Beyond Zoom: 3 Tips for Managing Employees Online during COVID-19

Coronavirus has forced millions of families to attempt homeschooling for the first time ever. My family is no exception. It sure has been a transition with unique frustrations and learning curves. 

On the one hand, my family and I have had to adjust to an entirely new set of logistics. No more checking whether my daughter’s lunch is in her backpack. Now we’re logging in to school portals to submit homework files and figuring out how to stream the daily video lesson onto the family iPad. 

On the other hand, my husband and I have adjusted how I support my daughter emotionally and relationally. Change is hard for everyone but especially hard for children. We’ve had to provide comfort in the midst of loneliness and assurance in the face of global uncertainty. This side of homeschooling requires a different skill set.

And as it turns out, homeschooling is a lot like managing employees online

I recently had Stephen Bailey on The Work Remix to discuss this very topic. As the founder and CEO of ExecOnline, Stephen brings a passion for helping executives and their companies solve their most pressing strategic challenges through innovative technology solutions. Right now, one of the most pressing challenges is managing teams remotely.

Stephen recognizes that logistics and emotions are two separate concepts. However, you must address both simultaneously to become an effective virtual manager. To help you manage your employees online, here are Stephen’s best tips based on ExecOnline’s online program, “Managing Uncertainty Virtually.” 

Be Empathetic

In times of high anxiety, motivation can be difficult to cultivate. Apathy is a common response to chaos and uncertainty. Therefore, employees need to believe that you care about them beyond their immediate value to the company. You can achieve this through empathy.

One tip is to be patient and direct when it comes to technology. It will take some employees a little longer to get the hang of Zoom. However, it also helps if you provide clear instructions for new apps and software. Don’t just say, “Join the Zoom call.” Have someone create step-by-step guides or video tutorials.

Another practical tip Stephen has implemented at ExecOnline is the five-minute check-in. At the beginning of every meeting, managers take five minutes just to talk to people about what’s going on with their lives and families. There’s no agenda. They simply allow for conversation and for people to feel heard. 

Clarify Your Communication

When you’re sitting next to your team in an office, you can communicate in ways that don’t require a lot of structure yet still get your message across. On your way back from the coffee machine, you can pop into a colleague’s office and casually mention that a report’s due date has changed. But when you’re virtually distributed, you sometimes realize you haven’t communicated with your team in two or three days. 

Virtual management requires that you set yourself clear communication guidelines. You need to decide communication frequency, tone and method. Will you send a straightforward daily wrapup email? Or will you host a friendly Zoom call every Tuesday? Once you decide, tell your team about it.

Reduce Anxiety by Focusing on Certainty

Stephen has noticed that this is the most difficult skill for leaders to adopt. Right now, executives and managers are just as bewildered as their employees. They’re expected to have answers even though no one knows when the economy will turn around or when a vaccine might return life to its normal rhythms. Unfortunately, a leader’s uncertainty can creep into communications and affect other employees.

Instead, Stephen recommends refocusing people on things that are comfortable as opposed to things that are uncomfortable, changing and uncontrollable. Remember, this advice is about shifting focus, not lying about a situation. You might frame tasks around your company’s mission statement. You might share a personal experience about how you navigated a crisis in the past. During a staff call, have employees describe times they made a real difference in the lives of customers. By focusing on certainties, you can greatly reduce employee anxiety.

Nearly every industry is experiencing an accelerated shift toward remote work. This will have significant implications for the future generation of leaders. Millennials, especially, are now forging their leadership identity in a unique leadership environment. 

Here’s the key takeaway: the leadership lessons we learn during the COVID-19 crisis will stay relevant long after we’ve developed treatments or a vaccine. Virtual leadership is now foundational to all good management strategies.

Millennials are now the largest generation in the American workforce. Gen Zs are following right behind. How are you prepared to lead them? With current shifts to remote work and company emphasis on employee flexibility and autonomy, my new course, How to Manage Millennials and Gen Zs in the Workplace, will help you grow your leadership skills and create lasting strategies to empower your Millennials and Gen Zs. Join the waitlist today and be the first to know when this course goes live. 


About Stephen Bailey

Stephen Bailey is the founder and CEO of ExecOnline. Stephen brings a passion for helping executives and their companies solve their most pressing strategic challenges through innovative technology solutions. Before ExecOnline, Stephen served as the CEO of Frontier Strategy, a group of venture-backed software and information services business serving Fortune 500 executives focused on emerging economies. 

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Lindsey is a globally recognized career and workplace expert and the leading voice on generational diversity. She has spoken for more than 300 audiences including Google, Goldman Sachs, Estee Lauder, Stanford and Wharton. Lindsey is the author of four career and workplace advice books, and her insights have appeared in media outlets including The TODAY Show, CNBC, NPR, the Harvard Business Review and the Wall Street Journal.


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