I remember everything about that last week in March 2020 before we all went into our homes to hide away from a deadly virus many were scrambling to understand. It’s been a defining moment for me and I know for so many it was very much the same. The pandemic itself and everything that comes along with it is terrifying, but add on a critical election year, continued police brutality and just everyday life and well, to say we’ve all been holding a lot is the understatement of the year.
And yet, the show must go on. For an agency like ours, we’re working with progressive causes and candidates to help change the world, and the outcome of our work together is critically important to everyone on the team. And at the same time, pretending as if everything is normal is not a normal response. Management and leadership needs to take a different approach to help staff– and frankly ourselves– in this moment.
And for our team, there is an extra layer here: DBT is and always has been a fully remote company. So the team is accustomed to working from home. But we also had shared co-working spaces in a couple of cities, and many of us live close enough to see each other outside of work. Having started here last May, I have yet to meet a single one of my colleagues in real life! Building and maintaining relationships on zoom is simply not the same.
So how should a manager show up for their team in a time like this? What’s worked for me: I lead first with my heart. Most folks would agree that emotions in the workplace don’t always work, but we are humans first, humans that grapple with any array of emotions at any given moment. So let’s not do this moment an disservice by ignoring it. People are missing their friends, their families, their favorite pub, etc., and there’s a lot of emotions with that. I cannot help but be vulnerable at times because that’s so real, and I want my team to know that it’s ok for them to do so too.
As leaders, it’s important that we communicate often to staff that their number one priority is their mental, emotional, and physical health. They cannot bring their whole selves to this work– work that is tough and has real world consequences– if they themselves are feeling empty. I have always considered management of teams to be my most important task in my role because how I lead can shape employee experience and future. And I have always reinforced to my team the importance of breaks, vacations, taking care of oneself. But so many of our emotional cups are empty right now and this has never been more important.
But it’s not just checking in with your team to make sure they’re drinking water and making the space for their emotions. It’s also giving them the tools to make this easier. We did a company-wide project management training over the summer to give the team tools to not only help manage multiple projects and needs, but to manage their days effectively so when they need to step away to take a walk, to meditate, reflect, or to even take time away from work, they have the tools to better manage their workload and make the space for much-needed breaks.
I know working from home for many has been a major adjustment, and to others it may feel like a dream situation. And it is, but when we no longer have the outlets we once had to break up the monotony of the same 4 walls, the dream situation requires more care in order not to be pulled into a nightmare.