managing staff during the pandemic

Managing Staff During the Pandemic

Alan Melton

Here are some keys to managing staff during the pandemic. For now, and perhaps for the foreseeable future, your employees may have to work at home. Distractions, emotional highs and lows, and a new way of working can make it difficult to keep morale up and be productive. Take these considerations into account for managing your team from a distance.

Best Approaches to Managing Telecommuters

Your Expectations With Managing Staff.

Your staff need and want you to provide clear, reasonable guidelines. They want to know if they’re meeting your expectations – many because they fear losing their jobs due to slow business. They want to know the near- and far-term plans and strategies of their employer.

Company Policies

With managing staff you want to let them know about company policies and standards for working at home. If none exist, either set those parameters yourself or develop them in concert with your peers and management. If the situations merits it, get input from staff.

How to Deliver Company Guidelines

With the understandable concerns and stressors in mind that are affecting us all, deliver guidelines in a way that’s easily digestible. Send the same message to everyone, though you may need to provide some staff with additional job-specific or confidential information or instructions based on their need-to-know. You might start with a handful of the most important details, such as:

  • working hours
  • software or hardware needs
  • new or modified job duties
  • meeting methods

These guidelines should respect the situation we find ourselves in, offering flexibility and compassion while maintaining an appropriate level of professionalism. Communicating with of consideration will build the trust and camaraderie needed for staff to function well.

Options For Communications During the Pandemic

With managing staff it’s important to stay in touch with workers through email, texts, or phone calls. Use available software or online tools methods (like (Zoom, Skype, FaceBook, or WebEx) to conduct online meetings. Try not to burden staff with too many such face-to-face meetings to keep the stress level down (imagine challenges they may be facing such as having a dedicated, quiet working spot; family, roommates, and pets causing background noise; having to make themselves presentable).

With time, communicate more specific policies and information around:

  • Availability for calls, instant messages, etc.
  • New/revised procedures or limitations around working hours or expenses
  • Resources for employee well-being (assistance programs, HR mediation)
  • Setting more specific expectations (milestones, deadlines)
  • Benefits (bereavement or family medical leave)
  • How/when they can retrieve personal belongings in the office

Communicate Empathy To Your Employees

Don’t forget to keep it real. Ask staff about how they’re doing – what are their challenges – are they getting out occasionally – is there some way that I or the company can make things easier? Addressing personal and emotional factors is a way to let them know that you’re concerned with their well-being, about them as an individual person during unprecedented times.

Maintaining Connectivity With Your Staff

A big challenge to managing staff will be keeping up connections between leadership, management, employees, contractors, and other staff. Consider creating a private site where anyone can post things like pictures, stories, messages, or videos. Perhaps allow employees to create their own profiles with photos, short bio, hobbies, etc.

Leadership or management can initiate sharing of ideas for improvement, discussion of common challenges, links to work-related websites, or even a joke or quote of the day.

Seeing the Opportunities Even When Things Are Slow

If work is slow, brainstorm ways to keep staff engaged:

Taking company training modules or online courses

Reading recommended materials (printed or online)

Backing up your PC

Managing emails or files (organizing, consolidating, deleting)

Writing operational procedures for their regular duties

Opportunities For Management:

  • Creating handbooks around Safety, New Hire Orientation, Security, etc.
  • Writing policies, standards, or recommended practices (for data management, disaster recovery, dress code, hiring/firing, etc.)
  • Brainstorming new ways to keep up morale and keep staff connected
  • Developing new or improved reports (executive, financial, project status)
  • Work on performance appraisals
  • If none exist, create a mission statement or your company’s vision and values
  • Develop more training, especially relating to changes that will have to take place after COVID-19
  • Set up a bulletin board type “wall” where staff can post ideas for keeping the kids busy, sharing good things that are coming out of being quarantine, funny things they’re seeing on youtube or social media
  • Collaborate on re-setting projects, policies, and priorities for the post-pandemic workplace
  • Work in obtaining loans or other financial assistance through governmental programs
  • Write/re-write job descriptions

How to Handle Layoffs

If you/your management have been discussing the possibility of furloughing or laying off staff, share that plan as soon as you can. Employees need to know if belts should be tightened now rather than later. Though a difficult topic, they will appreciate your honesty and openness.

Explain that circumstances are constantly changing, and reaffirm their value (past, present, and/or future) in keeping the company successful and in business.

Consider multiple scenarios to avoid laying off staff like cutting back expenses, reducing working hours, or postponing bonuses. Since many people have lost their employment, staff hopefully will accept a reduction in income while hoping for business to return to normal.

If layoffs become necessary, prepare yourself by gathering all the facts they need:

  • Effective date of layoff
  • Likelihood of job reinstatement and related company policies
  • Payout of pension, 401(k), stock options, or other accrued financial instruments
  • Return of equipment, badges, etc.
  • End of access to software, systems, or facilities
  • Extended benefits (like COBRA)
  • Steps to apply for unemployment (If applicable)

You might even draft out what you want to communicate beforehand and anticipate their questions. Acknowledge the difficulty in receiving this news. Be prepared to handle an emotional response to this decision. To lighten the mood, you can follow up by expressing the value they brought to your team or even a funny or memorable moment that you both shared at work.

Summary

Foremost, be honest about what comes next – whether work will continue on a regular or a part-time basis, whether staff reductions are imminent, what company leaders are contemplating. Don’t make promises, as no one really knows what the work situation will be like in the next weeks or months – but that doesn’t mean you can’t also express your hopes and expectations for the future.