Communication is one of the most critical skills for a leader, yet even in pre-COVID times, many business leaders were challenged at doing it well. In a 2014 global study conducted by Ketchum Global Research & Analytics and IPSOS, 74% of survey respondents viewed communication as very important to great leadership, but only 35% believed business leaders communicated effectively. That was then.
Remote working during COVID-19 has created a whole host of new communication challenges. There is the absence of formal in-person meetings, of course, but also gone is the informal water cooler conversation, stopping by someone’s office to check-in and the ability to pick-up useful information just by overhearing it or running into someone. In addition, you have important higher-level corporate communications that can be critical, and yet often are too slow to come or lack clarity. Even with a return to the office imminent for many, it is likely that some form of remote working is here to stay. How do you ensure the wellness of your team and inform, connect and inspire them in this new reality?
- Keep (or improve) your meeting routine
Now is not the time to cancel one-on-one conversations or team meetings. These are important touchpoints for both manager and managed. Check in with your people, see how they are doing, communicate to them what you are hearing in the organization, be transparent. If you didn’t have one-on-one’s with staff members before, you absolutely should now. Showing up, shows you care.
- Actively Listen
The key to good communication isn’t talking, it’s listening. According to a Salesforce survey, when employees feel their voice is heard, they are 4.6 times more likely to feel empowered to do their best work. Having meetings over the phone or by video makes it extra easy to tune out, to multitask, and for our attention to wander. We all know when the people on the other end of the phone aren’t fully engaged, when responses change from full sentences to “uh-huh”, “yeah” or “mm-hmm.” I’m sure you’ve heard it yourself. The most important thing you can do for your team right now is to actively listen. Show your leadership by modeling good behavior. Prepare for your meetings by making a conscious decision to be present for your team. Really hear what they have to say. Be there for them and it is more likely that they will show up for you.
- Ask questions
Organizations with a strong coaching culture have higher engagement, increased productivity and higher revenue that their peer organizations, according to a 2016 Global Coaching Study, conducted by the Human Capital Institute and International Coaching Federation. The pandemic has people feeling beaten down and, in many cases, overwhelmed by work. As a leader, you can help empower your team by taking a coaching approach to leadership communication: instead of directing the people on your team, see how much you can inspire and engage them just by asking them a few empowering questions. Collaborate or co-create their action plans with them. Ask them what they believe the priorities are and the ways they might approach them. Encourage self-direction and elicit employee insight through your questions. You will engage your employees, and make them feel empowered, at a time when many of us feel powerless.
- Provide context and transparency
People need to know why. Why is their job important? Why is the company responding the way it is? Why are you asking that specific question? Without context, you take away motivation and diminish the creativity your employees need to come up with the right solutions. Without transparency, employees may feel as if they are waiting for “the next shoe to drop.” When you provide context, you limit the risks of misinterpretation, misunderstanding, or going down the wrong path. It isn’t enough to ask questions or provide answers, you need to explain why.
- Communicate with compassion
A 2012 study, cited in Harvard Business Review, found that compassionate leaders had stronger and more engaged followers, and if ever there were a need for widespread compassion, it is now. Our lives at work and at home have never been more entangled and it is important to understand circumstances under which your employees are working and adjust your expectations accordingly. How are they managing working from home, home schooling their kids, a lack of childcare, elderly parents? What are their challenges and what support do they need? Even in the best of times, we all do the best that we can with what is available to us in the moment. This is an unusual moment to say the least.
While there is no break room to gather in, it’s still important to stay visible for your team, to keep them informed and to ensure they feel part of the organization. Think about how you can inspire and engage them. Work life may never be the same as it was and effective communication is more important than ever.
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