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What Work Teams Need Right Now from Managers

Apr 13, 2020

Filtered portrait of an executive business woman writing on a glass wall at sunsetManagers, this is your moment. You don't have to lead perfectly but you do have to lead.

If you pick up these tools and apply them, your remote staff will make you a hero. More specifically, you will strengthen your team, increase employee engagement and together get more done -- all with less effort.

And if you overlook these tools, you will likely disengage and dishearten even your most dedicated performers. Here are the tools to help you avoid that scenario:

Systematic check-ins

Systematic check-ins add a layer of stability. They help employees prepare and engage. 

Examples of what systematic check-ins might look like:

  • A Friday video update from the CEO
  • A Tuesday departmental staff meeting on Zoom 
  • Monday/Friday status reports by all departmental employees via email

Give your immediate team a say in how you will meet (e.g., conference call, video conference) and how often. In the words of Craig Valentine, "People buy into what they help create." 

Give them a reason to buy in. 


This is not the time to play hardball. Instead, look for ways to show your employees flexibility (hint: you're going to need their flexibility in return).

A few practical ways to put this into practice: 

  • Find out where individual employees are struggling to see how you (or someone else on the team) could help
  • Set reasonable deadlines
  • Collaborate with your staff to determine what are reasonable deadlines
  • Allow people who are on deadline to opt out of meetings that don't require their attendance

When you give flexibility, you'll be better positioned to ask for flexibility. Examples

  • Asking the office manager who doesn't consider herself a writer to publish an employee newsletter
  • Having all employees share creative ways they can contribute, even if they're not able to do their normal work
  • Challenging your entire team to adopt a flexible mindset, reminding them it's necessary

What are some ways you could use flexibility to grow and benefit your team?

Shared vulnerability/accountability

If ever there were a time to show your human side, this crisis would be it. So for example, before you grill your staff on what they've accomplished, share what you've accomplished. 

Share where you are struggling. A little authenticity goes a long way.  

Is there such a thing as too much transparency? Yes. I once had a boss who opened the first staff meeting of the year with, "I just can't get motivated at all!"

We all laughed because we loved her. But it was still too much information. It was her role to motivate us -- or at least not demotivate. 

Hold your team accountable, but temper it with compassion and respect. 

Group and individual connection

Come up with creative, meaningful ways to keep the group connection alive, beyond weekly Zoom meetings. Let your staff tell you what would be meaningful.

This will not only reduce isolation, it will make your one-on-one time more efficient and effective.

As an example, I once taught a graduate course with 29 students. On the first day of class, I had each student get a class partner and exchange contact information. I told them, "Be there for each other in the little things so that I can be there for you in the big things." 

It worked. You can apply a similar practice to your company or department.

Pro tip: Not everything has to be a Zoom meeting. Sometimes a quick call or text is simpler, faster and just as effective.

Finally, get the whole team acknowledging and appreciating each another. They will if you challenge them. And if you don't, they'll probably assume that's your job. It is. But it is also theirs, especially with everyone working from home. 


"Give me something!" – Anonymous person asking repeatedly for acknowledgment

If you think you're praising your team too much, you're probably doing the right amount. In the words of a friend of mine, who serves as a departmental director:

Continue to praise the work that is being done! Can't do this enough. Good to do in a group setting and also individually.

If you get the chance, praise your team in front of senior management. 

Every chance I get to speak to anyone about how this transition has been, I'm telling them what a great job our staff has done in letting go of "what we were going to do" and focusing on "what are we going to do to replace lost programming."

During this time they've come up with some creative ideas on short notice to keep us relevant. I've also asked them to keep track of all their new projects so when this crisis is done I can once again share what they've accomplished.

Emphasis on going forward

If any of your team is asking "When do we get back to normal?" politely remind them there is no going back. Instead, paint the vision of how you will all go forward.

A few reminders for how to put your team at ease:

  • Share what you know and what you can
  • If you're not at liberty to share certain information, simply say so
  • Re-emphasize what you do know (e.g, "You're all still employed and receiving full salary, and you're all still highly valued")
  • Help the team focus on what they do know and what they can control
  • If there are certain changes outside your control, such as pending layoffs, offer any assurances that you truthfully can; for example, that you will advocate for the best possible severance pay

Some realities are hard to sugar-coat. Your legacy as a leader will determined not by factors beyond your control or by whether anything bad happened. Bad things have already happened. Your legacy will depend on how you showed up when they did.

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