For many of us, the expe­ri­ence of work­ing entire­ly from home is a new one. It has required us to rethink the way we work and func­tion as a team. Many of the rou­tines, pat­terns, prac­tices, and process­es we have cre­at­ed over time are no longer effec­tive, and we’ve had to insti­tute new means of col­lab­o­rat­ing, get­ting our work done, and ele­vat­ing the peo­ple around us.

With all these changes, there’s bound to be con­fu­sion and con­cern among employ­ees about what’s expect­ed of them. For­tu­nate­ly, lead­ers can do a lot to sooth these fears and pro­vide clar­i­ty. Below are a few prac­tices I recommend.

Delib­er­ate­ly mod­el what you expect to see
For many employ­ees, work­ing from home dur­ing the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic has meant nav­i­gat­ing a new work envi­ron­ment with new demands, dis­trac­tions, and inter­rup­tions – each of which brings addi­tion­al stress and frus­tra­tion. In these cir­cum­stances, employ­ees need guid­ance on where the com­pa­ny can be flex­i­ble (e.g., work hours or pace) and where they need to toe the line (e.g., com­pa­ny values).

It’s impor­tant to com­mu­ni­cate your expec­ta­tions, whether ver­bal­ly or in writ­ing, but the most effec­tive strat­e­gy is sim­ply to show employ­ees what you expect. Images are pow­er­ful, and right now they have the pow­er to clar­i­fy and reas­sure. It’s one thing, for exam­ple, for an employ­ee to hear from their man­ag­er that it’s okay for them to take a moment here and there to tend to a child’s needs; it’s quite anoth­er for an employ­ee to wit­ness their man­ag­er tend­ing to their own child’s needs. The for­mer instructs; the lat­ter makes the les­son real. In my own prac­tice, I put 2–3 breaks with my fam­i­ly each day on my pub­lic cal­en­dar, so employ­ees under­stand that tak­ing a few min­utes out of the day to care for your fam­i­ly is not only accept­ed but encour­aged. Show­ing rather than sim­ply telling also empha­sizes the shared expe­ri­ence: We’re all in this together.

Share your own chal­lenges and cre­ative solutions
Employ­ees won’t see most work-from-home chal­lenges that their lead­ers face on a day-to-day basis, but know­ing their lead­ers are in the same boat can be both com­fort­ing and con­fi­dence-build­ing. Share with your team the chal­lenges or emo­tions you’re work­ing through, and any per­son­al learn­ings you’ve had about ways to man­age this cri­sis. Your employ­ees don’t nec­es­sar­i­ly have to do things the same way you do — you’ll get bet­ter engage­ment, focus, and com­mit­ment by trust­ing them to find their own strate­gies. The more impor­tant thing is to com­mu­ni­cate that they can be open with their chal­lenges, and that those chal­lenges are legit­i­mate and there’s hope for the future.

Reach out social­ly and encour­age employ­ees to do the same
I’ve encour­aged the teams here at ThinkHR and Mam­moth to sched­ule reg­u­lar, option­al social time togeth­er. Mid­morn­ing cof­fee hours and late after­noon hap­py hours have been pop­u­lar. We also recent­ly cel­e­brat­ed our fam­i­lies with a vir­tu­al “Bring Your Kids to Work Day” bin­go game. I host­ed, and we were thrilled to see 50 kids join the call.

Employ­ees may be hes­i­tant to start or par­tic­i­pate in vir­tu­al social events, espe­cial­ly dur­ing work hours, if they don’t feel the activ­i­ties have their leader’s sup­port. You can set an exam­ple here not only by giv­ing the green light to occa­sion­al fun occa­sions, but also by par­tic­i­pat­ing in them. I try to join one vir­tu­al team hap­py hour each week, and I’m con­fi­dent I get as much or more out of it as our employees.

I also rec­om­mend reg­u­lar­ly ask­ing your team mem­bers on an indi­vid­ual, unplanned basis how they’re doing and what they may need. Encour­age them to do the same with their col­leagues. We don’t have the ben­e­fit of spon­ta­neous office encoun­ters to strike up con­ver­sa­tions and check in with each oth­er. We all have to be more delib­er­ate about per­son­al inter­ac­tions. As else­where, you can set an exam­ple here.

By Nathan Christensen

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