  • What do you need the team to start, stop or continue doing as a result? Maybe nothing?

  • Use words that are authentic and easily understood in the context of your team

4. Clearly set expectations This is a fast-moving situation that none of us have faced before. More than ever, we need our teams to stay productive – the long-term viability of many businesses depends on it. And that means ensuring everyone is pulling in the same direction but also recognising that you need to let your people find their own way to get the job done.

What can you do?

  • Set expectations based on outcomes and objectives, not working hours – not only does this provide flexibility but it also builds and strengthens bonds of trust

  • Be flexible – the situation is fluid and fast moving, you need to be the same

  • An open, authentic and honest discussion with each team member will help to get their buy-in

5. Be visible When everyone is remote working, those general, day-to-day, human interactions are harder. But they’re also more important than ever before – because they help people feel connected. And if leaders take the initiative, it takes the pressure off team members who might feel as though they don’t want to “bother” you constantly with what they perceive as minor concerns or comments.

This is NOT about checking up – it’s about checking in!

What can you do?

  • Be available

  • Check in frequently – they don’t need to be planned

  • Select your channel based on situation and need

  • Use IM (via Google Hangouts, Skype, MS Teams, Slack or your intranet) to check-in go mad and pick up the phone

6. Get the team together

Interactions in an office are easy – you’re all right there. Doing it with a remote team is a harder – but that sense of camaraderie is even more important now

What can you do?

  • Hold a daily morning check-in

  • Arrange a virtual coffee break or lunch a few times a week to get people together ‘in real life’

  • And encourage your team to do the same with each other to share personal, non-work-related information, just as they would in a traditional office space (kind of an online ‘watercooler chat’

7. Recognise accomplishments People crave recognition for their achievements. That becomes more critical when they are under pressure and out of their comfort zones and routine. If you fail to recognise your team, they may begin to feel isolated or unappreciated and productivity will drop as a result.

What can you do?

  • SIMPLE, say thank you during 1-1 catch-ups – probably more often than you might usually

  • Use your digital tools – a shoutout on your intranet, on a VC, on internal social media, email, or IM to publicly recognize and reward

  • Bring a bit of fun too – you might recognise people for joke of the week, messiest home office or best child-related interruption

In closing I quoted Robert Tew, the author who said, “Sometimes you need bad things to happen to inspire you to change and grow”. Yes, right now, this is a bad thing. As a result of Covid19 businesses are suffering and people are losing their jobs. But in time, perhaps, we’ll look back at this episode in our history and consider what a great opportunity it was to really help people re-balance their work and home lives; and the benefit that, longer term, businesses gained as a result.

Look after yourselves.


About Inspiring Change

Based in Dublin, we help organisations to drive sustainable change and business performance through the power of internal communications, engagement and leadership. If you want to have a chat please get in touch.