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How the Pandemic Changed My Management Style

A woman with a dog sitting at a desk with a laptop.

​The pandemic has meant constant change for managers—pivoting their teams to remote work, helping employees (or their loved ones) through COVID-19 and listening to workers stress about how to remote-school their kids, among other challenges.

Here, five managers talk about how they've changed their management styles—and how it has paid off in numerous ways beyond the bottom line.

Fewer Cookies, but More Chat

Megan Krause manages a team of 10 at Investis Digital, a global digital communications company.  From her Phoenix office, connecting with workers has always been Krause's management style. Pre-pandemic, that meant writing daily inspirational quotes on the whiteboard, baking cookies for meetings and keeping the candy dish on her desk filled.

All these ''little things" contributed to a healthy team culture, she said.

However, now only one worker comes to the office daily; the rest work remotely full time or have hybrid schedules. She feared the collaboration and camaraderie that happened in the office might disappear, so she quickly made adjustments.

She now does more surveys and check-ins to understand her team's concerns and points of view. She conducts training sessions via video every other week, limiting the audience to just her team so there's enough time for questions.

Perhaps most importantly, she encourages online talking—lots of it—about anything and everything.

"One of the biggest tools we've leveraged to remain a tight, engaged team: good old-fashioned chat. Chat in the age of remote work is a lifeline—it's where we go to ask questions about work, share industry news and tips, shout out our fellow team members, blow off steam, drop silly memes, post pics of our pets and complain about the neighbors who kept us up all night."

This "water cooler," she said, has kept the team highly engaged and close. And encouraging chat participation has not adversely affected her workers' productivity, she said.

Thriving Is Good, but Sometimes Surviving Is Enough

As the CEO of Ascend Hospitality Group, based in Bellevue, Wash., Elaina Morris oversees 12 restaurants, with six more in development. As the pandemic hit, she was forced to lay off about 650 people from her staff of more than 700. The wildfires in the Pacific Northwest further complicated business as some workers watched their homes burn down.

Pre-pandemic, Morris said, her type-A mantra was: "If you are doing your best, there is probably more you can do." That thinking has changed. Now, she said, it's OK sometimes to simply survive.

"Some days, I would just wake up and say, 'We survived today. We could turn the lights on and get help to the workers who needed it.' I'm used to thriving, and in this environment, surviving is fine. That is enough."

She also paid attention to practicalities as she rebuilt her workforce, now nearly back to pre-pandemic levels.

"We knew we would have to change the business model. We cross-trained a bunch of people." No longer, for instance, are restaurant hostesses just hostesses: They learn additional roles, which benefits the company and the employees.

None of It Is Small Talk

The pandemic made David Niu extremely aware of what he called a ''blind spot in my management style." Pre-pandemic, the founder of TINYpulse, a Seattle-based company that helps companies build workplace culture, would check in with employees regularly, usually first asking quickly how their weekend or their evening was, then thinking, "OK, let's get to talking about the important stuff—work."

Now, he knows the important stuff is not just work. His perspective changed after a routine check-in revealed that a worker was dangerously depressed. The seriousness of the worker's state of mind convinced Niu that he needed to be ''emotionally available" to workers when non-work issues were affecting them. He learned, as he put it, to "let the person take the conversation where they need to take it."

The reward? Much gratitude on the part of the depressed worker, as well as others. The worker in distress is now thriving—and Niu likes to believe he helped by listening to his employee's non-work concerns.

Niu's bottom line: "We don't have to talk about work all the time. I'm managing the whole person.'' It feels, he said, like a more balanced approach. "'I like this David better, and I would think my team likes this David better."

Embracing Zoom Calls Crashed by Pets, Kids

Sarah Hamilton, senior director of global human experience at Workhuman, a social recognition and performance management solutions company in Framingham, Mass., and Dublin, has always thought of herself as a compassionate leader. But compassion is now more important than ever for managers, she said.

The pandemic ushered in a whole new way of working, and she has ''leaned into this." Check-ins are crucial—and not just about work progress.

"Doubling down on checking in on my team and taking the time to truly ask them how they are in their personal lives as well as work has made all the difference." The Zoom calls with kids, dogs and partners interrupting ''has been a reminder that our lives outside of work don't stop just because we're working."

Another change: Many employees have had more down time and have used this time to consider what's important to them.

"Employee expectations have completely shifted compared to two years ago. They expect to feel the support they need from their managers to show up in a way they never have before." For managers, the message is: "If an employee is not feeling the recognition they expect from their leaders, it's only a matter of time before they find a company that is prioritizing this."  

The 'New' Office: A Place to Collaborate, Solve Problems

Jeb Ory is president of Phone2Action, an Arlington, Va., a software producer for advocacy campaigns.

He and his wife became overnight "teachers" when the pandemic put them in charge of the needs of their two young children as they juggled full-time work. So, he understood how the home environment—with remote-schooling, pets and the like—might not be conducive to getting work done. Ory worked to keep Phone2Action's office open for those employees who needed to get away from home life, even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Still, he realizes that the old routine of daily in-office work is not returning. He's shifted his view of what an office is for.

"When teams do come into the office, it's to collaborate, work together and solve problems," Ory said.

Kathleen Doheny is a freelance writer in Los Angeles.


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