Team meeting

By Antony Thompson, Find Your Edge Coaching

Coronavirus is the talk of the town, and for good reason: the number of cases within the UK and abroad is rising daily, and the EU, USA, and many other countries have shut their borders to prevent its rapid spread.

Tensions are high, especially in the workforce. All employees are being encouraged to work from home, and to avoid unnecessary contact with other people. This situation is unprecedented, and anxiety is mounting within some firms as employees face weeks of uncertainty ahead.

As a former Royal Marines Commando, I’ve been trained to lead teams during times of uncertainty and immense pressure. Leaders must keep a level head and adapt to the quickly changing circumstances, in order to keep their teams calm and motivated in times of crisis. How can you motivate your employees to stay focused?

Empathise with your people

The first thing to do in this situation is to imagine how your employees must be feeling. Uncertainty begets fear, and I would imagine that your employees are nervous about what the near future holds, what outside influences may lead to further change within the business, plus many other things. Acknowledging that their fear is real and valid is the first stage to getting them to see things differently.

Reduce risk where possible

In battle, commanding officers only allowed soldiers to venture into the field after they, to the best of their knowledge, knew that it was safe. A true leader keeps their people safe. Follow the government’s advice and do your research. Cross-referencing and source reputation have never been more important.

If your employees are working from home, talk to them about their home office setup. If they need additional equipment, accommodate their needs. More importantly, check in on them, especially if they live alone. Showing your employees that you care reduces risk in the short term (they’re physically safer) but also in the long term: employees who feel like their employers care about them, are more likely to stay.

Keep things positive

Whilst you must acknowledge that there is a risk, that doesn’t mean you need to talk about it all the time. Keep things as positive and upbeat as possible when you’re talking to your team. You’re in charge, and people are looking at you to see how they should behave.

How can you keep things positive in real terms? Keep employees involved. Listen to their ideas, and create problem-solving groups. Praise your employees often, and thank them for their help. In times of crisis, our first instinct is to be helpful, so letting people know that you appreciate their efforts is critical.

Positive attitudes (just like negative ones) are infectious. If your team sees you getting on with things instead of being paralysed with fear, they’re more likely to be calm and continue doing their jobs.

Give employees a roadmap

A lack of certainty leads to a lack of clarity, which means uninformed (and ill-advised) decisions. The most dangerous time in battle was when we didn’t know where the gunfire was coming from. A pandemic offers similar uncertainties: we don’t know exactly where the virus could be, or how to stop it.

As business leaders, it is our responsibility to afford our employees as much clarity as possible. Whilst we cannot physically keep the virus from our employees, we can do our best to map out what the coming weeks will look like for the business. Be crystal clear with your employees about your expectations of them if they are working from home, and whether they might be needed back in the office. I recommend twice-daily check-ins to make sure that everything is moving forward on schedule, and that your team is communicating.

If your workforce cannot work remotely, you’ll need to keep them updated on the latest Government guidance, and ensure that they have additional training to deal with these new circumstances.

Cultivate a team mentality

Cohesion is part of the Royal Marines mindset – and in business, just as in armed combat, it could be the difference between winning and losing, success or failure. Military culture is all about the unit. On the battlefield, the people who matter most are those to your left and right - your friends. There are no egos, you all wear the same badge and you live by the same set of values.

This ‘unit’ mentality is critical to pushing through in times of crisis. Check your company’s culture - do you pit employees against one another to achieve sales or other benchmarks, or are they helping each other toward a common goal? If the former, all isn’t lost, but you will need to have a talk with your team about the way you look out for one another. You can even use your team’s competitive edge to think about opportunities for the business beyond the virus.

Share the big picture

As a leader, looking at the bigger picture comes naturally. However, many of your employees may not be able to take that step back. Just as you made a roadmap for your employees, share your thoughts on the bigger picture, and remind them that they are a team. Encourage them to lean into one another, because the only way we will get through this is to get through it together. Remind them that with every difficulty comes an opportunity, but not at the expense of others.