Taking care of your people in the face of uncertainty

Protecting and supporting your people (and ultimately your business) in the face of the evolving COVID-19 situation requires decisive action. While it’s clear that many familiar and habitual business practices have to change rapidly, the path forward is ambiguous.

Whether or not our organizations have a disaster plan or an emergency preparedness protocol in place to manage operations, we are all struggling with our individual acute-stress responses to a tangible threat — and that’s hard. It’s hard for front-line workers. It’s hard for people managers. And it’s really hard for leaders who are responsible for not only the business but also the people at the heart of the business.

While we need to manage the mechanics of travel bans, hygiene protocol and very real business-continuity issues, the impact on people should be prioritized.

5 things leaders can do now to support individuals and teams 

Adjust expectations 

Day-to-day work will likely be a roller coaster in the coming months as we adjust business-development strategies in the wake of cancelled events, wrestle with supply-chain challenges and face additional unexpected consequences. People are going to be distracted, and productivity is going to decline — plan on it. Approach this actuality with empathy and provide meaningful direction on exactly what the team can do to add the most value under the circumstances. Helping people adjust objectives to fit changing priorities is one of the most impactful things you can do to minimize distractions and support productivity.

Rewrite the rules 

Consider setting aside some of your standard policies or practices that won’t serve business needs at this time. If an employee tells you they have symptoms, trust them. Now is not the time to be auditing paid time off; reassure your team that they will be supported through any required self-isolation or sick leave. Forgo the doctor’s note and either excuse staff from work or allow them to return to the job. Insisting on following procedure will only put further strain on our medical system and create unnecessary stress and anxiety for employees who need to focus on getting well and observing recommended isolation protocols.

Enable effective remote work 

If your people can work remotely, adopt the practice widely — but make sure they receive the tools and resources they need to succeed. Many employers provide flexibility to work remotely, but practices may be ad hoc and lack critical support systems. Be prepared to stress test your ability to function as a fully distributed workforce and reduce friction by ensuring everyone knows what is expected when working from home. Consider communication practices that may need to change, hours (work from home may not follow the typical nine-to-five format, if that’s how you work now) and performance management. Make sure everyone feels included and supported while working in separate locations.

Prepare people managers

Communication and connection should be top of mind for leaders at all levels. Share all relevant information with your management team and err on the side of overcommunicating to support extreme transparency. Make sure people managers are providing frequent team updates, in real time, to foster open Q & A opportunities. Regular one-on-ones are always important — don’t let this practice slide during stressful times. Stay informed by reading Health Canada Outbreak Updates and announcements from trusted, validated resources. Here are our picks:

Foster resilience 

It’s easy to become overwhelmed by the state of the world on any given day. Big issues like climate change and poverty, and the 24-7 news cycle, contribute to a general sense of unease. Throw in a global health threat, and we have a situation in which employees will struggle with more-acute anxiety. Acknowledging emotional and mental health impacts experienced by employees is a critical business activity; don’t skip it even if it’s uncomfortable.


Whenever colleagues get caught up in panic, respond with a fact-based, problem-solving approach. At the same time, support your team by encouraging them to get enough rest, exercise and healthy food. Taking care of our physical bodies significantly contributes to our mental well-being. Help co-workers focus on filling their cups with activities they find meaningful, such as spending time with family, hobbies or social activities.