It may be a cliché, but we are certainly living in unprecedented times – or are we?
You don’t have to look far back into the history books to come across similar times of crisis – Foot and Mouth and the impact on farming and tourism industries, the outbreak of SARS and Ebola and that’s not including the horrific plane crashes and terrorist attacks which have littered the news over the past few decades.
What sets this crisis apart is the speed of the global spread of the virus, and resulting infection and death rate, along with the dramatic movement restrictions put into place across the world. While the environment breathes an albeit slightly cleaner deep breath, what does COVID-19 mean for business and how can business leaders steer their way through the chaos?
Accept that you are operating in different times
As humans, we are designed to operate very differently when under threat and as business leaders, it is key to remember this. You can’t make strategic business decisions if your head is witness to a battle between your fight and flight instinct!
Top tip – Focus on what you can control or influence and make sure that you communicate like never before with your employees, customers, suppliers and stakeholders. However, don’t just fling the information out into the ether – make sure that your messages are individual to each audience and consider the tone and context of all that you say. In time of crisis, people’s feelings take over, which tend to limit their ability to process information, and means they are not clearly hearing what you are telling them – so keep repeating your messages to get through the high feeling state that many people are in.
Show that you are human
Everyone will be feeling vulnerable right now and it is your job to reassure them, support them and help them to feel that they can rely on you to carry them through this crisis. Be visible as you can be sure that they are watching you for clues on how to behave in the absence of the norms. You are their role model, and you need to show you can lead them through the change that the pandemic is creating.
Top tip – The British are renowned for their humour at times of crisis so amongst the serious messages, don’t ignore the benefit of a good laugh to counteract feelings of stress
Plan your way through the reaction phases
Initially people will be in shock and will be happy to be directed but this phase will pass through into a more unsettled period so be prepared for this and make plans to provide clear direction and keep control.
Top tip – Don’t think that you can do this all by yourself. Engage your teams to come up with ideas for the business, talk to your mentor if you have one and crank up those business networks for support.
Look after yourself so that you can look after others
Keep a check on your own stress levels and make sure that you take time to reflect. Protect your own mental health to give you the strength to support your team and keep your energy levels up to deal with all the issues facing you.
Top Tip – Helping others is proven to have a positive on your own self-esteem. Are there things that you and your business could be doing to help the community around you?
Make the changes required to keep your employees working
Many employees have had to move to working at home so make sure that they have all the equipment, technology and support to enable them to do so with the minimum of disruption.
Top tip – utilise the range of digital solutions available such as Zoom, Skype, Google Business, Trello and Slack to help your workforce be productive.
Reinforce the trust of your team
There is no escaping the latest news on the pandemic as it is on a constant loop on the radio, television and on social media. Keep your team informed on a regular basis so that they feel connected and engage them in finding solutions for new ways of working as this can empower them at a time when they are feeling vulnerable.
Top tip – Consider setting up groups of employees to focus on specific issues and finding ways to innovate.
Routine keeps you sane!
As each of us are now working in completely different ways, establishing a routine can be reassuring and help you to identify any potential issues as well as gauge the physical and emotional wellbeing of your team.
Top tip – schedule regular catch ups with your teams individually and as teams.
Keep communication personal
Resist the temptation to send out emails far and wide. Video calls mean that you can still have those opportunities to pick up on verbal clues from your team – it’s also reassuring for them to see you even if you haven’t brushed your hair for a couple of days!
Top tip – As well as covering the serious business of the day, make sure you take time to have those casual chats that normally would take place in the office kitchen or over lunch.
Upskill your team to build confidence
Now is the ideal time to focus on where the gaps in training exist to help your business run better. A crisis can also prompt some serious introspection on the part of employees as they reflect on what is important to them professionally and personally. If you are planning to diversity your products and services, will you need new skills in your business? If so – now is a great time to invest in appropriate online training for your staff.
Top tip – Consult your team on what training opportunities they would like to pursue – the good news is that many are free or at reduced cost and available online.
Don’t dismiss the need for headspace
In recent times, mindfulness has taken centre stage in the world of wellbeing and it is far from being hippy mumbo jumbo. Research shows that the provision of yoga and meditation in the workplace has beneficial effects on the productivity, as well as the mental health of employees.
Top Tip – take advantage of free resources available online and promote to your team. HeadSpaceoffers meditation sessions, best practice tips and other useful tools for leaders and their teams.
Small business owners have always needed to be agile but never has the ability to plan for resilience been more important. Identify what you need to do in the short, medium and long-term and move quickly in order to weather the storm.
Top Tip – Read our blog post on creating a resilient business and work through the steps to make your business stronger (link to resilience blog post)
Don’t forget to plan for the future
Whilst it might seem overwhelming at the moment, this situation will be over at some point and you need to make sure that your business is ready to roll when the restrictions are lifted. You may come out of this a very different business but by taking charge, you can make sure that it is in the best shape possible. Use your teams to develop new ideas for innovative future business services or products.