When the first part of this article got published, things had just started to become real.
Monday 16 March was the first day of total lockdown here in Luxembourg.
There was buzz, to say the least, in the weeks leading up to that Monday. We knew what was coming, that we are at war. But it still felt like a distant reality, a reality that’s taking place somewhere else, in some other time and that’s only supposed to be observed and analysed from the safe distance of a television or a computer screen. When Italy started falling, a common sense of apprehension and anxiety started mounting and we realised that, by some incredible turn of events, it had insidiously crept right up to our doorsteps. By Friday the 13th we could all hear the approaching hooves.
Our leadership team kept us informed. We kept hearing, receiving emails that we should carry our laptops back with us just in case we were required to work from home. And so we did. At PwC, working from home and remote working had thankfully been a part of our work culture since quite some time. But nothing could possibly prepare us for this. All technicalities aside, spending days, weeks inside, at a stretch, physically cut off from the rest of the world, managing work and, for many, children and family, was going to be anything but cakewalk.
Understandably, experts around the world started weighing in from day one on how to cope while working remotely. But few brought up the other side of the coin. This crisis is going to be the litmus test for leaders – be it in private organisations or at the helm of countries – to show their resilience, to show their ability to steer people through this, to show they care. As they say “cometh the hour, cometh the man (or the woman!)”. The hour is now.
So, how should a leader, responsible for a team or a company, behave and act in times like these? We asked Youcef Damardji, PwC Luxembourg’s Head of Communications.
1. How should leaders motivate their teams, alleviate any apprehensions during this time?
Remote working may be a challenge because people will feel a sense of isolation at some point. The least that can be done by leaders is to reach out to team members both individually, to listen and help on more personal situations and during "team calls" to maintain the team spirit, the business objectives and the sense of belonging. This should be done at least daily and perhaps several times during the day. The use of video calls is fundamental because of the psychological aspect of seeing each other regularly. Setting clear goals is even more important during remote working periods as people tend to adapt their working hours but may at the same time lose track of what's being done by others and for what purpose. Even more than usual, leaders should now strive to be true "chefs d'orchestre", making sure the team plays in unison and not in a cacophony.
2. What do employees need from leaders right now?
Caring is the keyword here, and caring starts with listening. I think employees need to be listened to and understood on a more personal level. They want to feel that they are considered as individuals with different personal issues. During times like these, some decisions might be taken at the company level, many of which might create constraints or generate frustrations. Employees want to have a personal understanding of the decisions taken and they want to know how these decisions apply to them and how they can be adjusted to their personal cases.
On top of this, employees now need more than ever a short-term and a medium-term vision as to where this situation is taking us. This is the most complicated part because no one has a crystal ball to make accurate predictions. This is where leaders need to be reassuring to reduce stress and anxiety, as much as possible.
3. Transparency and communication: the two most important pillars during this time. Any other key point that leaders should keep in mind?
Besides being open and transparent about the evolving nature of the situation, I would say that leaders should focus on the spirit of solidarity. They need to ensure that the right organisational culture and the right mindset are in place, nurturing the greater sense that we are all in this together and that each and every one of us can do our part to help each other and to act responsibly towards our colleagues, our families, and the society at large. In times of crisis, organisations that care and are there for their people will come out stronger.