5 tips to help your team focus during the pandemic

In times of stress, the best leaders use emotional intelligence to inspire and motivate people. Consider this advice to keep your team on track
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As the latest from the coronavirus pandemic roils the news cycle, it’s difficult not to be distracted. Your employees, like most of us, may be wrestling with concerns about the health and safety of loved ones, economic uncertainties, and other worries.

Meanwhile, they must also support the increased demand on the infrastructure and services while trying to deploy new remote capabilities. There’s also a need to focus on the future as your company adjusts how it does business going forward. And of course, there’s pressure to address new cybersecurity concerns, innovate the delivery of IT infrastructure, and develop services to control costs and support the business as it rebuilds post-crisis.

[ Read also How to foster team morale during the pandemic. ]

For IT leaders, all this presents both a challenge and an opportunity to be a leader your teams trust, admire, and want to follow. The following five strategies will help you keep your team focused, productive, and motivated at work.

1. Manage the swirl

Acknowledge people, admit there’s a lot you don’t know, and whatever you do, don’t allow a vacuum to develop. When people don’t know what’s happening, they fill in the void. This increases anxiety and makes it challenging to focus. Open the lines of communication. Walk the “virtual” halls.

Help people work through the angst they’re feeling so they can refocus. Information calms people; give thought to the message. Don’t worry if you don’t have much news. Keep the channels open, and let people see you and hear from you.

2. Create a safe, welcoming environment

Make it safe for your team members to come to you with problems and bad news. Let them know you want to hear from them, whatever they have to say. Back this up by being visible and accessible.

Make it safe for your team members to come to you with problems and bad news. Let them know you want to hear from them.

This is not the time to hunker down or disappear. Increase your check-ins – one-on-one with your reports and together with your teams – to ask how things are going, what they are learning, and what they think could be coming up and needs to be addressed.

These check-ins don’t need to be lengthy or disruptive – a quick exchange to see how it’s going will go a long way to create the open environment and information flow you seek. Nor do these meetings need to be in-person. Being accessible, visible, and active on internal chat channels enables you to listen to what’s going on and maintain these systematic lines of communication while giving people the time they need to focus on their work.

3. Encourage innovation and creativity

The best ideas often emerge during a crisis or challenge when you’re forced into a corner. Foster an environment with your team that explicitly encourages new ideas and innovation. Welcome thoughtful discussion and set up groups to evaluate ideas. Virtual group work is great, especially if you have sharing platforms and tools for group discussions.

Pauses can be a time of astounding discoveries. During the Bubonic plague pandemic in 1665 when people were also asked to social distance, Sir Isaac Newton invented calculus, developed theories on optics, and, legendarily inspired by an apple tree outside his window, created his theory on gravity.

4. Keep meetings productive

Even in the best of times, meetings can be dreadful. Virtual meetings can be especially draining because you’re asking people to be “on” – on a camera. Meetings also interrupt workflow, and if they are purely informative, you are not solving problems or advancing an agenda.

Start by streamlining your meetings and helping your team streamline theirs. Limit meetings to only those that are necessary, and make sure they are attended by only those who need to be there. Focus meeting time on problems you can solve together or ideas you can develop. Clear the rest from the calendar.

For those that make the cut, have a plan. Clarify the meeting’s purpose, roles, outcomes, and deliverables so everyone knows why they are there and what needs to come out of the meeting. If you want to share information, consider any other available channels. If you still see value in gathering the team, be clear about why you are doing so, and plan to keep the meeting brief and illuminating.

While managing the day to day, don’t overlook the importance of focusing on what’s next.

[ Read also: 9 ways to fix awful virtual meetings and 4 contrarian tips to run better meetings. ]

5. Maintain a focus on the future

Finally, and perhaps most critically, while managing the day to day, don’t overlook the importance of focusing on what’s next. Technology and digital infrastructure are at the core of what is next for every industry. The IT function will likely transform in ways large and small after we have navigated this pandemic.

Smart CIOs and IT leaders will encourage their teams to prepare now. They’ll look ahead at how disruption will create risk and opportunity. Turning your team’s attention to future challenges will energize and mobilize them to look around corners. Your team could change your company’s business model or enable it to expand into markets you haven’t yet imagined. Inspire your team by challenging its members to help create the future.

[ Are you leading culture change? Get the free eBook, Organize for Innovation. ]

Suzanne Bates is CEO of Bates, a global consulting firm that helps organizations improve performance through communicative leadership.