How to effectively lead during the pandemic

Extended remote work has an odd way of augmenting time. Days feel equal parts fast and slow. Months melt away, though individual weeks stretch on. 

There’s also a sense of camaraderie as executives and workers experience the same out-of-office constraints. The pandemic has tested productivity as teams try to operate at capacity under difficult circumstances. 

One of the challenges with determining productivity in the pandemic is lack of measurement, said Ola Chowning, partner at ISG. Most organizations are providing anecdotal evidence about whether employees are being productive in the pandemic. 

“The biggest thing I’ve seen that, I’ll say, harmed productivity when we went to work from home and more remote work, was the proliferation of meetings,” Chowning said. “We came to this very unscientific conclusion that people were just needing connection.” 

In 30 minute-increments, productivity can erode. Quick messages or chats are replaced by video conference meetings. Communication, organic in the office, is instead scheduled, eating away at the time employees have to actually work. 

The challenge is determining how companies can make employees and teams productive and effective despite the circumstances. 

There’s already a standing recipe for success. High-performing teams are a leading indicator of better business outcomes, according to Ann Rich, Agile Coach at USAA, during the virtual Grace Hopper Celebration. Teams that operate effectively: 

  • Care

  • Collaborate

  • Communicate

  • Take ownership

The pandemic adds weight to each. Effective teams require clear lines of communication and understanding as each team member contributes. It requires leaders to increase their transparency too. 

Effective teams will take responsibility for what’s around them, Rich said. They will know what they can control, what they can influence and what they can’t control.

Where leadership comes in

Leaders are recognizing that employees are unsure how to act in certain situations, overwhelmed by external forces that are outside the realm of business. It’s required CIOs to step out of the role of a leader into that of a mentor. 

“What we need to ask our leaders to do is not so much about holding people accountable or just work work work work work, but asking questions,” Chowning said. It’s about trying to have an open conversation with the employee to help them learn how to deal with having too much on their plate. 

To help, some technology leaders are asking people to block time on their calendar to work, according to Chowning. 

While worrying about the health and well beings of employees, the default is to see executive leadership as impervious.

“I think what we’re seeing is some real stress on executives and on leaders, mainly on their own volition,” Chowning said. CIOs recognize employees are struggling and are trying to do everything they can to take up additional work that’s coming their way. 

It also requires the human element of management. With remote work, kids in school at home and health concerns, there’s a need to create an opening in the workplace to acknowledge some of the challenges members of the workforce are dealing with.

“Be that servant leader that says, let’s talk about tactics so you don’t have to tell me why you’re struggling but let’s talk about the struggle and how we can help you do it,” Chowning said.