Who remembers the school summer holidays of our youth?
Seven weeks of unbridled fun, where you may have had to do a temporary job and a bit of housework, but otherwise your time was your own. It was your time to go out with friends, enjoy a romance, do the things that you wanted to do when at school, but you never felt you had the time or energy for. The days were care-free and, if you worked at it, even seven weeks could feel too short.
So it may seem for some people now on furlough, or at least how they see it presently. However, this is not the same. Socialising needs to be done on the web, or by phone. The closest you can get to your neighbours is 2 metres away. You can’t even just pop to the shops and get a magazine. More to the point, it is a time when you can think.
For the most, thinking is good, but it can also be very bad. The realisation will come that the impact of COVID-19 will last beyond lockdown. Business will continue to be forced to review the use of funds available, as well as how new funds are sourced. Some changes will be good for all, while others may feel very negative. Already, in some parts of our economy team leaders are being contacted by a team member close to breakdown, following the concerns that the situation has created with both current finances and their futures, and this will continue.
So, as a leader in a business what are your responsibilities when it comes to your furloughed team? Well, they are the same as they have always been, it’s just some of them responsibilities have increased in importance; staff training is one key responsibility. Here are the principles to consider.
Communication is the essence to effective leadership at any time. Now it appears more difficult but actually, it is just as simple; we just need to do it properly. We can split communication into two parts; communication with your direct team and communication with your whole team.
Communication with your direct team needs to be regular and two-way. More than ever, your managers need your support at this time, whether they are furloughed or not. This means a regular conversation, preferably every week, where they have the opportunity to tell you what is happening and their concerns, as well as listen to what you have to say. Based on the principles of Appreciative Enquiry, it should focus on what is going well for them, what they are concerned about and how you can help them. If your managers are furloughed, then it should be split between you and your other directors to have similar discussions with the wider team, although it is unlikely you will be able to do this as regularly.
Communication with the whole team is vital as it links to the next point. Employees will appreciate regular contact from their managers but will also value hearing news direct from the top. Give regular briefings, preferably through web conferencing, explaining what the leaders are doing to take the business through the current crisis. Give the good news and the bad, but always finish on a positive if you can. Always provide employees with a mechanism to provide feedback or ask questions. It might be following the conference call via email, think about how you want to receive feedback. Make sure these communications are acknowledged and, where possible, responded to, either before the next conference or during it.
2. Give Direction
These are unprecedented times and most people recognise this, so it is harder to give definitive commitments right now, or indeed show measures in progress. However, give the team what you can so that they can see some hope. Explain what you are seeing in the market and how you are reacting. If you can, explain what you are doing to be more proactive moving forward. Always signpost when the next communication will be and how they can ask questions / request help.
Note: It may be that as a result of these difficult times, it is necessary to restructure the business. You may even need to make some redundancies. Keep it simple and honest. Prior to the announcement, consult with your Human Resources team / consultant and ensure that the proper support is in place before doing anything. Then announce the changes, making it as quick as possible. Don’t leave people holding for news too long, as they are far better off knowing, than not knowing.
3. Encourage Mental Stimulation and Provide Support
The brain has a plasticity; that is the more we exercise it, the stronger it is. It’s just like any other muscle in our body. So, encourage your team to do activities that use this muscle. Examples of such activity include:
- Word puzzles
- Family games
- Playing a musical instrument
- Researching a subject that they are passionate about
- More advanced cookery
- Improved business through training or coaching
All of this can be reinforced by just encouraging them to communicate with each other.
Should you be at all concerned about a team member’s mental state, then contact your Human Resource Department / Advisor as soon as possible to get guidance. Experience with mental health conditions has shown it is essential this is caught fast, if you are to maintain the health of your team.
4. Reinforce physical stimulation
This is the bit that is all too easy to forget for most of us yet has massive implications on our abilities. You cannot make your team exercise, but you can reinforce the need. Here, it is best to lead by example, explaining what you are doing to stay fit and then asking about them. Right now, fitness instructors across the world are moving to on-line fitness sessions, from YouTube video classes, to web conference based interactive classes. There is a wide variety of things that can be done, we just need to take the initiative.
5. Strengthen Your Team for the Future
In the UK Government’s guidance, it says:
“Furloughed employees can engage in training, as long as in undertaking the training the employee does not provide services to, or generate revenue for, or on behalf of their organisation or a linked or associated organisation. Furloughed employees should be encouraged to undertake training.”
When you think about it, when better to train? It won’t stop them doing anything else and counts towards “giving direction” and “encouraging mental stimulation”. You need the team to be “match fit” when they return to work, and they need to feel productive from the moment they start. So, make this happen.
Tailored training, that enhances the abilities of the team to the level that you have set will give them a chance to also engage with other members of the team again, as well as develop their skills. Even when delivered remotely, it can be fun and interactive, with break-out rooms and polls helping to build excitement as well as learning.
6. Add Some Fun
In times such as these, it helps to be able to lighten the mood. Tools like Kahoot, provide easy ways to deliver team quizzes and the latest web-conferencing technology allows you to have interactive time with your team. It can be as simple as just having a pub night online – create virtual pub backgrounds and just sit, have a chat and have a few drinks… nibbles optional. Did you know that there are pub background noises on YouTube that you can add?
7. Lead by Example
Just as always, you get back what you put in. If you want a happy motivated and strong team to return to work, you have to put the effort in now. Most of all, you need to lead by example, showing it is possible to be stronger once we move to the “new normal”.
The new normal? Well that’s a topic for one of our next blogs.
Andre Bozon is Adlabs Global's lead trainer and further advice on the information in this blog can be requested from firstname.lastname@example.org.