Quick Rules for Managing in the Time of Coronavirus

Note: This is an abbreviated version of an article originally published by our partners at Bravely.

The COVID-19 outbreak changed life at work for millions of people overnight. We’re all feeling the impact of org-wide work-from-home and the loss of valuable face time with our teammates. We’ve had to quickly adjust our habits to stay productive and collaborative while working from home. The biggest challenges have also been the most human ones: keeping up morale and motivation while coping with isolation.

This is a complicated situation, and it intersects with the individual circumstances of every person on your team. Consider these four rules to be your guiding principles for the weeks ahead.

Rule #1: Stay healthy, stay calm

There’s a lot of uncertainty in employees’ lives right now, both in and out of work. You’re in a position to set a calm tone for your team, but you can’t do that in a vacuum. You’ll need to identify your own support system. If your direct reports are leaning on you, who are you leaning on?

Self-care is more crucial than ever and actually starts with the basics:

  • Getting a consistent and healthy amount of sleep.
  • Keeping up your personal hygiene rituals even if you don’t plan to go outside or see other people.
  • Setting aside time for meals and exercise.

Here are a set of “self check-in” questions:

  • Am I making my home the most productive environment it can be?
  • Am I worried about anything in particular?
  • Who can I talk to if things are feeling hard?
  • Am I collaborating with other departments on my work?
  • Am I getting all the information I need to inform my work?
  • Am I getting and giving consistent recognition?

The calm you’re creating for yourself needs to be communicated to your team.

Rule #2: Care authentically, and show it

Acknowledge your team’s feelings. Don’t be afraid to outright ask someone how they’re feeling, and to be vulnerable about your own feelings. Normalizing vulnerability helps others express their own feelings before they get out of control. Introduce open-ended emotion-based questions into your conversations, including:

  • What’s on your mind today outside of work?
  • What do you need from me to feel good about your work right now?
  • What have you done today to help yourself handle stress?

Rule #3: Over-communicate

We cannot stress this enough, no amount of communication is too much right now! To keep your team running smoothly, you’ll need to set clear expectations about:

  • Working hours.
  • Email/IM response time.
  • How your direct reports should ask for help.
  • How progress and deadlines should be communicated.

Send an email with your expectations on all of these, including how your team should report when they expect not to be able to meet an expectation for any reason. Model the kind of over-communication you want to see from your team by “working out loud.” Thinking of over-communication as benefiting everyone’s collaboration, not as a means of micro-managing, means coming at it from a place of curiosity.

Rule #4: Engage with your whole self

Don’t let the separation lead to isolation. Keep up team rituals like daily standups in a virtual format. You can also invent new ones:

  • Have your team share what they’re having for lunch, photos and recipes are encouraged!
  • Trade daily recommendations for books, TV shows, and podcasts.
  • Wish each other a good morning and a good evening in Slack.
  • Schedule time for quick “chit-chat” video calls during the day.

It’s important to understand that not all employees will be able to engage to the same degree. Someone feeling especially vulnerable about their situation may not be as willing to contribute to public conversations. Offer extended virtual 1:1s as an alternative.

Keeping up the spontaneity of an in-office conversation isn’t easy when you’re all remote, and the social aspects of work are crucial for morale and motivation.

Conclusion: You’ve got this!

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