The pandemic has utterly upended our world. It’s changed the way we interact, where we work, and how we communicate in ways that are likely to have long-term effects on the future of business, home, and schooling, among other areas. As the country continues to navigate its way through the current new environment in which the virus continues to persist, it makes good sense for leaders to take stock of where they are now and where they want to be.
While the advent and distribution of a vaccine will ease the spread of COVID-19, it's likely that it will not completely eliminate the need for things like a remote workforce, safety precautions, and proper social distancing in office and work settings. We have entered an entirely new environment, and it’s time that we take the lessons of this pandemic to heart.
To do this, good business leaders need to be prepared with a longer-term strategy to manage their businesses and their people remotely for the foreseeable future. Here are four things that leaders can learn from the pandemic.
Employee safety is more important than profits
Back in early March, as the pandemic took hold around the world, carmaker Ferrari made some early changes that proved to be both prescient and compassionate, thanks to outstanding leadership. Ferrari's main factory is based in Maranello, Italy, near what eventually became the epicenter for COVID-19 in that country.
Ferrari's leadership had been paying close attention as the virus unfolded in China. In January, the head of human resources asked what the company should do if the virus showed up in their area to a small panel of experts, according to a case study at Harvard Business School. Those experts advised that the best course of action was to repatriate workers abroad, distribute personal protective gear, institute health checks for workers, and closely monitor the evolving situation. The company closed its factory three days before the Italian government imposed a lockdown. When things began to open back up, Ferrari was ready, too. The day they closed down, management began to work on a way to open back up safely, but not because of lost profits.
At the center of Ferrari's decision was the safety and health of its workers. Putting employees ahead of profits, and creating a real sense of community and safety is one key element to leading during unstable and uncertain times.
Operate from a place of compassion and support, not fear
As the pandemic unfolds, we've all had to become more flexible and agile in our decision-making. Plans that were set for months and years have been changed or canceled. As the scientific community continues to learn more about the virus, we have to continue to stay nimble in order to adhere to safety guidelines and requirements.
At the same time, we all have to be honest about the fear that's inherently present in this moment. Admitting fear is not a weak thing to do. In fact, it's distinctly the opposite. By acknowledging that the experience is frightening to both ourselves, our employees, and our customers, we can move forward and treat each other with compassion. Fear can make us aggressive and defensive, and it can cause us to take unnecessary risks. Facing and admitting our fear often lessens the hold it has on us, and we can start to address the issues in front of us in a compassionate way.
Demonstrate your humanity to support employees and customers
One of the critical things to do when faced with the current crisis is to be honest and open with your employees and customers about how you're addressing the pandemic, what you are doing to keep everyone safe, and how you plan to move forward in this new environment. Given that we are all afraid of the virus, we have to work with each other to get through this trying time. Demonstrating your humanity to both your customers and your employees will do wonders for you as a leader in usual times. During the pandemic, showing your human side gives you even more gravitas as a leader.
As an example, we're all working from home or remotely nowadays. We have kids and animals and noisy spouses, partners, and roommates who provide constant ill-timed interruptions and sound effects in the middle of important Zoom meetings or conference calls. It can be frustrating and embarrassing, but it also makes us all human. We all have to overcome these things together, and as a leader, you need to make it important not to downplay the nature of this challenging situation. While it's not ideal, it is something each one of us has to face and manage. Giving ourselves, our customers, and our employees the opportunity to be human beings trying to figure this whole thing out as we go is a really vital lesson to learn these days.
Additionally, we must communicate clearly, regularly, openly and honestly. A lack of communication in times of stress will only exacerbate issues and make employees and customers even more fearful and less confident in your leadership. Now is not the time to let things run their course, but rather step up and truly lead with real, clear, and concise communication. As the Harvard Business Review points out, it's vital to be clear about what you expect from your employees and what you are striving to do with your company. The more skilled you are at this, the more likely it is that people will stick with you through these trying times.
Making smaller changes is better for the health and sustainability of your business
In times of great upheaval, it's not ideal to make huge changes. Instead, it pays to make smarter, smaller changes along the path, because this reduces the side effects of change, which can include stress and fear. We're already dealing with plenty of issues in this new environment, and adding to these with the stress of massive changes isn't going to inspire confidence in clients, customers, or employees. Totally changing a business line or utterly reorganizing a business group is ill-advised (generally speaking) in times like this.
That's not to say you should avoid making any large changes that could save the company during this period of contraction and constriction. Rather, it might be better to make slow, steady corrections to keep your business on track. Businesses are living and breathing beings, thanks to their human workforce, and leaders must see them as such.
The pandemic has pushed us into a phase of microadjustments, where we are continually iterating in our own lives to figure out what works just right for us. Some things we may try and find success with. Other things we may decide to throw by the wayside when they don't suit our needs. Either way, these types of adjustments are much more beneficial to the health and overall wellness of both our companies and our employees, and they can truly help us all weather the coronavirus storm.
Work together to get through
No human is an island. We need each other and are, at our core, social animals. As we all stay safer at home and work out the kinks of this new world, it's more important now than ever that we work together to get through the pandemic.
Now is not the time to let what's happening in the world divide us. To survive and thrive through this unseen threat, we need to tap into our human connection and truly rely on each other. If there's one thing that we can take away from this horrific global event, it's that we need to support one another now more than ever. We must stick together to get through this, and develop new and more resilient ways to address whatever new curveballs life may throw at us.
Great leaders are unifiers, and they will take the lessons of this pandemic to heart and discover that through adversity comes resilience – and perhaps even tremendous success.