Team Resilience in the COVID-Era Workplace: 5 Principles

Some companies and groups of workers are now heading back to the office, while others continue to work from home. Whether you’re among the first group or the latter – or somewhere in between – it’s clear that this new hybrid workplace will be with us for the foreseeable future. 

Without question, the upsides of remote work have become more apparent during the pandemic: greater safety from COVID-19, higher productivity in many cases, time savings from a vanished commute, and the ability to be home with children and pets. Given the times, it’s not surprising that a recent Gallup poll showed that 59 percent of employed Americans would prefer to continue to work remotely as much as possible. 

In this environment, leaders and teams will benefit from leaning on resilience principles more than ever. This is because scattered teams, high stress and a challenging market climate for the vast majority of businesses mean team resilience in the COVID-era workplace is a necessity. Teams laboring under the continuing disruption of COVID-19 are going to need clearer direction and more empathy and flexibility from their managers, as well as higher group connectedness.

If you manage a team, here are five key principles – based on the five building blocks of team resilience – that will help you lead a stronger team in the next phase of the pandemic recovery. 

1. Communicate frequently and tie tasks to purpose

It’s a tenet of crisis communications that employee communication needs to be more frequent and transparent during times of upheaval. People are hungry for updated information, especially if still remote. Consider more frequent internal updates to share great work, recognize team members or discuss changes. People also want to give feedback during times of change, so make two-way communication habitual.

It’s important that managers are communicating about the right things, and that includes the team’s direction, or shared purpose. Purpose-driven work unites teams and also protects against burnout. Clear, open conversation about your team’s shared purpose and how it connects to everyday tasks will boost your team’s resilience. According to a recent McKinsey white paper, the companies and leaders that look to their purpose to guide their decisions through the pandemic and its aftermath are going to come out stronger than those looking for short-term, purely profit-based wins.   

2. Grant your employees more autonomy

Most managers want their teams to produce great results. Supporting strong performance means putting in place the processes that help your team be the best it can be. That can mean anything from productive meeting formats to project dashboards to other helpful efficiency tools. 

In today’s environment, this should include giving individual team members control of how they work together. In most cases, greater worker autonomy means better performance. (Case in point: Many workers have reported a surge in productivity as they’ve worked from home, where they have more independence, during quarantine.) 

Granting greater employee autonomy also supports a larger recent business and cultural away from hierarchy. Companies today are veering more towards matrixed organizational structures, where individual workers are self-directed members of a larger “talent network.”  

3. Embrace flexibility and adaptability

Now is the time to channel your inner Buddha to reach new heights of openness and flexibility. Your team may be juggling stress, childcare, worries about health, and/or support of their spouse. As such, they will need your understanding and patience with deadlines and schedules.

Keep in mind that your team will key off your attitude. As such, try to model an attitude that sets your team up for resilience: energetic, optimistic and open. Cultivating a growth mindset across your team will help it stay creative, take risks and continue to develop despite the stress of pandemic-related uncertainty and fear. 

4. Address weak spots in your emotional intelligence

A recent poll of HR managers revealed that for about a third of employees, emotional and social support is their top need as they respond to COVID-19. In other words, if there were ever a time of CEO as Chief Empathy Officer, this is it. 

There’s a raft of evidence that high emotional intelligence, or “EQ,” is the differentiating feature of very successful people. EQ consists of four core capabilities: self-awareness, self management, social awareness and relationship management. These capabilities are essential to being able to connect deeply with your team. We all have weaker and stronger spots, and it’s not as hard as you might think to make improvements. If you need a tune-up, Mind Tools offers this free 15-minute assessment that includes suggestions. 

And speaking of empathy, that brings us to principle number five…

5. Practice both customer and cross-team empathy

This kind of empathy is more about your business than it may seem; it’s really about alignment with a) your customers and b) the other teams in your company. Customer empathy is especially needed for many of the same reasons employee empathy is needed. The world is in turmoil, pressures are high and people want their service providers and employers to be authentic and human. (Check out these practical tips for how you can go deeper with customer empathy.)

One of the biggest challenges we see to internal alignment is how departmental teams interact with one another. Those teams are made of people and are being disrupted just like yours are, so additional friction is normal. If you aren’t doing so already, talk to your peers who are leading other teams in your organization about how your team can better support theirs. This is a great chance to get an outside perspective on your team’s performance.

Empathy is all about adopting a wider perspective and considering other angles and experiences. Companies who can bake it into their culture through behaviors are more likely to stay in sync with their industry. They will be better able to anticipate what customers need in a rapidly changing environment like today’s, where new best practices and potential pitfalls are emerging every day. 

To be sure, it’s been a long couple of months the world over, and many, many teams and their managers are tired and in need of a reset. But by focusing on the above principles for building team resilience in the COVID-era workplace, we can begin the next chapter and help ourselves and our teams rise to meet the coming challenges and opportunities.