How to lead in a crisis, according to LinkedIn’s people scientist

Stacey Barry, a community works administrator, prefers to not wear her mask while working as she feels safe against coronavirus disease (COVID-19) after wiping everything…
Stacey Barry, a community works administrator, prefers to not wear her mask while working as she feels safe against coronavirus disease (COVID-19) after wiping everything…
Image: REUTERS/David Jackson
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As a people scientist, my job is to meet with business leaders across industries and around the world and find ways to help their people be happier and more successful. As you can imagine, my job has taken on new urgency of late.

With the global outbreak of Covid-19, workforces everywhere have undergone a tectonic shift, seemingly overnight. Business leaders are being stretched and challenged in new ways, as they balance trying to address their employee concerns and fears with moving the business forward, and designing new policies centered on the many evolving needs of their workforce. Now, we’re all trying to learn how we can be the leaders our people need us to be in the age of Covid-19.

Do you know what I’ve discovered people need from their employer right now to remain happy, productive, and successful during times of distress?

The same things they need all the time.

My team’s research has shown that people want to feel valued and confident about the future of their organization, as well as their place in it. They also want to experience a sense of belonging, trust their leaders, be clear on where they should focus, and have a sense of stability in their work. These aspirations are true whether or not we’re fighting our way through a global pandemic.

While the fundamental needs of employees have essentially remained the same, this is a unique opportunity for organizations to demonstrate a people-centric approach, in a big way. Now is the time to find new ways to outline policies truly centered on the needs of people at work. Here are some ways to get started:

Check in. Then keep checking in

Interestingly, one of the most common concerns I hear from clients is that surveying employees right now feels like too much. Why give my people another thing to do? However, it’s more likely that your employees will see it as a signal that you value their input at this crucial point as the whole organization navigates a major change.

Every employee has unique circumstances at home, from balancing a day full of calls with teaching your kids fifth-grade math to finding space to set up a makeshift office in an apartment with five roommates. For us, collecting everyone’s feedback and identifying trends has helped us stay connected to our people.

My team at Glint, a platform that’s now part of LinkedIn, has gathered 2.5 million pieces of crisis-related employee feedback at more than 100 companies across the globe.

When leaders make sure that they’re checking in with their teams regularly, they’ve also learned that:

  • 90% of workers feel their company is doing a good job communicating with employees
  • 91% of workers feel their team is taking the right precautions to minimize impact
  • 85% of workers feel they have the resources they need to do their job

Test your own theories

At LinkedIn, we launched an internal ad-hoc pulse survey to understand what support our employees need to do their jobs remotely, and saw a 40% response rate within the first 24 hours. For context, that’s nearly double the number of employees who usually respond to a survey on the first day. Creating this feedback loop has provided crucial insights for our response teams on employee sentiment and needs, and it’s also given us valuable direction for helping leaders everywhere.

If you’re a business leader, your workload has likely increased, probably along with your stress load. If you don’t have the resources to start from scratch, one simple way to create a channel of communication is adding some relevant Covid-19-related questions to an already planned survey, or launching an ad-hoc survey on the topic. You can set up a virtual suggestion box on your employee services platform, and post the link in existing communication channels. This doesn’t require a huge communications effort, and it allows employees to provide feedback and ideas on an ongoing basis, especially in situations like the present, when needs can rapidly change.

Communication creates resilience

You don’t need to have all the answers, and your employees don’t expect you to. But a simple way to help managers in a crisis like we’re experiencing now is to make sure they have line of sight into employee sentiment so they can have more meaningful, structured conversations. When managers are able to surface strengths and gaps in their communication strategies, or specific locations and roles that may require extra support, it translates to a more resilient overall business model.

It’s also important to arm managers with insight from employee feedback so they can have the right conversations. You don’t need a survey to have a conversation. A few weeks ago at Glint, we realized we needed to adjust our one-on-one conversation templates to include a few simple questions about support and prioritization. People’s needs vary depending on the individual, and they change over time. Having regular check-ins, with or without survey results, is one of the best ways to proactively support your team’s well-being.

Be mindful

Give people the opportunity to check in on their own wellbeing while working. This new normal is stressful, both personally and professionally, and it’s important to provide employees with flexibility, the tools, and the time they need to reset and be mindful.

There are endless studies and resources that show how mindfulness can have an impact on overall wellbeing, from productivity to memory to immune health. But finding the right starting point can be tricky, and even overwhelming. Here are three simple components I often employ that I’ve seen help people and teams thrive:

  • Reflect. This doesn’t have to be a big deal. It can be as simple as taking two minutes from your workday to stare out the window, stretching for five minutes, or putting away your phone and laptop for a short screen break. This step is important because it helps create a mental list of the things that matter most right now.
  • Connect. Establish and identify your own social support system to help cope during challenging times. According to science we’re in fact physically and mentally healthier when we have a network of people to help provide encouragement, resources, guidance, and a sense of belonging.
  • Prioritize. Times of distress can be a catalyst of sorts, and can prompt us to take a fresh look at our priorities. But it can also make it feel like every single task is urgent. This is an excellent opportunity to be kind to others by taking initiative to de-prioritizing projects, activities, and processes that are non-urgent and non-essential. This can provide some much-needed relief for your employees, and can help ensure everyone’s priorities are aligned.

Leaders around the world are turning to online learning to improve the communication, leadership, and management skills they need right now. From February to March, the number of professionals director-level and above taking a LinkedIn Learning course increased  41% faster month-over-month than all other seniority levels. In response to the changing Covid-19 working climate, Linkedin has started offering free LinkedIn Learning courses on everything from mindfulness and stress management to help you build up your self-care toolbox to courses to help leaders clearly communicate and influence positive change in times of crisis.

Learn as much as we can from each other

I believe it’s more important than ever to lean on each other. Since February, we’ve watched conversations on Linkedin using the hashtag #coronavirus grow more than 28-fold, alongside topics like #prevention, #safety, and #wellbeing, as members share content to help raise awareness. We’ve seen members raising their hands to ask for help, and our community opening up forums to offer helpful advice to one another. I encourage you, too to share the strategies that are working best—along with those that are not quite going as anticipated.

Leading a team during Covid-19 is hard and overwhelming. It’s uncharted territory for all of us. But it’s also given us a new opportunity for organizations to demonstrate how important their people are—and a good reminder we are in this together.