Opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of Rolling Stone editors or publishers.
2020 has been a slog. No two ways about it.
I run a fitness and sports technology company called Volt Athletics that is headquartered in Seattle and employs 24 people full time. Like many other corporate leaders, 2020 has beaten me up, and I’m feeling a bit worse for the wear. I’m also feeling a tremendous sense of responsibility to help my employees stay sane, productive and fulfilled during this intensely difficult time. The pandemic is, after all, a marathon, not a sprint.
And I am feeling a renewed sense of optimism about where we’re heading. After a year marked by division and separation, I believe we’ll be coming back together in 2021 under a banner of unity and togetherness.
But how do we get there? And who should be leading the way?
Fortunately, elected officials are not the only leaders in our communities. Company and community leaders, such as those for schools, churches and sports teams, can and should step into this vacuum and lead us forward. 2020 has pulled us apart, but we have more power to repair and restrengthen our cultural fabric than we realize.
As a CEO, I consider it my responsibility and privilege to help my employees succeed, unlock their potential, and enable them to reach their professional and personal aspirations. I also consider it my responsibility and privilege to help them navigate this new pandemic world. It’s not that different for a teacher, coach, pastor or any other community authority figure. If you’re in a leadership position, you play a critical role in both helping your people get through this pandemic and in bringing us back together as a society.
So how do we do it?
I would argue that the first big step is to recognize the incredible amount of stress our employees (read: students, athletes, congregation, etc.) are under and help them take the appropriate steps to manage that stress. Keep in mind that stress typically accumulates and will eventually take its toll, including stress from work, relationships, family, illness, the pandemic, politics, racial/social/class tensions, etc. It all counts, and it all impacts health and well-being.
Once we recognize the challenge, we can address it. Here are some recommendations from my experience leading our team at Volt:
Your team will tell you what they need if you give them a chance. We send surveys to our employees every couple of months to get a beat on how they’re doing and what can be improved. We also frequently check in with our managers to better understand how each team is operating. These are critical feedback loops, especially in a distributed workplace. Prioritize open lines of communication, and check in with your employees. Be sure to listen.
Lead by Example
Rhetoric matters as much if not more than policy. Our competitors and opponents are not our enemies, and this is not war. Debates unpacking disagreements are good and healthy within a functioning organization (or country, for that matter). It’s OK to disagree with a decision yet commit to its execution and success wholeheartedly. In our company, to “disagree and commit” is virtuous.
Embrace the Whole Person
Our employees don’t stop being themselves when they step through the virtual office door. In this new normal, we see each other’s homes and hear each other’s pets and children in the background. The internet is going to cut out sometimes. We are unable to separate work from life as we once did, and that’s just fine. Embrace it. Your people are great employees, flaws and all. Let them know that it’s OK not to be OK all the time.
In a deeply stressful time like this, a sense of control is hard to come by, but it’s a great opportunity for leaders to help create balance. At Volt, we transitioned to a four-day workweek in July as part of a larger effort to help our employees recover a sense of control over their lives and alleviate burnout. The results have been tremendous. We gave our employees 20% of their time back, while both job satisfaction and productivity improved. Monday mornings just feel different when you’re fully recovered and you can bring a better version of yourself to work.
The reality is that the world isn’t going to stop being a scary and stressful place anytime soon. We’re likely going to be living in a stressful and challenging world for the foreseeable future — we don’t have the power to change it.
But we do have power and control over how we treat each other, and we do have a role to play in repairing the metaphorically torn fabric of our society. Take it upon yourself to lead the way. Empathize with those around you, and be a constructive and unifying force within your organization and your community.
If 2020 was the year of division, I predict 2021 will be the year of coming back together, and business leaders will be leading the way.