Here are some suggestions to help minimize potential negative effects from our current situation.
In a time when working and parenting have mingled into a complex and stressful blend of days, employees are looking to their CEOs and managers for leadership.
Your actions and behaviors are evaluated especially at a time of a crisis, so this is your opportunity to demonstrate your true values to your employees, customers and the community.
A wait-and-see approach could damage the company, so be the first to come out of your comfort zone, align your senior team with a wake-up call and lead by example.
A survey of 3,500 remote workers from around the world showed that the main challenges of moving from traditional ways of work to remote work with distributed teams are difficulties in communication, cooperation and loneliness. In our special situation today, we can also add the challenge of the heavy workload put upon employees simultaneously from their workplaces and their homes.
All these challenges have been thoroughly studied in the context of space missions and space mission simulations, and we can learn a lot from their results.
Space represents a true challenge to human adaptive capabilities. Evidence from space missions and analog missions on Earth show how isolation, frustration and the perceived inability to change things may lead to depression, negative adjustment reactions and psychosomatic problems in members of small teams.
Evidence from short-duration missions has pointed to the potentially adverse impacts of scheduling too many tasks within the available time. These included conflicts between astronauts and ground-control personnel, refusal to perform assigned tasks, fatigue, sleep deprivation, a decline in cognitive performance, and an increase in negative affect.
HERE ARE some suggestions to help minimize potential negative effects from our current situation:
1. It's important to appoint a senior, fully dedicated COVID-19 “war room” team, focused on this all day, every day. This team must include or be led by your human resources manager as the focal point to approach in any personal difficulties, and the person who can provide management with a daily status report of your organizational climate.
2. A decision to dismiss an employee as a first option is most likely to be the wrong one. Cutting expenses at the cost of your talents will cause more anxiety and lower employees' engagement and collaboration at a time when you most need it. You should first consider using vacation days or even unpaid leaves of absence rather than losing strong and satisfied employees.
3. Over-communicate with full transparency to your people. Employees will be looking to leadership for guidance and direction. Inaction can cause instability. In remote work of distributed teams, it's better to over-communicate and make sure everyone is always on the same page. Describe the situation and its consequences to your employees and document conversations and meetings to create as much transparency as possible.
4. Whether it is a short status meeting at the beginning and ending of the day, or a longer meeting once a day, studies have found that using the same tools and methodologies for remote work can facilitate a shared organizational language and can enhance distributed teams’ levels of productivity and satisfaction. Employees working from home run the risk of feeling isolated and uncared for. Virtual meetings can offer an efficient and effective way to give employees a way to help each other by sharing techniques while demonstrating care for each other and building relationships.
5. These days, most likely your employees are struggling with chaos in their lives, fearing and worrying about their economic futures. Clear definitions of goals and expectations that are segmented into smaller short-term assignments will provide a sense of stability and progress. Your teams’ successes are dependent on the accuracy and clarity of the goals you provided, since effective goal-setting helps employees perform better, experience less stress and anxiety, concentrate better, show more self-confidence, and feel happier and more satisfied.
People are looking to feel influential even in times of uncertainty and stress. It benefits your company to make sure your people are feeling they are cared about on both the professional and the personal level. This will generate a sense of belonging and engagement toward the company's goals, its managers and to colleagues, now and after this crisis will be over.
The writer is an organizational consultant in human resources management and management of global projects and international teams. She is also a lecturer at the International Space University Management and Business Department, and the director of behavioral science at the Israeli Space Simulation Center Desert Mars Analog Ramon Station, or D-Mars.
This content was also published at THE JERUSALEM POST