This year has been earth-shattering. There’s no doubt the COVID-19 pandemic has altered our world forever. Global stock markets, economies and health care systems have felt the tremors, and the aftershocks will keep coming for a while to come. Fortunately, the shelter-in-place and other policies adopted by the government, enabled Trinidad and Tobago to, re-open offices, restaurants, hotels, recreational venues including our breath-taking beaches, in phases. While there have been many benefits of sheltering at home, from being able to have more time to enjoy family meals and recreation time; finding a quiet space for a home office, juggling distance learning for children, housework and preparing meals, have been a challenge for many.
The New Normal
Today, while COVID-19 rages around us, millions of people have been infected worldwide and sadly many lives have been lost. Locally, Trinidad and Tobago have lost souls to this pandemic and the borders for now remain closed. As we know, “No man is an island…every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” As the rates of infection continue to rise, almost exponentially for our neighbours in the South American region, we must adapt this new reality and change the way we live and work. We must also understand the pandemic is not over, and we’ll have to be the ones to circumvent its effects
Change is Inevitable
At Republic Bank, evolution is part of our DNA. Over the past decade we have focused on making inroads into developing our virtual communication network for colleagues and customers. As our institution continued to expand across the globe, from Guyana to Ghana, we broadened our communication channels. Having monitored the rapid spread of COVID-19 very closely from the beginning of the year, our Human Resources Department was ready to share information, present the next steps and listen to the questions and fears of our Republic Bank family. However, we also needed to enhance our network, allow flexi-time for essential staff and introduce mechanisms for additional feedback, as well as training.
How to Connect During a Crisis
How do you lead a team you don’t see daily; especially ones as diverse as those in companies across the Caribbean?
Here are some tips for ensuring your team continues to be passionate about their jobs:
Stay Connected: Develop a range of communication channels to keep in touch with members of your team and share topical, accurate, relevant information at scheduled times, as well as one-on-one sessions with colleagues via Team, Zoom, Skype, WhatsApp, FaceTime or whatever platform works for you. I have found weekly team meetings online (with cameras on), ensure a greater focus, thus, meetings have ultimately been shorter and highly productive. On the other hand, I have also scheduled more frequent one-on-one coffee chats with individuals, including my RBL Mentees. These chats are less formal than a group meeting, but now less beneficial and productive. I’ve done group coffee breaks as well, an idea which I actually “borrowed” from one of my HR managers who was having regular virtual coffee breaks with her small team.
Be responsive: Our HR Department had been closely monitoring the COVID-19 situation in China and Europe initially, and developing strategic procedures and programmes since February 3rd. Even before the pandemic was declared by the World Health Organization (WHO), a smaller committee of our Executive Leadership Team (ELT) met frequently to refine strategy and communicate with our wider RFHL team. During the government’s stay at home order, these meetings morphed into daily virtual meetings of the full ELT, at a fixed time. They zeroed in on being proactive and focusing on the requirements and needs of our customers and employees during this unusual and unprecedented period; anticipating needs and adjusting in advance were critical success factors.
A critical success factor was the ability to be flexible and not become wedded to an idea. The situations were so fluid, and each day our actions and decisions had to be guided by the Ministry of Health’s guidelines, adjusting as those adjusted. There was no playbook to follow and we were making up the rules as we went along. This I found particularly exciting. The entire team having voice, challenging ideas and landing on the best decisions for the majority. Our communication was frequent and focused, reflecting the concerns of the employee based on the daily feedback received from the network. In times of crisis people need to be kept in the know, they need to be listened to and to be given timely responses. As businesses began reopening, we conducted a PULSE survey among our teams in all territories and were not surprised when the majority of respondents were very satisfied and felt safe and well-informed during the shelter-in-place process.
Stick to the Agenda: Now more than ever there is a need to plan your meeting’s agenda and stick to it. Make your meeting inclusive and encourage discussion, but also ensure you stick to the time limit and allow others to go on with their workday. Also, don’t forget to applaud those who have achieved during these difficult times and develop creative ways for sharing issues affecting the productivity of the wider team.
Protect Your Mental and Physical Health: Make sure you listen to your body, mind and soul. These are challenging times and we must try to take breaks during the day, but also know when to switch off from work and relax. You may want to take a mid-morning coffee break, meditate, go for a walk or read. A break doesn’t have to be a yoga class. It could be something as routine and simple as washing dishes, which puts me in a different headspace, and it’s amazing how much clarity is brought to a challenging issue if I just walk away from the computer or desk and do something totally unrelated. Somehow, routine physical activity tends to clear mental space and open mental paths for answers to flow into your consciousness. Works for me anyway! Flexible work hours are also helpful, and like many other companies we have put those in place to a greater extent than previously obtained.
This pandemic has acted as a catalyst for change and those organisations and leaders who will continue to listen, evolve and embrace change are the ones that will emerge as the trailblazers in this decade and beyond. I’d love to hear of some of the challenges that you’ve encountered in the past few months and your strategies for dealing with them.