The COVID-19 pandemic is having an impact on most businesses right now. For employers and managers there are instant challenges. Dr Tshidi Gule, a medical doctor and employee wellness strategist, shares some advice on how best to navigate this challenging time. Redefining productivity in a fragmented work set upFor many, our work is tied to our sense of identity. So, while employees are dealing with this transition, employers and their management teams are experiencing it as well. We’re all adjusting to a whole new working environment, which is actually now intertwined with our own personal spaces. Being restricted at home is a shock to anyone’s system – both personally and professionally.“For a lot of people, home is a place of rest, not a place of activity, especially not work activity. So, I think what COVID-19 has done is force us to redefine what productivity is,” says Dr Gule. This can be challenging for many whose homes are not set up for productive work efforts: some have limited home space, and many others have to work in a space that is shared with other home occupants such as a family of multiple ages, friends, peers and pets.“So, trying to create a work space that allows you to almost simulate your office environment is the first challenge,” says Dr Gule. Employers and employees who are working at home all need to figure out the most realistic, practical and manageable structure within their personal spaces.Learn to lead by exampleProductivity may be somewhat fragmented right now, but teams can still find ways to work effectively together while they’re physically apart. Employees are naturally going to look to their superiors for guidance and mentorship. “It can be more difficult to manage people working from home” Dr Gule says. “It’s important to communicate responsibly and to be responsive.” she adds. Managers will be feeling similar levels of anxiety as employees. Dr Gule recommends that managers figure out a solution to manage their own feelings and challenges. Take breaks from the constant stream of phone calls and emails as these can become overwhelming at times. Then, as a manager, you are better equipped to lead and maintain a sense of calm.Establish a structure for connectionMany businesses already have a virtual infrastructure in some way or another. Managers can use these to establish connections and maintain communication within their own team, and the rest of the business. Existing tools such as email, Microsoft Teams, Skype and Zoom can boost communication channels. Managers also need to outline communication flows for teams. Employees will need guidance to understand what the reporting line is, how they can address concerns or issues, and what the process is for handling a particular kind of problem or how to engage fellow colleagues on a specific project.Human resource managers provide supportHuman resource managers are dealing with a new way of handling teams and supporting businesses too. They now need to be able to handle additional panic and anxiety. For these managers, Dr Gule suggests a similar starting point. Begin with the existing structures you may already have in place, such as employee assistance programmes (EAPs). These types of programmes, for example the Healthy Company offering by Discovery, can help employees manage their emotional, physical and financial wellbeing. Official information that is shared by government and health authorities can be shared with employees through these channels. Channel this appropriately within teams by using existing communication tools, such as email or even WhatsApp.Dr Gule suggests that reminders of available resources and supportive communication help people to focus on their work while coping with their personal circumstances. Many people are understandably concerned about how secure their jobs are during these uncertain times. People are worried about what safety nets are available if their ability to earn is compromised by this health crisis.“It’s important for employers to emphasise that employees must retain their current funds. So, if you’ve got a provident fund, keep it in place. Pension fund, keep it in place. This initial panic of trying to cash in on whatever you have is very risky. It’s important not to use COVID-19 as a defining moment of our financial wellbeing. Yes, it’s a pandemic. Yes, it is an unexpected strain. Yes, it’s going to hit the economy for a while, but it is going to pass,” adds Dr Gule.Supporting staff through their health concernsWith infection rates increasing, it’s entirely possible that an employee or a member of their family will be affected by COVID-19 illness. Employees need to know that their employers care about this. Again, Dr Gule suggests using the employee assistance programme structure or any other available employee programme. Many of these already have telephonic or other virtual connection mechanisms in place as well as a hotline for psychological support. Make sure everyone knows about this helpline and who they can speak to about any concerns or worries.Dr Gule’s quick tips for managersHave a clear daily communication planTake time out for yourself every dayRespond and engage with your team, even if you don’t have all the answers For advice on how to manage your business and employees during COVID-19, you can access the Discovery COVID-19 Employer Toolkit on the Discovery website, for free.This post and content is sponsored, written and provided by Discovery.