Previously published on Forbes
Who said it takes years to change habits? In this past year, people have learned plenty of new habits — wearing masks, washing hands, social distancing (a term none of us had even heard of before March of 2020). For those of us who are white collar workers, we abruptly and instantly shifted to work-from-home offices: spare bedrooms and dining room tables with a laptop and maybe a printer.
It’s breathtaking, really.
I’m encouraged by this rapid rate of adaptation. We can do this! We are flexible, agile. Our brains are malleable and changeable. This is good news.
In those early days, let’s call them Pandemic V1, we survived circumstances we never thought we would face. Now that we’re moving into Pandemic V2, it’s a great opportunity to move beyond just surviving and engage in some level of thriving.
Leading Your Team Through Pandemic V2
In Pandemic V2, people will settle in. They will get a good office chair and maybe make more space at home for a proper office. Or they will start going to the office one or two days a week. I have a friend who just recently got a “hardship” pass to be in the office several days a week. She’s just too lonely at home all by herself. I can only imagine how weird that’s going to be with more empty desks than full. But at least there are some people there.
Also in Pandemic V2, you can expect that your team will start to expect more from you, their team leader. They will want you to be out of survival mode and into leading the team and showing appreciation and caring for them.
To do that, you’ll have to get into conversations with each of your team members. Yes, that’s right. Clear a day or two and schedule calls with each and every member of your team.
Ask them how the pandemic has changed their point of view. Maybe working from home is way too hard. Or perhaps it’s allowed them to be less anxious and get way more done. The commute is gone, which may be great for some, but others may have enjoyed listening to podcasts on the drive. Who knows? You certainly won’t unless you ask.
In the Pandemis V2, you’ll need to be much more intentional to communicate that you care about your team. Ask each member of your team what they need in order to feel valued and appreciated. Regardless of what else is going on in the world, people still need to know they matter. In fact, whether it’s Pandemic V1 or V2, that never changes.
What might help your team members feel appreciated? It’s different for everyone. As a general guide to keep in mind, I rely on “The Five Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace,” by Gary Chapman & Paul White:
- Words of Affirmation – Anything from “good job” on a project to the deeper kind of conversation that leaves a person feeling seen.
- Acts of Service – Collaborating on a difficult project, supporting another’s work, doing something specific for another that will have them feel appreciated.
- Receiving Gifts – Awards, bonuses, gift cards or birthday presents in honor of their contribution to the company.
- Quality Time – Team meetings, learning together, check-ins, 1:1 time with the team leader or team members or other ways of being together that create a sense of belonging.
- Physical Touch – An appropriate hug, high five, handshake, fist bump or pat on the back to acknowledge a job well done. (This one not so much right now in the age of social distancing.)
On your one-on-one video calls with team members, ask them: “Which of these five languages of appreciation is your first choice to help you feel appreciated and cared about? Which is your second choice? What, specifically, works for you in terms of being appreciated?”
If this isn’t comfortable for you or it’s not your usual way of leading, that’s OK. We already know that you can change and adapt. Look at what you did in Pandemic V1! You can do this! Remember that being a good leader is synonymous with showing you care for your team. Finding out how best to appreciate your team members can make all the difference as we navigate 2021 and distributed teams.