Putting People First

Guiding Your Team Toward A New Way of Doing Business

by Laurie Axelrod, CEO of Wheelhouse Group

I think by now we all get that there’s no turning back. Work as we knew it, is gone. What’s left are business leaders sitting at-home, on video chat with colleagues, improvising in the short-term and reimaging what the workplace will be for the long-term.

When do we reopen offices? How do we keep them safe? Will anyone show up? Should we reduce the size of our office space? How do we make everyone feel valued whether they are comfortable coming into the office or feel safer working at a distance?

While leaders are looking at these mechanics—government guidelines, new company policies, space between workstations, how to conduct temperature checks, and more—we’re focusing on the people. We’re seeking out ways to support them in overcoming fear, tackling challenges, and addressing their needs and concerns.

Work from home

Whether your team will be working remotely for the foreseeable future or heading back into the office sometime soon (or a mix of both), it’s time for us all to shift from putting out fires to rethinking our approach to long-term success.

And, as you focus on the mindset and motivations of your employees during this time, this article provides tips to help shape your frame of mind to put people first, working with your leadership team to support your people, focusing on what they need to feel safe and supported in the workplace of the future.

» Stay in the Know

Not only are our people adjusting to an unfamiliar way of work, but they’re facing a hailstorm of information brought in on the wave of each new media cycle. It seems like hour by hour we must all come to grips with news and personal experiences that literally and figurative hit home. It’s critical that we stay in the know, remaining informed of what’s happening in the world, in our cities, in the neighborhoods where our people live, and what’s happening (to the extent they feel comfortable sharing) in the lives of our employees. Staying in the know helps us address challenges as they happen and avoid being caught off guard without the knowledge or tools to support our team.

» Bring Your Leadership Team Together

Your leadership team will steward your people into the next phase of your organization. So, it’s important you come together to discuss what’s happening in the world, what employees are facing, and collaborate to find ways to support your team. Bringing leadership together can also help ensure they have bought into your organization’s approach to putting people first, and, importantly, your new way of doing business.

» Communicate, Communicate

What can you say and do to make your employees feel safe and supported? Communication is crucial. You may not know just what to say, but don’t let that be a barrier to making a connection and sharing your voice. Don’t be afraid to acknowledge what’s happening in the world and communicate empathy without making assumptions that you know how others are feeling. It can also be helpful to be honest about your own feelings. All combined, communicating openly and honestly can help build trust with your people and create a space where they also feel comfortable sharing their feelings, struggles, and concerns.

» Give a Nod to Resilience

I can’t help but be surprised at employees’ responses to a new approach to work. In fact, in many cases I’ve seen my team be more productive. Many of us have learned some things along the way. I’ve learned that employees are more resilient than I could have ever imagined—stepping up to lend a hand to colleagues and somehow remaining productive despite current circumstances. Recognize the resilience of your team and let them know how much you appreciate their commitment and perseverance.

» Share Updates

Share updates with your team on what’s happening in your organization. Is your leadership team developing a transition plan for heading back into the office? Are new employee training programs being developed to elevate productivity or teach new skills? Keeping your team up to date can help mitigate fears of the unknown and help them better understand what’s to come for your organization.

» Lend an Ear, Extend a Hand

According to a recent report from the Society for Human Resource Management between 22-35% of employees are feeling symptoms of depression as a result of COVID 19. They’re struggling to concentrate and feeling emotionally drained. Before you put systems in place to prepare for a new way of doing business, consider how you can better understand what your people are feeling and what they think would best help them through this difficult time. Lend an ear, providing opportunities to connect with leadership, and extend a hand to help guide them through what’s to come.

» Come Together Often

Take the opportunity to bring staff together to set the team up for success in the months to come. Discuss your process for making changes to your organization, letting them know you’re preparing for change and you’ll be there to support them each step along the way. You can also use this time to give your people time to provide insight into team needs to help inform your plan for a new way of doing business.

» Prioritize Team Building

People may be feeling disconnected from their colleagues. Virtual team-building exercises can help maintain a collaborative team environment and build strong relationships between employees. Most importantly, it can remind them of the value of human interaction. Some employers are hosting virtual happy hours, others are coordinating learning sessions for employees to hone their skills. Wheelhouse has started a Wellness group to help people learn self-care techniques and provide a space to discuss struggles and frustrations.

» Check-in with Your People

Work with your leadership team to schedule individual check-ins with your people. Connecting informally can help them feel valued and that their needs are important to you. You can also spend time discussing priorities, finding ways to help them stay productive, accomplish their goals, and execute deliverables.

No matter how hard we try we can’t predict the future, making it difficult to create concrete plans for how we’ll approach business over the next six months to a year, maybe more. But what we can do during this time is focus on our people—the people that will help us through each step we take to lay the groundwork for future success.

Laurie Axelrod, CEO

Laurie Axelrod
CEO, Wheelhouse Group
Laurie co-founded Wheelhouse Group in 2003 to support visionary business leaders as they drive complex, enterprise-wide change requiring diverse stakeholder buy-in. She has 30+ years’ experience developing communications strategies and stakeholder engagement programs that enlist people in designing a compelling vision, shared goals and a path forward. She is co-author of The Method and The Magic: Every Leader’s Guide to Making Transformational Change Happen.