Leaders Facing the Unknown: Part 2 Businesses who adapt to meet their team's needs best will rise above the rest of the pack.

By Dee French

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

In part one of this series, we talked about the new challenges in dealing with your business during a world-shattering pandemic. Like a Poe story, there will be lulls and moments of sheer terror. Leaders need to keep it together. Remaining calm is the first step in securing the confidence of your staff.

This seems self-explanatory, but considering the collapse of several industries and the subsequent losses associated, it is reasonable to realize that leaders must take decisive action. Still, with so much of the nation's business infrastructure involuntarily shutting down — upwards of 40 million jobs lost in a matter of weeks and shelter-in-place orders sweeping the nation — it was clear most leaders were caught unprepared. The challenge of recognizing the relationships between industries affected and the pandemics long-term effects is a leader's first job.

Assess your organization's vulnerability. How does your organization fit into the schema of businesses shaken by Covid? Where does your company sit in relation to the industries most affected? Tourism, entertainment, sporting events and travel were the first to realize that they could not sustain their business model without service people and clients. The airline industry was shaken to the core when Covid restricted travel worldwide.

Your team needs you to quickly and calmly look at the big picture and determine which actions to take first. How are the industries you rely on affected? What about those who depend on you? Are there ways to strengthen your interactions and shore up weaknesses if you have lost businesses in the supply chain?

Related: Leaders Facing the Unknown: Part 1

Teams will need to be more adaptable and able to communicate their needs

Since there are few precedents for an event of this scale, a leader must have the ability to adapt, ask questions, rationally determine what choices remain open to a business and assess their level of risk to the business assessed first. The leader and their management team must evaluate the organization, make staff decisions and forecast the economic bottom line. Depending on the company's size, this may be the right time to judge new team members for their leadership potential.

I recommend honest communication. During a pandemic, every decision affects lives — figuratively and literally. If you have to cut staff, discuss it publicly and as soon as you make your decisions. This provides employees time to steady themselves and put their affairs in order. While layoffs will be traumatic for the team, you'll also need to reallocate former employee's work. Here is a sample of the questions you'll need to address under such circumstances:

  • If layoffs occur, who will be taking on the workload of the outgoing staff?

  • Was this a planned contingency? If not, how long will it take?

  • Will your organization engage in remote work during shelter-in-place?

  • If you will have in-office work, what will it cost to refit your facility to be safer and Covid-compliant?

  • How much of the business is affected when the staff can't meet physically?

  • How do we conduct job training when physical distancing is a requirement?

  • Are there remote technologies we can securely implement?

  • How much technology is necessary to work remotely, and who provides it? How secure is this technology, and are there reliable and timely support options for those who need help?

  • How much will moving to remote controls cost?

  • How much training will the staff need?

  • Do we have sufficient hardware, software and licensing to allow team members to work effectively from home?

Stress is destructive. Help your teams manage their stress levels.

Most Americans have never had to work with significant outbreaks, and it shows. The national response to masks and physical distancing has been varying and problematic in most parts of the nation. Your organization needs to recognize the science of the pandemic and establish norms that protect your staff and your business from Covid's threat. Stress management is the name of the game.

It takes time for teams to adjust to the new habits of wearing masks, physical distancing and working in their home offices. Many will also be dealing with their families full-time, which will become significantly more challenging (and stressful) since their children are likely to be home. Provide them with tools, resources and opportunities to reduce their stress levels. This is the perfect time to streamline operations requirements, improve processes and document information that your team may need in the future. Your staff will appreciate anything that eases their workload during this stressful time. Note the staff members who seem more capable of dealing with stress and ask them if they would be willing to take on just a bit more responsibility.

Working from home has become the new standard for organizations that can utilize technology like Google, Twitter and Facebook have done. Each has reduced its office staffing by 90-100% by having its teams work virtually from home. For those organizations that cannot work from home, it becomes imperative that you protect your workers' safety by any means necessary. Helping them acquire protective equipment, giving them the opportunity to flex time, and adequately prepare workspaces to protect them and you from further exposure to the virus.

Related: The Core Elements Needed to Pivot Your Business During a Pandemic

Vision and adaptability are crucial to future successful business ventures

Give your teams the capacity to innovate, experiment and to consider new ways of problem-solving. They are working in unprecedented times, and the freedom to create new ways to work becomes paramount. This isn't the end of the world. When the internet became a business tool, there was a great shakeup as organizations that could not conform to a new approach quickly become outdated. As the pandemic continues, or worse, if another pandemic strikes, you want to be ready to adapt and succeed.

Dee French

Entrepreneur Leadership Network Writer

Business & Life Strategist | Talent Acquisition | Global Speaker

Dee French is an author of three books and has been published in numerous publications. She is the founder of Efficiency Consulting. She teaches entrepreneurs leadership-development strategies that help them get more done, have a stronger mindset and build their business.

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