Opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of Rolling Stone editors or publishers.
The pandemic brought us all personal uncertainty and questions around the professional work we do. We all went from “happy to be home” with many citing the opportunity to start families, many with puppies, and having more control of our day-to-day schedule, to feelings of burnout and confusion around how to balance work in a halfway opened world. As some employers implemented plans to bring everyone back to the office, others decided to close indefinitely.
Before, working from home was an ill-planned excuse to slack off for the day or quite frankly, not do any work at all. But then the pandemic hit and we were all forced to figure out how to do real work no matter what was going on in the world. It was at this time I realized that leadership had to be even more tactful and intentional than ever before.
With many employers seeing increased rates of anxiety, exhaustion and depression among their employees due to Covid-19, many companies such as American Express and Spotify have adopted new time-off policies and remote work programs for their teams.
Leaders need to keep their teams motivated, engaged and feeling like they have the autonomy to avoid or mitigate burnout. I’d like to share some of the ideologies I implemented to help the squad at my company Raedio sustain workflows and push toward our goals.
1. Lead with transparency and vulnerability.
Now is not the time to act as if you know it all. Instead, now is the time to assure others, conveying the sentiment that “hey, this is my first time experiencing this too, so I’m trying my best to navigate, and here are the protocols we are considering putting in place.” When implementing new ways to work, it’s important to read your team. Spend a few meetings observing and listening to them. You’ll gain more by letting them speak first, before responding to their ideas and opinions.
2. Implement policies to encourage staff to protect their space.
It’s so easy to sit on the couch with your MacBook on your lap, but creating a designated space in your home is well worth it. Some studies show that some employees work better on some tasks when working from home. So, consider offering your employees a stipend and/or tools to help them set up an in-home office.
3. Implement active check-ins.
Actively stay in touch with your team and find a connection point like a sporting event or a new TV show to riff on in all-hands meetings before the business conversations start. With my team, I sent everyone a gift card for Goldbelly that allowed them to order food from restaurants around the country. My note was simple: Since we all can’t visit our favorite restaurants, we’re bringing your favorite menu items to you. Then I followed up on a team meeting and asked them what they ordered, which allowed the entire team to bond over their favorite meals.
4. Set clear, amenable rules of engagement for video calls.
Internal meetings may not always require a camera to be on but client-facing ones probably should, without any mustache filters, of course. Also, conduct weekly meeting audits to ensure all meetings on the calendar are absolutely necessary. This is where asynchronous business apps like Asana, Google Drive and Trello can save you from a call that could’ve been an email.
5. Keep your team updated on remote policies.
If your business has decided to return to a physical office at some point in the near future, you should inform everyone of a general timeline. Millions have moved to either be closer to family or find solace in the woods due to the newly accepted form of remote work across the board.
6. Remember that most people thrive on the freedom of choice in the workplace.
Choice of who they work with, what they work on and how they execute tasks are all important elements for staff. We’ve all found that we can be incredibly effective with WFA (working from anywhere). Now is the time to lean into those choices and let your team know that you support their decision to come to work, stay at home or work from the other side of the world.
As a leader, your mandate is to make sure you engineer events that create camaraderie and allow fellow team members to create a bond around the work. Oftentimes this is done by repeating the company goals (often), pulling back layers of the business and explaining why certain decisions were made that may impact their day-to-day work, and then providing regular updates around financials, key dates and areas of the business that are struggling.
One such event that was extremely helpful for Raedio was a company retreat. We covered business agendas in the mornings but most of the time was spent on team building. We’ve hired over half of our staff during the pandemic and needed an opportunity to bond without a screen between us. One of the best things we did was play the card game, Totem, which allowed team members to tell each other about traits and qualities they admired in one another.
Interestingly enough, most people don’t see the good in themselves that others see in workplace dynamics. It’s encouraging to hear your coworkers see you as courageous or spontaneous when you’ve always thought otherwise. It’s also a great opportunity to do something all great leaders have the ability to do: bring out the best in someone to allow them to punch above their perceived weight class. Leaders would do well to create opportunities to strengthen the bonds between team members. Regardless of whether it’s an in-person retreat (with any necessary Covid-related safety protocols) or a card game or a social hour, giving employees the chance to connect should be a priority.
As leaders, we have to be more flexible in how we think about our businesses at the intersection of company goals and personal well-being, as we look to foster a renewed energy in the teams we lead.