In all likelihood, the women at your company have never been busier than they are now, when a large portion of the workforce is working from home with partners, children, or sick family members due to the coronavirus pandemic. Despite a generational shift toward more equitable relationships, according to a study released by Lean In in May 2020, women with full-time jobs, a partner, and children report spending a combined 71 hours a week on child care, elder care, and household chores during COVID-19; men report 51 hours. The 20-hour difference, as Lean In expertly points out, is the equivalent of women taking on a part-time job.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise to learn, then, that when InHerSight asked women what they need most from their employers during the pandemic, their number-one response (39 percent) was the need for flexibility in work hours due to other demands on their time. Women’s “second shift” is increasingly impeding paid work.
Yet another 20 percent told InHerSight regular check-ins with their team or managers would be most helpful, and that’s where this data gets really interesting from a management perspective. How do you balance freeing up employees’ schedules while also providing regular check-ins that make everyone, even the busiest in your company, feel engaged and valued?
Adrienne Partridge, a leadership coach and consultant with a doctorate in organizational psychology, says now is time to use the five pillars of emotional intelligence—self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills—to make the most out of your remote interactions, even when team members are overworked and their availability shifts throughout the day.
There is some information your employees need to know—how their benefits work, when or if they’ll return to the office, whether there will be layoffs, etc.—but not all of that information can be shared immediately or consistently. Partridge recognizes that. “There’s a fine line between protecting your employees and giving them information,” she says. “Decide what is in your control to share. Acknowledge what you don’t know. Don’t overpromise.”
But transparency in daily communication is more fluid than simply laying all of the facts on the table. It’s personal. “To me, empathy is part of transparency,” Partridge says. “People want to know where they stand with you.”
Former Starbucks CEO Howard Shultz once put it this way, “I think the currency of leadership is transparency. You've got to be truthful. I don't think you should be vulnerable every day, but there are moments where you've got to share your soul and conscience with people and show them who you are, and not be afraid of it.”
Everyone is busy, and you don’t want to waste anyone’s time. So, when all meeting attendees have joined the video call, you do what seems natural: jump right in. Partridge says this is efficient, but it doesn’t help you maximize relationship-building in the meetings you already have. “Leadership and culture are two sides of the same coin,” she says. “Jumping right in” signals to your team that you’re not interested in the human part of the transaction, just the business one.
Instead, Partridge recommends opening meetings with icebreaker questions or a simple, “How are you?” and welcoming honest responses by sharing what’s happening in your own life. She also says right now teams should have a regularly scheduled check-in to keep everyone on the same page. “People forget about that because they’re just trying to survive,” she says.
Regularly engage with direct reports
Maybe the weekly 1:1 with your direct report where you talk about new projects and career goals isn’t possible because you’re both juggling too much at home. That’s okay. “People might not have the capacity to focus on leadership or career development right now,” Partridge says, so instead, find a regular way to touch base that allows you to check in on how your employee is managing work and life. “Acknowledging the other person’s situation,” she says, is an excellent way to stay connected, and it doesn’t have to be a video chat if that’s not feasible.
Shoot them an email or a note over Slack that they can respond to when they have time. What’s important is that you do so with a consistent cadence—not every day, but often enough that they know you’re still thinking of them.
“Do you want to be a transactional leader or a transformational leader?” Partridge says. “Transformational leaders give autonomy.”
While checking in with your employees and giving them flexibility to manage their own schedules can build relationships in times of crisis, micromanaging your newly remote team will quickly devolve them. To ease stress while everyone is working from home, Partridge says you should take stock of your own management techniques and whether they might increase anxiety instead of calming it. “Get really clear on what your emotional triggers are,” Partridge says. “Fear, uncertainty, and anxiety can trigger micromanaging. What can you do to replace that mechanism that’s more helpful?”
Read more: Are You a Manager—or a Leader?
Partridge recommends managers set boundaries for when and how they communicate with their teams, and that they be careful not to react too quickly when pressing deadlines pop up. “Don’t absorb other people’s urgency in crisis,” she says.
She also says not to be too hard on yourself if you’re still figuring out how to lead your team. “Self-compassion is so important right now,” Partridge says. “That is what builds resilience."
About our source
Adrienne Partridge is a leadership coach and consultant with a Ph.D. in organizational psychology. She works with women leaders to navigate the structural barriers that detour many women’s career advancement. She has written for and been featured as an expert in various media outlets, such as U.S. News & World Report, Inc. magazine, The Huffington Post, and Thrive Global.
Survey of approximately 1,000 women in May 2020.
InHerSight is a company ratings platform for women with ratings and reviews of more than 120K companies in the United States.