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HOW COVID-19 REAFFIRMED THE POWER OF EMPATHETIC LEADERSHIP

By: Perri Grinberg, VP, HR, US

Call it what you will — the “great equalizer,” a once-in-a-lifetime event, the next normal, a fanciful farce, a golden opportunity — but maybe above all else, the coronavirus crisis has been a teachable moment. How we treat and value one another will never be the same. How we live and work and play has been forever changed.

Business leaders now know firsthand how important diversity and empathy are to building a productive team that generates results, for instance. If you are a leader and you haven’t learned lessons during COVID-19, the silver lining of this pandemic has eluded you. At RAPP, we’ve learned (or relearned, in some cases) the following truths:

  • Collaboration does not need to be in-person. People have the ability to communicate more frequently nowadays because of online discussions, Zoom meetings, and virtual happy hours. Because leaders know how important engagement and collaboration is for remote workers, there’s been a much bigger emphasis placed on giving employees the tools and time to collaborate and connect digitally. 
  • Individuals truly can be productive working from anywhere they work best. In fact, McKinsey reports that 41% of workers say they are more productive without the distractions of an office and stress of a commute. Twenty-eight percent say they have maintained the same level of production.
  • Employees are putting newfound emphasis on their personal well-being. Working from home has allowed people to spend time on other activities that make them happy, such as more quality interactions with family, or more exercise by going for walks or pausing for some yoga during the day. Because employees are taking mental health more seriously in this unprecedented time of stress, employers are stepping up and becoming resources for more than just paychecks by offering more benefits, paying for people to set up in-home offices, and often promoting the importance of thorough self-care.

That’s not to say these past several months have been without challenges. There have been plenty of them, especially around when work hours actually begin and end. Employees are now always connected and always home, which causes people to feel they need to drop everything or continuously work because standard office hours are no longer in place. According to a Bloomberg article, many people feel as if they’ve added three extra hours to their workdays.

We’re also experiencing some pretty serious Zoom fatigue, as the unspoken need to always “be on” — paying attention, smiling, staying engaged, eliminating distractions while on camera — is leading to exhaustion in many circles.

Still, the opportunity for growth in empathy, efficiency, and productivity is hard to undervalue. 

Getting Creative With Empathy
Empathetic leadership can help you best manage your team during difficult or unusual circumstances like these. Leaders are truly taking the time to check in on their employees. With virtual meetings, many leaders are connecting more with co-workers than they were in person before; the enforced isolation of COVID has made leaders regularly check in on employees when they didn’t necessarily do that back when they saw them every day at the office. There is more of a conscious and concerted effort to do these things now rather than distractedly hustle around an office from meeting to meeting.

As all of us have experienced, family life and work often intersect at inopportune times. How often do kids stagger into a Zoom meeting wearing not enough clothing, or how many cats have sauntered lazily across keyboards during presentations? Having empathy and showing compassion for the working parents who are trying to simultaneously wear several hats is key. The understanding you show as a leader goes a long way toward building a trusting work environment.

Equipping your teams to succeed in this era of remote work goes farther than a friendly face on a screen asking how someone is doing. Make sure your workers have the tools they need to be productive at home. At RAPP, we are providing support via expense reimbursement to get people set up with home offices (up to $250) because we realize that some employees might not have had an at-home desk to work from. Our leaders are ensuring employees’ overall well-being is taken care of, and we are seeing productivity increase as a result.

Rethinking Productivity
The metrics of work have changed. Leaders are now managing to get results that aren’t based on someone’s time spent in an office, and employees who have a true sense of balance have thrived in this environment. Leaders have been forced to learn and appreciate that certain individuals might work best early in the morning while someone else works best late at night. Further, employees shouldn’t feel the need to respond to requests outside of work hours, despite always being connected to the internet. It’s OK to wait to respond, depending on that individual’s own work hours.

Interestingly, our Engagement Survey in June was a 9.214 (out of a possible 10), the highest it has been since this pandemic started. How is that possible? Well, we haven’t stopped brainstorming new ways to keep our remote workforce connected and engaged. We’ve extended our efforts to employees’ families by holding virtual events for kids such as bingo, dance parties, scavenger hunts, and virtual petting zoos. We’ve also conducted virtual happy hours and yoga sessions, plus a webinar with a psychologist to talk about overcoming anxiety and stress.

It’s a tough time for everyone. But it can also be a generous, galvanizing time for companies and their employees when leaders approach with compassion. By being authentically empathetic and deeply understanding, leaders can help everyone make the most of this historically teachable moment.