How To Remotely Support Staff During The Continued Pandemic

According to the American Psychological Association, resilience is simply “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or significant sources of stress.”

Team resilience is the capacity of a group of people to respond to change and disruption in a flexible and innovative manner. In the face of adversity, resilient teams maintain their work productivity while minimizing the emotional toll on their members. 

Research done on how teams show their resilience found that resilient teams have four things in common: 

  •           They believe they can get things done together. Beyond each individual having confidence in their ability to be successful, team members collectively believe that they can effectively complete tasks. But it’s a balancing act. Too much confidence, and team members become complacent and don’t look for signs that adversity is ahead. Too little confidence, and they may not take important risks.


  •           They have a common mental model of teamwork. They’re on the same page about their roles, responsibilities, and the ways they interact with one another during adversity. This is their mental model of teamwork, and it helps them coordinate effectively, predict one another’s behavior, and make decisions collectively on the fly.


  •           They are able to improvise. They can adjust to changing circumstances in real time. They are able to access existing knowledge from past experiences and creatively reconfigure it to develop new and novel ideas when facing setbacks.  They know intimately one another’s knowledge, skills, and abilities so that they can draw upon the right expertise at just the right time.


  •           They trust one another and feel safe. On resilient teams, members respect one another’s thoughts and trust that they will not be ridiculed or rejected for speaking up. This feeling of safety enables members to openly and honestly voice their ideas and opinions, which leads to a greater diversity of perspectives at a time when such diversity is badly needed.


If you had an already resilient team before a crisis hit, you are fortunate. But leaders can foster team resilience even when team members are working remotely. 


The key is to focus on three things: people, team communication and systems and mutual support.


In difficult times, your leadership style needs to be supportive of your people and utilize more of a coaching style. Some suggestions:


  1. Know how resilient are the individuals in your team.


According to Psychologists, there are three “protective or facilitative factors”  which predict whether people will have resilience:

  •   high levels of confidence in their abilities,
  •   disciplined routines for their work, and
  •   social and family support.


You can establish a “resilience inventory,” by checking in individually with your reports and asking directly how comfortable they feel telecommuting, how they plan to schedule their workdays, and how you might support them with any life or family commitments.


They need to feel supported by you. They need to know they can talk to you about challenges without fear of punishment or negative repercussions. Above all, they need to feel you have their backs.


  1. Recognize and address the challenges of working remotely.


The many new challenges your reports are facing may shake their confidence, but you can boost it by conveying your faith in them. One of my clients, who was doubting her ability to telework because she has several children at home, told me how much it helped her confidence to have her manager tell her that he respected her decision making ability and the work she produced.  


Doing their jobs from home will probably require new routines and test your people’s ability to focus. At the beginning of the crisis, you thought of ways to help your team adjust. Now people are tired of managing things from home, especially if they have school age children, and feel stretched to the limit.


Ask what kind of support their need. Some might need more frequent checks in order to keep refocusing. Others might required assurance that they can slow down and not rush, despite being under pressure. To others you could suggest time-blocking and other personal productivity strategies to encourage disciplined work habits, while recognizing that they will need also more flexibility.


  1. Practice Compassion


Waking up to “we’re all in this together” allows us to feel our own personal sorrows and struggles while caring for the sorrows and struggles of others – without getting overwhelmed and lapsing into despair. Recognizing our common humanity in our common predicament helps us feel more supported and less alone.


While it may seem obvious, crises affect people. Don’t become trapped by focusing on the daily metrics of share price, revenue, and costs. These are important, but they are the outcome of the coordinated efforts of people. Organizations exist in order to accomplish together things that individuals cannot do alone.  


Make it crystal clear to your team members that your chief concern is their well-being.  Periodically ask each team member two quick questions. First, on a zero-to-10 scale, rate the level of stress you currently feel. Second, using that same scale, rate your level of overall engagement. Then, if need be, find ways to help them reduce stress or improve engagement.


You might encourage them to seek professional help if stress is too high. Or make available for them resources. Above all, make sure your compassion levels are higher than your need for productivity.


I’ve seen thoughtful leaders show compassion by giving their reports their time, showing concern, helping them get the office equipment and supplies they need to do their jobs at home, and by making special accommodations for individuals who are at high risk because they have underlying health conditions like diabetes. 


  1. Foster resilience-oriented conversations.


Fear is contagious, but so is optimism. When you demonstrate hopefulness and confidence in the future you will be better able to help your team members find meaning and purpose in work, especially under stressful conditions.

And don’t forget to use humor as a relief valve. 


Recognizing positive contributions; showing confidence in the individuals in your team; talking more about how to better do things, instead of criticizing; using positive words and positive conversations instead of giving into the collective fear; all of these will contribute to more resilience.


Fear freezes initiative ties up creativity and yields compliance instead of commitment. Calm and resilience in times of crisis are often an enabling factor in sparking innovation and transformation. 


The working from home conditions could be a stimulus for new ideas and solutions to emerge if you encourage positive thinking and positive communication.


Team Communication and systems


Make sure you have systems in place that facilitate continuous team communication. It should include:


  1. Daily short video meeting (through zoom or a similar platform) where everybody is required to show live so they can see each other. Seeing each other’s non-verbal’s and faces promotes team cohesiveness.


  1. Team chat box. Team members should also have some type of tool that lets them chat with each other through the day when they are working in projects where input from others is important.


  1. Time for reflection. At the end of the day it can be beneficial to end with another team virtual video meeting where everybody reflects on the day, the challenges, and the accomplishments of individuals and team projects. That’s also a great way to think what didn’t work and how to fix it for the future.


Working from home, away from the team, cam feel overwhelming to some. Time together to plan and to reflect can help diminish the lonely feelings.


Mutual support


A large body of research shows that the most effective way to increase resilience at work is through customized individual coaching. Guided coaching conversations show great positive results.


Coaching can be done in different modalities:


  1. You can hire external coaches to help you as the leader, and the people that most need support.


  1. You can have guided conversations with each direct report yourself, but these can be time-consuming, and the power differential between you and your reports may make these discussions lopsided.


  1. Encouraging your team members to paired and have guided conversations among themselves on a regular basis. Better known as a buddy system, it helps people feel supported and taken into consideration. Make sure you also have in place support in case something comes up that the peer doesn’t know how to handle.


Your team members can discuss successful experiences, problems and how they’re tackling them, and what they’ve learned during the crisis that they can still apply when things get back to normal. This last step is essential. People need to be reminded that things will stabilize—and envision who they will be after the adversity has passed.


 Remember. . .


Keep in mind the four characteristics of resilient teams and work on encouraging them through the three main focus just shared for helping teams become more resilient.


Above all, remember you need to take care of yourself. In order to lead well, you have to take care of your needs too. If you don’t, you’ll not be able to support your team in the way they need to be supported.


Therefore, who supports you? Is your partner, or any other family member there for you? Is there a friend you can talk to? Is there a coach or therapist you need to reach out to for help? Whatever it takes, your mental and emotional wellbeing has to come first.


Ada Gonzalez, Ph.D. is a conversation strategist and specialist on organizational behavior. She strives to help leaders create personalized and productive relationships through effective conversations. Follow her on LinkedIn and on FaceBook.

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