How the Pandemic Can Make Your Team Stronger

It’s often remarked that adversity breeds resilience, creativity, and character. This holds true not only for individuals, but for teams and organizations, as well. Certainly, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought its fair share of adversity, including disruptions to productivity; shake-ups to team dynamics; ongoing mental health concerns, including anxiety about contracting the disease; and beyond. Yet many teams have already seen how the “new normal” may in fact make them stronger, more productive, and more innovative than ever before.

How about you? Have you found that the pandemic has caused you to jettison old habits or dated practices that were holding you back? Has your team developed some new rhythms and processes that allow you to work more efficiently, to deliver superior products, or to be more supportive of each other in the workplace?

In truth, there are many ways in which the pandemic might make your team stronger. Let’s take a closer look at just a few of them.

How COVID-19 is Strengthening Teams

1) Increased agility.

With more and more employees working remotely, and with a high level of uncertainty even in the most stable of work environments, many teams have learned to be more agile, nimbler on their feet. For example, rather than having lengthy in-person meetings, companies are adopting shorter check-ins over Zoom. Rather than plan all their projects for the next 12 months, teams are focusing more on one- or two-month “sprints,” prioritizing tasks according to urgency. This increased agility is something many teams will benefit from even if/when we return to some semblance of pre-pandemic normal.

2) Greater collaboration.

You might assume that the shift toward mostly remote work environments would cause teams to become more siloed. Actually, a lot of the businesses we’ve worked with have expressed the opposite: Their employees feel more freedom than ever before to collaborate across departments, finding it easy and comfortable to do so in quick Skype chats or Zoom breakout sessions. This propensity toward collaboration is definitely something for teams to hold onto.

3) More empathy and understanding.

Have you had the experience of one of your children wandering into the middle of a big Zoom meeting, or a howling dog disrupting a conference call? Here’s the thing: Most of us have been there. We’re all just trying to do the best we can, making the most of this strange new work environment. And as such, most of us are more willing than ever to extend grace and compassion to the folks we work with.

4) Trust and accountability.

Many team leaders have wrestled with these issues; if everyone is working remotely, how can standards of accountability be enforced? The good news is that most employees really seem to have figured out how to stay on-task autonomously. They know that they’re accountable for the effort they put in, and that failure to do their job can impact the whole team in an adverse way. Also note that leaders and managers are getting better and better at clearly articulating team goals and individual expectations.

5) Increased candor.

One additional way in which teams are getting stronger is in increased candor. In small group Zoom calls and one-on-one Skype meetings, employees feel empowered to offer honest feedback, including constructive criticism they may not have voiced in a more traditional work setting. This is great news for leaders and managers, who can use this candid feedback to build their businesses better than ever.

These are just a few ways in which we see teams getting stronger, tougher, more flexible, and more productive. We hope to see many of these trends continue well into the future.

Any questions? We’d love to talk with you. Reach out to WhiteWater Consulting at your next convenience.

Prioritizing Mental Health in the Workplace, Post-COVID

As more businesses welcome employees back to the workplace, HR leaders have understandably prioritized physical health and safety. This is entirely appropriate in the wake of the pandemic: Workplaces can and should do everything in their power to promote hygiene and support employee wellbeing.

It is crucial to remember, though, that employee wellness is about more than physical safety. Mental health is also a significant concern. Keep in mind that many employees will return to work feeling anxious, afraid, or depressed; some will be carrying grief from loved ones they have lost, or trepidation that they might become sick themselves. Others may simply feel nervous due to changes and uncertainty in our work environments.

Mental Health as a Priority

Due to these concerns, it is critical that employers and HR leaders develop their back-to-work plans with employee mental health in mind.

Indeed, mental health is a major source of concern for many business leaders. Businessolver recently published the results of their fifth annual State of Workplace Empathy Study, where they found that CEOs, HR leaders, and employees agree that mental health should be a key consideration in the workplace. And yet, the same study also shows that just 69 percent of employees feel that their workplace is sensitive to mental health concerns.

Digging deeper into the numbers, we find the following:

  • Many employees are afraid to reveal their mental health struggles, with 64 percent saying they are concerned about confidentiality. Their fear is that, in being honest about their mental health issues, they could jeopardize their job security.
  • There is a disconnect between employees and leaders. An overwhelming 86 percent of CEOs give their companies high marks for open discussion of mental health issues… but only 58 percent of employees agree.
  • Similarly, 76 percent of CEOs note that their workplaces offer mental health benefits, but only about half of employees are aware of these benefits! Awareness-raising will be a key issue moving forward.
  • About 92 percent of employees say their companies should do more… and 100 percent of HR leaders agree!

What we see here is that mental health concerns loom large among employees and business leadership; and that there remains much work to be done in creating workspaces where mental health is addressed with honesty and sensitivity.

Take Action

As HR leaders start considering their options for improving mental health in the workplace, especially amidst a post-COVID re-opening, there are a few preliminary action steps that we can commend.

  • Start talking honestly and openly about mental health. Make your workplace an environment where people feel comfortable talking about these issues without fear. This must start at the top: Leaders and executives must be the ones who model transparency and vulnerability.
  • Create support systems in which employees can talk with each other not only about logistical aspects of their jobs, but also emotional ones. This may look like team huddles where emotional issues are expressly raised. It may also mean pairing employees to check in with each other in a more confidential, one-on-one setting (such as a “coffee buddies” program).
  • Finally, it is so crucial for employers and HR leaders to develop benefits packages that include mental health care… and, to make sure the scope of those mental health benefits is discussed openly with employees. Again, raising awareness and rejecting stigma will be important going forward.

Ready to find out more about designing (and communicating) benefits packages that put mental health as a priority? Reach out to our team at WhiteWater Consulting at any time.