If your people are working at home, you can’t keep them motivated in the same ways you did before the pandemic. After all, by seeing people working together, a business leader with empathy can sense whether they are engaged and motivated.
When people work at home, a business leader must find new ways to tap into how people are feeling. Here are the four ways:
1. Just listen to people in skip level meetings.
Pre-pandemic, leaders could walk around the office and see peoples’ faces and level of interaction with others. When workers are at home, leaders must find a new way to sense their emotions.
One way to do that is to hold skip level meetings — e.g., with those who report to your direct reports. When you do this, it’s important to let your direct reports know why — in order to get an unfiltered sense of how people are feeling (and not to assess the managerial skills of your direct reports).
In these skip level meetings, offer a chance for people to share their feelings. You might start the conversation by telling them about some family challenges — such as taking care of your children who are schooling at home or keeping in touch with your parents.
This will help people feel more comfortable sharing how they are feeling about their family challenges and how work fits in.
2. Use technology to track how people are feeling and remind you whom to help how.
You should assume that each of your employees has a unique set of personal and professional needs. If you keep track of these needs, you are far more likely to be able to satisfy them an effective and timely way
Doing this could be made easier by taking a systematic approach. Consider how Kara McKeage, the CEO of Pepper’s Personal Assistants in Seattle, tackled the problem.
According to the Wall Street Journal, she used the project-management tool Trello to keep track of which of her employees needed the most frequent attention. She coded such employees — who were struggling with a sick parent or were losing focus on their work — with a red label. Those who were doing fine were color-coded green and those at risk of deteriorating were labeled yellow.
McKeage keeps each employee’s color confidential and uses the system to check in with the company’s red-labeled employees at least twice a week while updating “the colors as employees’ personal and work circumstances change,” noted the Journal.
3. When hard decisions loom, explain why, what, who, when and how then open for questions.
Given the state of the economy, your people are even more interested than usual in knowing how your company is doing. They are keenly alert to signs that the company might be suffering and they are trusting its leaders to be transparent — particularly when a painful decision is about to be made.
It is natural to feel reluctant to share the details of decisions that will cost people their jobs. However, your company will be better off if you are transparent than if you delay and dribble out the truth. That’s because fear of the unknown will distract people from the work you hired them to do. It may even cause your best people to leave the company.
So when hard decisions loom, call your people together and explain why the decision is vital for the company’s survival, specifically what will change, who will stay and who will go, and when the decision will be executed. Then ask for questions, listen closely, and share as much as you can.
4. Replace fear and uncertainty with a new challenge that builds enthusiasm.
As I mentioned above, people who are staying at your company are more motivated than ever to be part of the solution. As a leader, you ought to channel the fear and uncertainty they are feeling into enthusiasm for a new challenge.
One way to do that is to redirect your product or service to a need that has become particularly pronounced because of the pandemic. That’s what Eden Park — a maker of ultraviolet lights designed to distinguish fake from real diamonds — did.
As I wrote in August, within weeks of the pandemic starting, Eden Park was able to retool and launch a product that used UV light to kill the novel coronavirus that causes Covid-19 in crowded spaces, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Eden Park not only enjoyed a 10-fold increase in sales — which made it profitable — but it also serves as an object lesson for other business leaders who might be looking for a highly-motivating new business challenge to energize their people.