• Now we are working from home,
• Now we are social distancing,
• Now we are wearing masks,
• Now it is more difficult to see a smile,
• Now we are trying to get close when we cannot get close,
• Now we need connection and empathy more than ever.

How do you connect when connection is challenging? Every day we are maneuvering a new set of rules and guidelines. It is difficult to keep up. Trying to stay well, safe, and relational is a juggling act. Businesses are “opening up” and we are trying to gain a sense of normalcy in our life, while realizing that normalcy has consequences. Emotions are high and reactions seem inconsistent. You may have spoken with an employee in the morning when they seemed clear, focused, and in great spirits. But, at 2 pm the same employee may be distracted, unfocused, and sullen. What is a leader to do?

In the last week, I have learned of close connections who are ill; acquaintances who are now furloughed and concerned about bills; businesses that are challenged and closing; and parents trying to keep their kids busy with few summer alternatives. These realities have diverted my attention and focus thus impacting my output. These scenarios are common, and my reaction may be typical in today’s “new normal.”

The emotional roller coaster may have an impact on judgement and decision-making requiring leaders become “virtually” close to their employees. Leaders must schedule frequent group and/or one-on-one meetings via ZOOM, telephone, or in-person (if you are live). The purpose is to assess results and outcomes and monitor the virtual temperature of the team and employees.

The leader may want to immediately focus on business, but that may have a less successful outcome if an employee is facing a challenging situation. Instead, start the meeting by asking “How are you doing?” Or ask, “How have you been since our last conversation?” Take the time to listen and to understand. Now more than ever, empathy and compassion are vital in the virtual and live workplace. If an employee is on an emotional roller coaster and their mental bandwidth is occupied with challenges, they will find it difficult to focus on the business at hand. This is not an excuse, but it is reality!

Years ago, we used to tell employees to leave their personal life at the door when they come into the workplace. Now we may be conducting business in their home and there is no door! The lines are blurred between work and home.

Once the leader gains the “virtual temperature” of the team/employee, focus on the job duties and outputs. If the leader has not been clear about desired outcomes or results and the specific behaviors to achieve them, develop SMART goals and clarify to ensure future conversations are productive. SMART goals help clarify what is to be achieved, how it will be accomplished, and results. These goals help ensure the leader and employees are on the same page. SMART is an acronym for the following:

S – Specific
M – Measurable
A – Achievable
R – Realistic
T – Time Focused

Here are examples
• Input contact information and detail topics discussed during customer calls in the CRM (customer relationship management) system within one hour of completing the call. This will help ensure your team understands customer needs and solutions provided to save time and minimize redundancy.
• Contact the manager in each location to ensure they have masks, gloves, “up to date” employment posters, and the COVID-19 protocol by Wednesday at 5pm to ensure safety for employees/guests, compliance, and save time in the event of an emergency.

SMART goals ensure accountability and minimize misunderstanding. If an employee is on the emotional roller coaster, now is the time for the leader to get close, lean in, have heart, be real, communicate, reinforce goals, and ensure clarity.

Great leaders are almost always great simplifiers, who can cut through argument, debate and doubt, to offer a solution everybody can understand. Colin Powell