How to empower and engage your teams during periods of rapid change

By Diane Albano, Chief Revenue Officer at Globalization Partners

For the last few months, the pressure has been on business leaders to keep their remote teams safe, engaged and on-mission. No easy task when, almost overnight, the COVID-19 global pandemic profoundly impacted people’s personal lives and changed the way we work.

The world’s largest work-from-home experiment disrupted routines, as companies rushed to initiate a whole new way of operating. As a result, everyone had to adjust to the day-to-day realities of new remote working practices.

For growth leaders, maintaining the morale, resilience, and togetherness of their dispersed teams became a top priority. For many, it’s proved to be the greatest learning experience of their lives. One that has given them an opportunity to utilise new tools and approaches to help build the individual and team resilience that will be needed as organisations prepare for the return to whatever ‘normal’ work will look like.

To keep teams engaged, positive and productive through this challenging change period, growth leaders will need to build on recent lessons learned – and retain a tight focus on three key areas.

  1. Put employee wellbeing first

Many team leaders had to work hard to ensure their people had the equipment and connectivity needed to successfully work from home. After which they had to initiate new management approaches to address the challenges of social isolation, stress, and time management that home workers faced.

Giving people time to adjust and showing empathy as employees tried to balance remote work with the challenges of home schooling and dealing with how families and friends were affected by the coronavirus proved the most important thing that leaders could do.

Many firms utilised open surveys and forums to capture how people felt about working from home and to identify what would help make their lives easier.

Those that offered remote counselling services and access to online resources – like mindfulness and yoga programmes that helped people nurture their own mental and physical health – discovered employee wellbeing was the key to enabling a productive and engaged remote workforce that could not only do more work, but work better.

Training and supporting people for the future adjustments on the horizon will ensure that productivity can be maintained through any new upcoming changes – and transparent communication on what the new normal will look like will be key.

  1. Get to grips with the ‘fear of return’

Having adjusted fast to the remote way of working, many people will be concerned about the so-called return to normal. For them, the realities of their working day now feature regular video meetings, frequent check ‘ins’ from team leaders, and an organisational culture in which enhanced collaboration, communication and transparency are the order of the day. It’s a transformation they will be unwilling to relinquish.

As companies move ahead with shaping how business will operate in the future, team leaders will need to work hard to enable the open change-ready mindset that people will need. Achieving this will require close and frequent consultations with the collective team and individual team members to identify their trepidations and ambitions, and capture where they believe opportunities for the team lie.

For many growth leaders, the recent crisis has accelerated a massive increase in communication and listening programmes designed to improve the employee experience. Going forward, team leaders should leverage these to identify where additional coaching and support will be needed to help their people progress as the business shifts.

In many cases, remote working may become a permanent model for a number of teams across the business. This long-term reconfiguration of the workplace will have profound implications for people and the way they perform their roles, so team leaders will need to re-assess how they enable how and where work gets done and how work outcomes are measured.

  1. Build a strong and inclusive culture

High performing teams have a feeling of connectedness, belonging and inclusion. For many companies, the recent crisis has helped stimulate a new collective thinking culture, where the emphasis has shifted from individual performance to recognising wider team and organisational achievements.

When it comes to enabling a high performing workforce, it comes as no surprise that employees who rate their workplace positively are most likely to feel they are being treated fairly by their peers and feel listened to. Those leaders that worked hard to keep people connected to the wider organisation during lockdown measures generated impressive levels of engagement as employees buckled down.

The most inspirational leaders also adopted an experiment, evaluate, and implement approach to new practices in a bid to discover how best to engage and support their teams to be productive. Staying calm and collected through the crisis, they applied a methodical decision-making process to ensure they made the right decisions that would ultimately define long-term success for their people and the wider organisation, rallying teams around the chosen way forward.

As organisations prepare for the ‘new normal’, building on these foundations will help deliver outstanding business performance and ensure employees are aligned around the direction of whatever future transformation is on the horizon.

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