Maintain a Social, Positive Workplace Amid Coronavirus
Maintain a Social, Positive Workplace Amid Coronavirus

This piece first appeared in Compliance Week. Author Jaclyn Jaeger is an editor with Compliance Week and has written on a wide variety of topics, including ethics and compliance, risk management, legal, enforcement, technology, and more. I am grateful that she allowed me to share her piece with my global audience.

Companies all around the world right now are working around the clock to adjust to a new normal as we quickly learn to navigate the coronavirus pandemic. Aside from the human component of fear, anxiety, and stress, we’re also seeing on the business side some companies going out of business, having to make payroll adjustments, layoffs, and more. All of this is to say that it’s more important than ever for senior leadership teams—including ethics and compliance officers—to do their part to help maintain a sense of normalcy in the virtual workplace.

On March 19, held a Webinar, “Navigating the New Normal,” in the spirit of sharing strategies for leading effectively and helping others do the same in this new normal; how to maintain a social work environment; and how to support employees as they transition to remote work. “This is an unprecedented time in our recent history, and it carries with it a call for stoicism, hope, and compassion,” said founder and CEO Kent Plunkett.

During the Webinar, Paul Toth, chief culture strategist at Vital Leadership Coaching, shared numerous ways that leaders can reduce anxiety in the workplace and maintain a social atmosphere, even in a time of social distancing. “Effective leadership through all of this really requires a strong focus on the people,” he said.

Consider the following key measures:

Replace fear and unease by refocusing the conversation. One thing that leaders, including chief ethics and compliance officers, can do is deliver messages that focus on the company’s mission statement. “Now is a time to really ground people in why the company exists,” Toth said. Consistently deliver the message, “‘What we deliver matters. What we create for our mission matters,’” he said. “Remind employees what you stand up for as a company.”

Practice compassion. The coronavirus is creating drastic changes in how we all work. People now must simultaneously manage other challenges and responsibilities at home, and so the more compassion we can bring to those conversations, the better, Toth said. “Accept that productivity is going to change. It’s going to be different—but if we’re all clear on what our vision is and what our responsibilities are, we’ll be able to pay attention to what’s actually getting done and the progress people are making,” he said. The number of hours people spend online or the time they spend for lunch or taking their dog for a walk, none of that stuff is as important as measures of success. “Outcome matters. Progress matters.”

Look to others as mentors. Working remotely can create stress and burnout very quickly. Some people naturally thrive off of the routine of going into work every day, and so without that routine, some may struggle. Others, on the other hand, thrive in a remote work environment. For those that thrive, “tap into them as experts and mentors to guide the success of others in the organization,” Toth advised.

Conduct regular check-ins with employees. To gauge how employees are handing this unique work environment, it’s a good idea for managers to conduct regular check-ins with employees—not in a micro-management kind of way, but rather in a compassionate ‘How are you doing?’ kind of way. “Encourage people to take breaks. Encourage people to get up, take a walk,” Toth said.

Maintain a sense of teamwork. During a typical job exit interview, most people say what they enjoyed most about the job was their co-workers, and so combatting feelings of isolation that are likely to occur working remotely is important, Toth said. He cited one example of a company that has rolled out video lunches, where folks still have the option to gather together to maintain that informal connection.

Create a culture of honesty and transparency. We are living in uncertain times. Nobody knows what to expect one day to the next. Now is not a time to be opaque. Senior leadership teams, including chief ethics and compliance officers, shouldn’t be afraid to be honest, to say “‘Look, things are happening quickly. We don’t necessarily know all the changes we’re going to implement, but I can guarantee you that every decision we make is going to be examined through the lens of what will ensure the health of our community and the people in our organization,’” Toth said. “That sense of openness is going to build that sense of trust.”

Don’t make assumptions. In the same way that it’s important to be honest and transparent with employees, it’s equally important to not assume employees are mind readers. Be clear about what it is that you want employees to know—for example, that leadership is making decisions in the best interest of the organization and for employees. “It’s easy to assume that employees already know these things,” Toth said. “This is not time for assumptions, however.”

Be creative about communication techniques. “Look for new ways to get your message out there,” Toth said. Whether it’s through electronic means or video, use every tool at your disposal. “Engaging with people is probably one of the most important things we can do right now,” he said.

Learn. Learn. Learn. Learning is another way for leaders to play a key role. “Now is the time for us to learn as much as we possibly can,” Toth said. Because we are in uncharted waters, every day will be a day to learn something new and to grow as a business and as a workplace. Don’t be afraid to share what you’ve learned. “Learn from each other,” he said. Share new updates on new protocols that are rolled out each day. “Share successes.”

Along the way, remember to celebrate. Take time to stop and celebrate that you made it through another day, to celebrate that maybe you learned something or that you created something new and amazing, Toth said. “Celebrate everyone who has shown up every day, committed to deliver on the organization’s mission and celebrate that you’re doing it together.”

“There are a lot of challenges ahead of us,” Toth added. “The more we can do to celebrate every little success, that’s going to help reduce that fear, reduce that anxiety, create more trust, create more connection, and it will help us to thrive as we get through all of this.”