With the sudden rise and spread of COVID-19, along with the necessary efforts to contain it, the working world has changed drastically in a matter of weeks. While people are coping with uncertainty about their health, safety, and employment, they are also suddenly adjusting to the stress and challenges of working from home.
As a leader, you need to feel connected and supported too. The very best leaders never go it alone. Every president has a cabinet, every emperor had advisors, and you can use some additional resources as well.
Before we get into how the leader inside us can thrive in this remote landscape, let’s talk about why we truly need to.
The two main reasons why we must learn to overcome the current challenges and thrive are:
- Humans are wired for connection
- Uncertainty breeds anxiety
Humans Are Built for Connection
Our desire to connect and work together is deeply ingrained in our neurobiology. Those who connected were the ones who survived. As circumstances that are out of our control force us apart, we experience heightened feelings of isolation and anxiety that can take a toll on our work and wellbeing.
Before we dig too deep, let’s focus on the multiple challenges of remote work that are related to our need for connection. MIT Sloan Management Review identified four:
1. Workplace Isolation
Working from home can trigger the feeling of working in a vacuum. Without the connections we’re accustomed to, we can start to feel isolated — which can lead to anxiety and depression.
2. Lack of Face-to-Face Communication
When all communication is digitally mediated, we lose the “good mornings,” casual check-ins, and break room chats. It becomes more difficult to get simple questions answered or to brainstorm. This requires everyone to become intentional about communicating and routinely checking in with their team members.
3. Lack of Visibility
There’s a tendency to decrease our workflow without direct encouragement from leaders. No judgement, it’s just easier to forget our priorities. As a result, the trust at the core of a working relationship can suffer.
4. Work-Life Balance
Healthy connections are all about knowing when to connect and disconnect. Maintaining proper boundaries and regular schedules can be a big challenge for those new to working at home.
Uncertainty Creates Anxiety
Responding negatively to uncertain things is part of what makes you human. It’s part of what keeps people safe and alive. If no one ever feared the unknown and always went blazing ahead into danger, humans wouldn’t have lasted very long on this planet.
Worrying about the uncertain, even today, helps survival. Yet despite the evolutionary benefits of avoiding the uncertain, prolonged bouts of uncertainty can be debilitating.
“fear of the unknown is a—and possibly the—fundamental fear of human beings” – Nicholas Carleton, Ph.D
Think back to when COVID-19 hit the news. Every aspect of our lives became uncertain. Will my family members and I get sick? Will this affect my travel? Will I lose clients or colleagues? When we don’t know how important events will turn out, we find ourselves feeling uncomfortable.
Psychologists call this ‘Intolerance of Uncertainty.’ Uncertainty leads to much more than just discomfort, and sometimes directly results in anxiety or fear. In fact, researchers even think that a fear of the unknown is a—and possibly the—fundamental fear of human beings. When everyone, everywhere is facing uncertainty, our collective ‘Intolerance of Uncertainty’ can grow more exponentially than the number of COVID-19 cases.
This means that you’re not alone in your anxiety. Most people are experiencing this to at least some degree. Research shows when unexpected events, such as pandemics, happen it can affect people’s mood, potentially creating day to day fluctuations in how we feel. Additionally, research indicates mood can affect decision-making, which is itself inherently linked to how we respond to daily life.
Worse yet, for those already prone to mental health issues, times of uncertainty can make symptoms worse.
The New Mindset Crisis
Moreover, the ‘Corona crisis’ is creating a mindset crisis with no apparent solution in sight. Mindsets are mental states that encapsulate our beliefs about success, failure, and the expected outcomes of our effort. Many people are now clearly experiencing a pessimistic outlook for the future.
Fortunately, mindsets aren’t fixed. Rather, they are malleable mental states we can control. We have the power to intentionally re-shape our current mindset in helpful ways that will serve us well as we deal with the uncertainty that lies ahead.
Many are feeling anxious and somewhat disconnected from work. Fortunately, it’s never been easier to work remotely. So, while fears may remain, we can regain our sense of certainty, and fight isolation by learning to thrive remotely.
So, what can leaders do to help their teams fight uncertainty and isolation? Our answer is simple; focus on the little things. Rather than focusing on what’s insurmountable and uncontrollable, we can focus on small wins, intentional micro-moments, and genuine conversations.
Now more than ever, the micro-actions of leaders will create a macro-impact on the wellbeing and the mindset of teams across the globe.
Leading Others to Thrive Remotely
So, what are the little things leaders should focus on?
As leaders, there needs to be a focus on cultivating positive mindsets, reframing challenges as opportunities, and unifying the team in their virtual environment.
If all this sounds daunting, the good news is, as a leader, you can improve your own skills in as little as two minutes each day. By adopting evidence-based remote leadership approaches, you can also eliminate some of the uncertainty, isolation, and anxiety that your employees might be facing.
These research-backed strategies can help you and your team thrive in a remote environment. Here are a few examples of our daily actions and explanations for why/how they can help you tackle the challenges your team may face while working remotely:
Fight your team’s Isolation by asking how they’re feeling
Research shows that being attuned to others’ feelings is a key component of emotional intelligence. Engaging these skills enables leaders to provide useful social support while maintaining positive relationships with and among their employees. The process will generally be beneficial for both a leader and an employee, while continuing to build their relationship.
Bring your team together with interpersonal connection
To prevent feelings of isolation, and workflow blockages caused by distance, it is key to support interaction and communication in virtual work. Research on remote work suggests that to be effective, social interactions must be more intentional, direct, and explicit than they would be in comparable face-to-face interactions. This can benefit the work product and employee wellness.
Reframe challenges as opportunities to grow
When it comes to dealing with crisis situations, such as COVID-19, teams often need inspiration to carry them through. Transformational leaders are those who act as role-models and give attention to individual needs. Research has shown these types of leaders have teams who view change more positively. This is likely because the team views themselves as capable of not just getting through the experience but perhaps as even growing from it. Feeling secure with one’s leadership during the process of navigating a crisis has also been shown to further increase resiliency.
Although people might complain about their jobs, in truth, working does more for us than just providing a paycheck. It gives a sense of purpose and meaning. It also provides structure for the week and encourages a regular schedule. A few weeks ago, we might have been working for the weekend, and now it is difficult to tell one day from the next. To keep mental health intact we need to avoid too much isolation at home. An expert on isolation, astronaut Scott Kelly, offered advice about managing during COVID-19—“Take it from someone who couldn’t: Go outside.”
What Do You Do Now?
There’s a digital tool for everything. We use technology to count our steps, help us meditate, and even remind us to drink water. It makes sense — we’re in turbulent times and we need the right tools to keep us on track. Now, more than ever, we need help snapping out the constant cycle of uncertain news. We need to get off the rollercoaster of anxiety and dodge the perils of isolation.
It is important to remember this won’t happen on its own and that we all need the right tools to help us and our teams prevent feelings of isolation, uncertainty, and anxiety.
This is where ProHabits comes in.
ProHabits can be that tool, giving you the expertise you seek to thrive at your work and lead others to thrive as well.
Delivered by email or text, ProHabits provides opportunities for leadership growth through daily bite-sized actions. These actions offer guidance, inspiration, and a dose of delight to help leaders tackle evolving challenges. Each action is backed by research and designed to be completed in 2 minutes or less.
ProHabits usually provides customized experiences that help companies create and track movement towards their highly complex people goals. From self-awareness to leading by action, ProHabits curates daily growth aligned to organizational goals.
To help beat the mindset crisis, ProHabits is offering a free month of actions to help the world Thrive Remotely. It’s our way of giving back to support local, national, and global programs to help rebuild the economy.
Over 20 work days, ProHabits will train the most critical leadership habits that will help you overcome uncertainty and isolation to bring your remote teams together.
All it takes is 2 minutes a day.
We send you daily actions through email or text.
If you commit to an action in the morning, another message arrives later to ask if you did it.
You can sign up and start ProHabits today at no cost. Just follow this link and enter your name and email at the bottom of the following page: https://prohabits.com/thrive
Do this for yourself, do this for each other.