Everyone is Essential

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May 8, 2020

Are you essential? That is the question that is on everyone’s mind.

The definition of what it means to be essential has become critical recently. This definition will determine how people will be spending their days in the weeks to come, and will likely change the way we all think about individuals, services, and products that we might have previously taken for granted.

As only essential businesses remain open, the image of a crowded city sidewalk may feel like a hazy memory in this new age of social distancing. As we wake up every day, we continue to understand that the way things were, and the way things are now, are radically different. We don’t even know what that fully means yet – all that we know is that it is dramatically different.

Essential: absolutely necessary; indispensable.

Some companies are discovering that even the best business continuity plans may have had a few holes, while other companies that had never contemplated a business interruption plan are learning the hard way about the lack of preparation.

Those who are in businesses that have been labeled non-essential might be feeling an added element of “insult to injury,” even if they understand it intellectually while many of the individuals deemed to be essential might gladly surrender that label at this time.

For some individuals, whether labeled essential or non-essential, it means that they will be working from home for the foreseeable future. For many, it is uncertain when, or even if, they will go back to work.

Welcome to the new normal

If you’re a leader of a team, a company, or a city, there is one universal constant that has always been true: our most valuable assets are our people. We are all connected – always have been. At this time though, it might be a little clearer how the actions of each individual can have an impact on others in their orbit and beyond.

If you lead a team that is now working remotely, consider yourself among the fortunate. And like everyone that you’re asking to step up, this is also your opportunity to step up and demonstrate the kind of leadership that can cement the team’s purpose and build goodwill for the long haul.

Check in to check-in

For many now-remote workers, their regularly scheduled check-in meetings are phone calls, and many of these calls are conducted in a “business as usual” fashion, which means that the focus is entirely on the status of projects, the logistics of keeping things on track and finding new business.

It is important for leaders to recognize that there is nothing “usual” in the current environment, and conducting these meetings as such ignores the elephant in the room.

What is needed now more than ever in these meetings is a sense of connection.

Recall Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Until the basic need for safety and security are met, people are unable to attend to the higher needs. Anxiety and uncertainty are the emotions of the day, and these emotions will interfere with the “let’s get it done” theme of a normal check-in meeting.

While it is certainly important to discuss the business at hand on a check-in call, savvy leaders will take time to really check in on how people are feeling. These leaders will budget time in the meeting to allow folks to share their thoughts and feelings and have a deeper conversation. The easiest way to ensure that happens is to simply take the lead and initiate it. Acknowledging your own uncertainties is what some call “showing vulnerability.”

I call it “keeping it real.”

Asking others to participate in the dialog will help to foster a sense of connection, which may help to mitigate some of the anxiety. Similarly, it is also important to check in periodically with your team on an unscheduled basis to maintain the connections. Likewise, encourage your team to do the same with their colleagues. As a result of our daily interactions being disrupted, more than ever, everyone needs to feel connected.

Leverage younger employees

Often the butt of jokes about an inability to communicate in-person, the younger employees on your team may suddenly be a valuable resource on how to communicate effectively in a remote working environment.

Your millennial and the Gen-Z employees have grown up with technology and possess a unique awareness about how to communicate through the use of video and other social media platforms. Savvy leaders will harness this skill set and afford these younger employees a chance to demonstrate their leadership in orchestrating new ways to communicate and stay connected.

Your younger employees have always been on the leading edge of technology and driven by a sense of purpose. Now is a good time to harness that. Give these younger employees opportunities to take on new responsibilities for not just facilitating communication, but maintaining connection.

The simple act of replacing a phone call with a video call can make a big difference in a team’s morale. Although it isn’t the same as being in the room together, the visual component brings everyone closer. Another creative way to maintain connections is to hold a virtual happy hour, where everyone shows up with a drink and has a conversation over video. Get creative!

Lead with empathy

This is as much about acting as a business leader as it is about acting as a human being. We are all living in the new normal, and this is a good time to recognize what has always mattered: people.

People are resilientcreative, and collaborative, and they will come together to rally around a common mission to support a goal that has resonance. This type of commitment and engagement has always been the cornerstone of success and value creation.

At its foundation, its about having a connection. There are relationships and bonds that we all share now, even among those that we don’t know and may never meet. Take the profound appreciation for healthcare workers, teachers, and supermarket employees, for example.

We all have people in our lives that are essential to us. Reach out to check in on them, because we are essential to them.

If you have parents or grandparents, spend some time talking to them. They may not understand what’s going on – not that we have all the answers, but talking about it might help.

Kids at home? They might enjoy missing school for a few days, but they also have fears about this new normal. Put away the phones and take advantage of the opportunity to be present with them by sharing meals, playing games, and making memories. It all goes so fast.

This new normal will eventually pass, and hopefully, we will soon be back to “business as usual.” In the meantime, find ways to learn from this experience and try to make life a little better for your families, friends, and colleagues.

Be intentional about staying connected, and most of all, find ways to demonstrate compassion and consideration for one another. We’re all in this together, and the only way to come out of this is together.

We are all connected.

We are all essential.