How Managers Can Become Heroes of the Covid-19 Crisis



Emily Hardy
04/17/2020

Through constant listening, managers can play a vital role in helping companies get through the COVID-19 crisis.

When it comes to the ‘heroes’ of the Covid-19 pandemic, managers may not immediately spring to mind – except, of course, for those leading teams of key workers on the front lines. 

However, managers from across a wide range of industries have a hugely important role to play in the weeks and months ahead. While perhaps not heroes in the traditional sense of the word, managers are uniquely positioned to help steer organizations through this crisis – and out the other side. 

For even the most experienced of managers, this crisis will prove to be a steep learning curve, as the virus ravages global economies and touches every corner of our personal and professional lives. The majority won’t have encountered anything like it before in their lifetimes. 

Perhaps your whole team is working remotely for the first time, or maybe you’re attempting to get by with just a skeleton crew. Perhaps you’re managing and protecting a team bravely battling away at the very heart of the pandemic. 

Here’s how, as managers, you can expertly navigate and support your teams through this abnormal ‘new normal’. 

Continuous Listening to Help Support Remote Working

Technology is a fantastic enabler of remote working. No question. But there are pitfalls to never seeing your teams face-to-face. When we suddenly rely entirely on calls, videos and messaging, we’re more likely to encounter miscommunication, misunderstandings and missed opportunities. 

Given the current level of uncertainty, it has been said that there's no such thing as too much communication. Managers are being encouraged to increase the points of contact they have with their teams – holding regular one-to-one calls where feasible alongside virtual team meetings. As we’ve noted on the Peakon blog, something as simple as a ‘hello’ can give employee engagement a lift.

But that’s not all. Managers should also engage in what we call ‘continuous listening’ through frequent, anonymous employee feedback surveys. This will help managers understand how their employees are really feeling, and how they can best support them – especially as anonymous surveys often garner more honest responses than one-to-one interactions.  

If the past few weeks have shown us anything, it’s that a lot can change in just a few short days. And what we’re seeing is employees responding immediately to the events unfolding around them in their Peakon surveys. In March, when the virus started to take hold in the West, there was a sudden and sharp rise in employee comments about Covid-19 from parts of Europe and the US. The most prevalent terms included: Virus, situation, office, manage, response, crisis, impact, health, communication, work from home, family, hand gel, and travel

The uptick in Covid-related comments is evidence of workers looking to their leaders for support, while the most-used terms reveal the things they are most concerned about. Real-time, anonymous employee responses, such as these, equip team leaders with clear insights into what their employees require from them at any one time. 

Given the current rate of change, staying on the pulse like this is arguably more important now than ever. A regular stream of feedback will ensure that every worker has a voice during this difficult time, and will enable managers to stay in tune with their teams’ fast-changing needs and expectations. This will empower managers to make rapid but well-informed decisions that evolving situations such as this call for. 

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Read more advice from Peakon, and discover how employees around the world are responding to Covid-19:

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A Fresh Focus on Employee Wellbeing 

As COVID-19 spreads, individuals worldwide will face new challenges in their personal lives. Self-isolation is triggering a rise in loneliness. Juggling work and children is causing some parents to feel guilty and torn. Job losses or reduced hours is resulting in unforeseen financial strain for many families and individuals. Many others will also be dealing with personal illness and even grief. 

The situation is therefore – perhaps unsurprisingly – shining a light on employee health and wellbeing. In March, we observed a 51% increase in the proportion of employee comments relating to wellbeing in the Peakon database, with the most prevalent words including: Mental health, life balance, job security, anxiety, family health and managing workload. 

Managers have an opportunity to make a huge difference to their teams here. And if successful, they will engender untold loyalty among their teams – helping to support their organization’s long-term retention. They will also contribute to ongoing employee engagement, which has been proven to boost overall company performance. 

The Intersection of Employee Engagement and Business Success

Employee Engagement is one of the top metrics HR regularly measures. In the latest report from the HR Exchange Network, an in-depth look at the importance of engagement in the employee lifecycle and the role data plays in the strategy.

But how? Managers will find that continuous listening, as discussed above, will give them a fuller understanding of how their teams are being personally affected by COVID-19 – and what actions may therefore be necessary to support their wellbeing. With up-to-date employee insights in their tool belts, they can exercise agility to ensure everyone is suitably supported. 

Some of the initiatives we’re already seeing include: Online group activities, like digital pub quizzes or team lunches to help ease loneliness, flexibility on deadlines to help reassure struggling parents, and new tools and resources to help employees get their jobs done from home. 

Managers clearly have a vital role to play in supporting employees and organisations through this crisis. Where they succeed, organisations will be better equipped to weather this storm, and be in sound shape to hit the ground running once it’s over. 

Manager effectiveness in an enforced remote environment is critical. But, it can take some getting used to. Here’s our top four tips for managing remote teams: 

  • Video calls: Set guidelines and appoint a meeting leader who will direct the discussion and make sure everyone has an opportunity to speak.
  • Flexibility for all: Where possible, allow and trust employees to choose how and when to work – especially those taking care of children or those in need. 
  • Mute notifications: Encourage everyone to turn off email and Slack notifications during breaks and when focussing on tasks. This can help them avoid the feeling of being ‘always on’.
  • Clear communication: With increased written communications, there’s a higher risk of misinterpretation. Summarize the most important messages and tasks in a daily email so nothing slips through the net. Be vigilant about the language you use too. 

Photo Courtesy of: Pexels

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