Employees doing online pizza class

Many great business leaders share a common belief: Employees are the main contributor to an organization’s success. These leaders know that when they hire great people and treat them well, these employees will provide clients with an excellent experience, and help the business thrive.

In 2012, I started  Pepper’s Personal Assistants, with this same approach. I focused on building a culture of “togetherness.” While our assistants work directly in client homes, we hold in-person meetings and social events throughout the year to continue building on our solid culture. There’s certain energy we gain from these face-to-face gatherings, and it reminds us that we’re all part of one team that likes to share successes, solve problems, support one another, and have fun.

Covid-19 forced us to cancel these meetings and shift to Zoom and other online forums. We truly miss connecting with each other in person. Our business faced many challenges, as our assistants were unable to perform work within client homes for nearly three months. As we worked to create a path forward for our team and our clients, we continued to focus on our core approach. Our employees needed support and not just at work, but for the uncertainties, they were facing in their personal lives as well.

I was honored to be included in this Wall Street Journal story: Battling Pandemic Blues: How Managers Can Rally the Troops. Here are a few additional thoughts I have on how to manage effectively and keep your focus on employees:

  •  Show grace – This is an unprecedented time, and employees are facing a number of different fears and uncertainties – for their own emotional and physical health and that of their families; stress from their children’s online learning; and isolation for those living alone or facing loss. Focus on supporting each employee as a whole person, not just a worker. Be patient and kind, as you may be the only source of stability and understanding in their lives right now.
  •  Continue offering pay and benefits – During the time when we could not visit client homes, we were fortunate to be able to continue paying our employees and offering benefits, thanks to many of our clients generously continuing with reduced packages.  This helped alleviate worries about financial stability during the shutdown. Team members were grateful and wanted to be productive during this time. We scheduled a number of online training sessions so they could build their skill sets in different areas. Our team also helped clients with tasks remotely, like doing online research and preparing children for remote learning.
  • Get in front of issues – Before the governor issued shutdown orders, we were already creating a plan and talking with employees and clients. We did the same when we were allowed back into client homes with safety protocols. Being transparent with my team is a central part of how I manage the business. Sharing challenges and approaches also means I’m open to the team’s input, ideas and support, all of which are integral to success as we move forward.
  • Provide a sense of purpose – Give team members projects that will stretch their skills and enable them to contribute in a meaningful way. One of our household managers, for example, is an excellent cook and gave our team a Zoom training on cooking techniques during the shutdown. Everyone loved it and learned from it. This employee gained new skills in planning and presenting a training to the team. She’s also now the “go-to” expert for questions on recipes and meal prep.
  • Hold meetings that aren’t focused on work – We’ve held Zoom meetings focused on self-care, with each employee offering a tip to their colleagues. I call employees regularly without an agenda, just to check in and ask how they’re doing and how I can support them. I want my team to know that I genuinely care and want to help them through this time, even if it’s just to listen or provide some encouragement.

This continues to be a challenging environment, but I’m proud of how our team continues to work through uncertainty and support one another. Communicating frequently, being transparent and treating your employees as people first will help keep your culture strong. Investing in your team will bring huge benefits: Once the pandemic is behind us, you’re likely to have a stronger and more cohesive team than ever before.

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