Right now, millions of managers are discovering that virtual leadership from home has some unique challenges and is, in many aspects, much different than leading in the workplace. No in-person connections; your dining room table (or bedroom!) converted into your desk; unstable Wi-Fi/meeting apps; family and pets interrupting your calls and meetings without invitation. These are just a few of the many distractors that can persistently irritate and cause normally reasonable people to lose their cool, and to say and do things that are less than what we think of as decent, civil and respectful.
The fact is the present reality is smacking many a good leader in the face, and in the interest of getting things done, they may be thinking that they should push respect, civility and decency to the side. But this would be a mistake. Not treating your team with respect, especially during a time of crisis, is only going to make matters worse — for everyone.
Look at it this way: If you’re feeling stressed by this global crisis — having to do things in ways you’ve never done them before while managing a raft of personal, homebound distractions — don’t you want your boss to be calm, empathetic and willing to cut you some slack? Of course you do!
Here’s how you can be that good, effective and respectful boss to your team right now:
1. During meetings, check in first, then get down to work. In times of crisis, most people appreciate hearing a sincere “How are you holding up?” from their manager first before getting on with the meeting. If they need to vent a little, let them. If all they say is “fine,” then it’s likely they don’t want to vent (even if things are rough) and prefer to move on, which is also fine. It’s your intentional check-in that matters to them. It shows you genuinely care about them as people, not just as workers.
2. Manage time well. Even during normal times, most of us can’t stand unstructured meetings that drone on and on. Given that, these days, many of your employees will have others at home with them who need attention; every minute is precious. Don’t assume that they can stay in your virtual meetings for as long as they do when everyone’s together at work. Respect their time. Keep your virtual meetings as short as you can; 30-45 minutes is ideal, but 90 minutes should be the absolute maximum.
3. Listen and watch for upset. Interestingly, when people are working from home, many tend to let their guard down. They’re more informal (especially if they’re wearing pajama bottoms) and unconsciously express their emotions a little more freely. This is great if they’re genuinely upbeat and positive. But, given the amount of stress we’re all under, it should come as no surprise if people are short, irritated or upset.
With good audio and video connections, you can hear and see their upset…if you know what to listen and look for. Voices that start at a lower pitch and then raise in pitch and speed over time can indicate stress and upset. Continuous fidgeting, constantly looking away from the camera, hunched-over shoulders and faces too close to the screen can also be signs of distraction and stress.
Respectful leaders will physically and vocally keep themselves calm and put serious matters into perspective in order to calm the group. They will remind everyone to breathe deeply and exhale slowly, to take care of themselves and their loved ones first, and that you’re there for them if they need you. Out of respect, never single anyone out during a virtual meeting if they look or sound upset. Instead, give everyone a break using the word “we.” Check in on that person later on, during a private call.
4. Set realistic expectations. During a major crisis, expecting people to perform at their regular peak consistently is unrealistic, disrespectful and potentially disastrous. Even your best and most resilient folks will have increased levels of stress and distractions that will take them off their game eventually. Respectful leaders acknowledge the unique challenges that everyone is facing and adjust expectations accordingly and realistically. Of course, when the world has returned to a semblance of normalcy and everyone has recovered, that’s the time to ramp up your goals and expectations to pre-crisis levels.
5. Remove obstacles to success. This should be your leadership maxim regardless of the circumstances. As respectful leaders, we must understand that our employees see us as holding more power and authority than they do. If there are obstacles outside of their control that are blocking them from getting their work done, then they expect us to at least try to do something.
Take the time to check in regularly and individually with each of your team members, asking, “Are there any obstacles, especially now during this crisis, that are making it more difficult for you to do your job and meet our goals/and expectations?” Whatever you can do to remove or mitigate those obstacles will make the outcomes you expect that much more likely to happen.
This content was originally published here.