Navigating your team through the new normal

The past few months have prompted business leaders to make huge and mostly painful decisions as companies went full on survival mode. And while COVID is not entirely gone, businesses are gearing up for the next chapter. How do you prepare your team for what’s next and ensure that your company thrives in the new work environment?

Here are some pointers from Stephanie Manning Cohen of Lere Hippeau on navigating your team through the new normal.

1) Be strategic in organizing your team according to new initiatives you will be pushing 

One thing that businesses have to consider when faced with a sudden economic downturn is how to keep the company afloat. This usually involves letting go of some people in the team. There’s never a good way to go about it and it takes a lot of decision making before finally deciding who gets cut. Doing a deep and one-time cut has worked for many business leaders as it gave them the opportunity to focus on other aspects of the business sooner.

But ultimately, the important thing is having the team that you need to move forward and to keep the business going. Be strategic in organizing your team and encourage every member to step up. Roles may be switched up and some people may have to perform duties outside of their job descriptions but these things are necessary to ensure business continuity.

2) Overcommunicate and be transparent as a leader

One of the challenges of managing a distributed team is maintaining a sense of community among employees. It’s difficult to make people feel tied to the company’s mission without having to meet in an office and just seeing faces on a computer screen.

As a leader, you have to make sure that you remain transparent with your team and keep them as involved as they possibly can – especially on matters that they’re most affected with such as adjusting employee perks and benefits. Foster an environment where employees can communicate effectively not only to other team members but to you as well. You can not overemphasize the importance of overcommunicating particularly when your team is the most distributed.

3) Carve out time for team building and culture

One thing that working remotely has forced companies to do is check how strong and deeply embedded their company culture is in every member of their team. It’s one thing to feel part of something when you constantly interact in an office environment. So you have to work on keeping your team connected even with all the distance between all of you.

Carve out time for team building activities that you can do virtually. There are a lot of fun things that you can do on a weekly basis such as team yoga, work out sessions, team lunch, coffee hour, etc. Find an activity that will work for you and your team and keep everyone involved by assigning certain teams to plan your activities for the week.

Also encourage 1:1 interactions among team members. Find a way to get that one on one interaction that they may miss in the office by matching people in the team to grab coffee or have lunch at the same time.

4) Decide if you need to stay remote for the foreseeable future

While the threat of the pandemic is still very real, companies need to consider whether they would resume office operations or remain remote for the foreseeable future. It’s important to figure out the decision-making behind that.

Are you going back to the office because you think it’s what you should be doing? Are you going back because you aren’t seeing the output from your team that you expect? Or are you going back because you work in an industry where people have to physically be back in the office?

You have to think about what is best for your company but your team’s health and safety should also be top of mind.

5) Be thoughtful about bringing furloughed employees back

If part of your preemptive actions was to furlough some of your employees, you have to create a plan for bringing them back and doing it the proper way. Don’t bring people back just because you’re seeing signs that things are picking up. Even though the economy is starting to recover, we’re not entirely out of the woods yet. Bringing them back only to lay them off for furlough if things slow down again would be unfair.

6) Check on your employees and find out how you can make remote work easier for them

This is especially important for members of your team who are working parents. They’re not only adjusting to having to work from home, but they also have to create a balance between their full-time job and taking care of their kids even while working.

If you do decide to remain remote for the foreseeable future, make sure you’re checking in on your employees and ask how you can make work easier for them. Not everyone has the same situation at home. For working parents, it is extra hard to keep that balance between work and keeping the house in order. Allowing some flexibility in their work hours or providing options for remote daycare would help them a lot.

7) Be considerate and at the same time thorough about your performance reviews

Performance reviews can be a touchy subject right now as things haven’t been exactly normal in the past few months. Everyone has been adjusting to the impacts of economic unrest brought about by the pandemic. But despite the fact that you’re dealing with a totally unique situation right now, you still have to keep your team’s performance in check.

Before conducting performance reviews, check if your team has completely adjusted to the remote work environment. Don’t implement a big OKR system right away. Try to do things slowly like having a pulse check every week. Check in on the team for feedback as well. Maybe there are things you’re not doing properly in terms of managing a remote team. Make this an opportunity to help your team succeed despite the circumstances and learn from them at the same time.

These are certainly uncharted territories. No one knows what’s going to happen next and you can’t fully prepare for it. You may have to make things up as you go. But these are exciting times ahead. Think of it as an opportunity to re-examine your company culture and work on things that you can improve to help your team and your company thrive in the new normal.

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Ystine Ompad

Ystine is a Marketing Associate at CloserIQ. Previously, she was a Recruiter at The Berkner Group. She loves traveling and all things sci-fi.