The current crisis is offering many businesses in South Africa an opportunity to rethink how they manage and motivate their teams.
The lockdown has been moved to level 4, with a small window opened for exercise as well as for some industries to reopen under strict conditions. But Employment and Labour Minister Thulas Nxesi has stressed that: “In returning to work, it cannot be business as usual.”
Under level 4, most people will be working from home and only those with live-in nannies will be able to have their childminders return to work. The rest still need to manage children and households while facing stresses surrounding their jobs.
As countries continue to deal with the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic, there will also be more instances of people falling ill and even passing away.
Managers will have to deal with grief and loss. In South Africa, they also need to manage the reality that in some parts of the country there is limited internet availability and electricity access for those trying to work remotely, causing additional stress.
So what does this new normal look like for managers? We suggest three shifts that are required by managers to get the best out of their teams in these challenging times.
Acknowledge that times are difficult and reassure your people
Even more than before, companies must keep employees updated on the business and related procedures, and need to consider ways to inform employees via a newsletter or personal email from a company leader on how the organisation is doing.
These communications should guard against being bland or overly cheerful, instead they should start by acknowledging that these are difficult times. Offering tangible help and support in terms of a company psychologist or counsellor as well as inviting employees to provide feedback and opinions on how to proceed at this time is also vital.
Reassuring employees in terms of their jobs and careers is also a big part of this. Managers need to give their subordinates as much clarity as possible, not only in terms of their financial future but also that the company values them and their contribution.
Be more aware of your team’s spiritual and psychological needs
Research shows that survival needs will always be prioritised. There are those who may say that what we are seeing is a new take on the well-known motivational theory of needs by renowned psychologist Abraham Maslow.
A case can be made that this pyramid has been turned on its head as our needs are changing owing to our new working conditions. This is applicable for those individuals who are able to work from home and who are fortunate to be paid a salary.
They may find themselves gravitating towards more spiritual and psychological needs. Isolated from friends, family and hobbies, and with lots of time on their hands, they may start asking questions about why they are doing what they are doing and if they really enjoy their careers, for example.
However, should the situation change and lower-level needs are no longer met, their attention will move to satisfying them before any others.
In recognising this, managers will need to adapt the way in which they interact with their teams. For some managers, the temptation to introduce new working daily schedules or strict meeting events may be strong, but a study published in the Harvard Business Review showed that employees in remote working conditions were motivated to perform better when they felt empowered in their jobs and when given latitude to experiment and find solutions to problems.
Instead of micro-managing, managers should be directing their efforts to helping their team set achievable goals – both personal and professional. Organisational psychologist Dr Paul P Baard suggests that goals can provide employees with a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment, even in uncertain times.
Step back and learn to trust more
Certain personality types, such as introverts, are proven to adapt better to working from home, while extroverts, who enjoy bouncing ideas off others, struggle more.
That is why being flexible and adaptable can yield greater results when it comes to operational procedures and new routines. But to embrace flexibility and adaptability, managers will need to learn to step back and trust more.
In the coming weeks, lockdown conditions will continue to evolve. Many, such as venture capitalist and former FNB chief executive Michael Jordaan, say there is every indication that life “will not go back to normal” after the lockdown. In particular, he believes that many employers will see the benefits of having people working from home.
Properly managed and motivated, remotely working teams have been shown to be good for business. Remote teams get more done and are healthier overall, while improving retention rates and cutting costs.
Viewed in this light, Covid-19 crisis can be seen as an opportunity for South African business which have been slow to embrace remote working to date to now perfect it.
Swart-Opperman is an industrial psychologist, entrepreneur and senior lecturer at the Allan Grey Centre for Values-Based Leadership in the Graduate School of Business at the University of Cape Town