Navigating COVID-19 with your Humanity, Sanity and Team Still in Tact

By Jodi Schafer, SPHR, SHRM-SCP

Amid all of the chaos, confusion and anxiety that has resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic, leadership has never been more important.  To survive (and dare I say ‘thrive’), leaders must adopt a mindset that allows you to put one foot in front of the other, especially when it’s hard.  Challenges can be viewed as stressful and overwhelming or challenges can be viewed as opportunities.  Your mindset will determine how you feel about the situation that surrounds you and will heavily influence your success in our current reality.  Now is the time to refocus.  Here are four key strategies for navigating COVID-19 with your humanity, your sanity and your team still intact.

#1: Stay Connected: Regardless of which end of the ‘busy’ spectrum your practice is on right now, carving out time to touch base with your team is paramount.  The self-preservation instinct has kicked into overdrive for many people and their orientation has been shifted to look for the danger.  In the absence of information, people will fill in the gaps of understanding with their own conclusions.  Rarely does this bode well.  You team needs to know that you care about them, that you are in this with them and that you are working on plans to secure the viability of the business so that you can all return to some sense of normalcy in the future.  Connection can happen through face-to-face conversations, through daily or weekly update emails, phone calls, text messages, videos or zoom meetings.  The frequency is almost as important as the content.  Be intentional with these touchpoints – especially when you are physically separated.  We all need to be reminded that there are brighter days ahead.

#2: Grant Grace: COVID-19 has turned our world upside down.  Nothing is as it was and to pretend otherwise is not only naïve, but detrimental.  Teams are having to find new ways to perform job functions.  Practices have implemented physical changes to their workspace to limit contact and the spread of this virus.  Some workers are attempting to do their jobs from home, often with spouses and kids occupying the same space at the same time.  It’s not normal.  There will be disruptions.  There will be competing priorities.  There will be frustration and non-productive time and technology challenges.  Take a breath, let the little things go and allow others to do the same.  Granting grace is granting permission for life to be messy sometimes and for each of us to be human.  Provide flexibility where you can and tell your team to take a break when you can see that they need one.  Give yourself that same permission.  This is a marathon, not a sprint. 

#3: Orient Towards the Positive: While this is an unprecedented time for all of us, it is not without hope and light.  We need to be reminded of the good to keep our energy up and our outlook positive.  You could start each shift meeting with everyone sharing something they are grateful for.  You could highlight the number of COVID patients successfully treated and discharged.  You could ask your team to participate in a volunteer effort.  If you have staff working remotely or not at all right now, you could include them in a virtual recipe exchange, a virtual happy hour or a fun contest of some sort.  Take time to fill your tank and gain perspective.  You’ll need to draw on these pick-me-up moments during the hard times ahead.

#4: Be Transparent: The only constant in this world is change and boy has that been the case lately!  Don’t let fear of making the wrong choice stop you from making any choice.  Push forward with the information you have and let your team know the WHY behind your decisions.  Provide opportunities for questions and suggestions and be willing to reconsider your options if/when additional guidance and support becomes available.  Prepare your teams for operating with a degree of unknown and provide them with regular updates to keep their focus on what you DO know vs. what you DON’T.  Remember, communication is key, but it has to be honest, transparent, authentic communication if you want to keep everyone moving forward.

While we can’t accurately predict what the days ahead will bring, we do have the ability to control our responses and to identify lifelines that will guide us through these uncharted waters.  To use a sports cliché, ‘It’s game time’!  Your employees are watching how you perform under this pressure.  Your patients are watching how quickly you adapt to change and how deftly you respond to their fears and their needs.  Your colleagues are watching.  Your community is watching.  The whole world is watching.  Crisis reveals character and for those of you who have been putting in the work to finetune your leadership and communication skills over the years, it’s about to pay off.