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Business continuity professionals understand that effective business continuity management programs (BCMP) don’t just ensure your organization maintains operational resiliency during disasters or disruptions, but that they also include components that support the safety and of your employees during a crisis.

In our 2019 Business Continuity Benchmark Study, 80% of respondents said that ensuring employee safety during a crisis is a high priority in their business continuity objectives.

Generally, however when it comes to BCMPs, many people may think primarily of on-site security and crisis communication. And while those are critical components of business continuity and disaster response plans, what about the overall well-being (and day-to-day job satisfaction) of your employees?

In light of COVID-19 social distancing mandates, how do you, as a business continuity professional, lead your teams with compassion and understanding in this changing work environment? How do you ensure team success to support operational resiliency?

We recently talked with Kevin Impelman, an industrial/organizational psychologist who serves as the Vice President of Consulting, Research and Development for Hollweg Assessment Partners, a talent assessment and development company, about the impacts of social distancing, new remote work environments, life in a pandemic culture, and overall employee well-being and the impact of these issues on employee and organizational success.

No Time for Easing Transitions

Prior to the coronavirus outbreak, less than 4% of the U.S. workforce worked from home half-time or more.

And although about 80% of employees would have liked the opportunity to work from home at least some of the time, before the pandemic, only about 7% of U.S. companies made flexible work options available to most or all of their employees.

But COVID-19 changed everything.

Across the country, companies had to set up remote teams virtually overnight. That means employees who may have never worked from home before—or rarely—were expected to adapt to work responsibilities in a new, but familiar home environment.

And working in these environments is more challenging than before because they’re complicated by live-work balance in an era where spouses, children, pets, and other family members may suddenly all be under the same roof, at the same time, 24 hours a day.

As coronavirus swept across the U.S., there was no time for organizations or employees to ease into this transition. Instead, it was trial by fire for everyone—and a fire that managers must be prepared to manage effectively.

Managing people in a pandemic

For managers who have never worked remotely or managed remote teams, this creates unique challenges.

And as we’re all aware, electronic communications can sometimes muddle effective employee communication. For example:

  •     What tone is inferred from my text?
  •     How was the message perceived?
  •     Did I come across as terse or unfriendly?
  •     Did I clearly explain goals and objectives?
  •     Did I meet my company expectations for communications?

Electronic communication is now multiplied across entire companies—many with little or no additional training and compounded by more phone calls and video meetings—how do managers adapt in this social-distancing environment?

Successful characteristics for remote crisis leadership

“To answer this question, I reviewed our database of leadership assessments to see if any patterns emerged,” Impelman explained. “Specifically, I looked at differences between leaders who manage a single unit where they are present with their team and leaders who manage multiple business units from afar.”

Impelman targeted restaurant, retail, and healthcare industries for his evaluation and found three core traits that emerged for successful leaders who work with remote teams.

Reflective Thinking

Leaders who use reflective thinking in their management approach are often less reactive. They take needed time to pause and think through their decisions while trying to understand both the short- and long-term impacts of those decisions, especially on geographically dispersed teams.

“They will avoid rash decisions and will reflect on how they impact others in nuanced and different ways,” Impelman said.

Unlike in a traditional work environment where managers get the opportunity to interact face-to-face with employees—and have the opportunity to pick up on important verbal and physical cues—telecommuting makes that more challenging.

“Without being able to witness everyone’s immediate work experience, effective leaders[MOU1]  must think more broadly and appreciate others’ unique perspectives,” Impelman said.

To do this effectively, Impelman recommends leaders think outside their traditional “four walls” approach to better understand how decisions will uniquely impact each individual. In so doing, these leaders can make better decisions for their teams—and organization—overall.

Assertiveness

Effective communication is always important in successful work environments, but it may never be more important than during a crisis. This is where assertive and confident leaders can have real impact.

These leaders often feel more comfortable taking initiative and setting team goals.

In this pandemic, successful leaders will emerge as those who interacted with employees as a vocal and present leader, even if that leadership shines through during a video call or conference.

“When a leader isn’t physically present to course-correct, it is more critical for them to be upfront and clear about their goals and priorities for the team,” Impelman explained.

Trust and Positivity

Remote work environments make it more challenging for micromanagers to succeed—and that may be a good thing for organizations.

With geographically displaced teams, now is the time to build trust in your employees.

You can’t manage remote employees from task-to-task, so you must build and show trust in their abilities to do their jobs.

And these employees must be able to trust they can come to you for questions, help, and support when they encounter roadblocks that prevent them from achieving goals and completing tasks.

“Leaders who trust more readily are more likely to delegate and create shared ownership with the team,” Impelman said. “If you’re generally skeptical of others’ abilities or commitment, then it typically translates to micromanagement.”

Positivity can also go a long way for team success, which ultimately helps organizations perform better overall and contributes to employee satisfaction and less turnover.

“Leaders with greater positive people orientation care more about what gets done, but not necessarily when or how it gets done because they trust their people,” Impelman explained. “These leaders will also provide regular praise and show support to keep the team motivated.”

Business continuity and remote work

While these traits are beneficial during a pandemic, effective communication and strong leadership can also support BCMPs year-round and in a variety of crises.

Whether its executive and key stakeholder buy-in or “tone-from-the-middle” managers, the more effective your leaders are, the more successful your business continuity programs will be.

Free Infographic - How an Incomplete Business Continuity Solution Can Cost You

About Kevin Impelman

Kevin Impelman is Vice President of Consulting and Research and Development at Hollweg Assessment Partners. He brings extensive talent management experience advising large, multinational clients and regional clients that span across several industries including retail, hospitality, professional services, healthcare, and financial services. Kevin partners with clients to provide customized solutions to meet their leadership and talent needs while providing thought leadership and developing innovative services and products. Kevin previously served as an executive consultant leader for IBM’s Talent Management division and started his career at Batrus Hollweg International (BHI) where he worked alongside his current HAP colleagues. He is a licensed psychologist in Texas and is a member of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP). His research is published[MC2]  and he presents frequently at professional conferences.

About Hollweg Assessment Partners

Hollweg Assessment Partners specializes in assessment and development of top talent for executive, management and hourly position levels. The team measures critical competencies and characteristics needed for success across different levels within an organization, and provides overall fit and potential recommendations to help organizations identify the best talent–those who will reflect a company’s brand, perform at the highest levels, and stay with the organization. Hollweg offers individual assessments for external selection purposes, as well as assessments for internal development and succession planning.

Topics: Business Continuity| Pandemic Preparedness

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