Blog Post

In Times of Crisis, We Need to Lead with Humanity—Here’s How

Kimberly Cassady

Chief Talent Officer, Cornerstone

It’s been nearly a month since our company—and many across the country—instituted a telecommuting work policy for all employees. And with it, a new dynamic is emerging: an up-close-and-personal tenor to employee relationships.

We’re physically separate but working from home means we’re connecting with each other in deeply personal contexts. Over video chat, I’ve seen my colleagues’ living rooms, kitchens and bedrooms; caught glimpses of their partners or roommates; even met their children. While many of us have worked from home before, there’s something different about all of us being thrust into it on a much larger scale—without the time to prepare a workspace, often sharing that workspace and trying to juggle the responsibilities of work and home simultaneously.

It might feel awkward or uncomfortable at times. But my advice for everyone in this situation is to lean in and put people first. Being authentic is what’s going to get us through this period of stress and uncertainty. Lead by example and treat each other with care, empathy and patience. We’re all adjusting to a new normal and grappling with the anxieties and uncertainties that come with it. While social distancing requires us to separate from other humans, it does not require that we separate ourselves from our humanity.

Maintain a Regular Practice of Authenticity

Authenticity is not something that comes naturally to everyone in the workplace. For leadership teams especially, it can be tempting to try to inspire employees during stressful times with shows of calm and confidence.

But there’s a fine line between demonstrating steadiness and coming off as cold and unempathetic. In doing so, we risk alienating our colleagues and teams. Moreover, while trying to maintain a business-as-usual attitude might be well-intentioned, it can give employees the sense that the company is prioritizing the business over its employees. People need to know they are safe and supported, and furthermore, they are hoping the companies they work for are willing to be open on a deeply human level.

In any crisis, what employees need is leadership that gives them permission to be themselves. Encourage employees to talk about their stresses and don’t feel you need to have the answers. Being heard is a great step in starting to navigate change. It’s okay to show up without makeup on, holding your dog, laughing when kids are running in the background, or even give a home tour on your next video conference. If you can be authentic and show your vulnerable side, your employees will thank you for being relatable.

Find Ways to Connect and Grow

At Cornerstone, learning and development are core not only to our business but to our team culture. And in times of uncertainty, virtual collaboration and learning opportunities are critical. That means we’re doing what we can to provide online training and learning content to improve remote collaboration and help global teams stay engaged and connected. It’s critical that organizations demonstrate their commitment to contributing to the greater good of the community by forgoing business as usual, developing people-first policies and prioritizing the delivery of essential products, services or resources to those who need it most.

This goes beyond supporting Cornerstone’s employees—we wanted to make sure we could help anyone who is transitioning to remote work use these resources, too. Through the Cornerstone Cares site, an online public learning platform with free training on managing stress during uncertain times and maintaining a successful level of productivity when working from home, people around the world can equip themselves with the tools to adapt to the new norm. Knowing the effects of this crisis go well beyond the workplace, we also put together a playlist with courses on topics like isolation, depression and anxiety to help workers prioritize their mental health while staying safe at home.

At Cornerstone, we’re also transforming our regular quarterly Development Days into a daily Development Hour, where our employees teach their peers skills they’ve mastered in their personal lives, like knitting or yoga or negotiating. Now that we’re all remote, we’re simply hosting them virtually—and first on the agenda are stay-at-home initiatives like how to do chair yoga and even cooking classes.

This familiar practice helps bring everyone back to personal connections and humanity, and hopefully gives everyone a center of gravity again—even if temporarily.

Put People First, Always

It’s the responsibility of the leadership and HR teams to create a safe working space for employees every single day and to continue to engage workers even while remote. Employees are looking to HR for guidance and support during this stressful time. They want to know that they can take care of themselves and their families—through sick leave, remote work or flexible schedules—without penalty. It’s incredibly important that organizations are giving options to their people, not only because it’s the right thing to do during a public health crisis, but because the way a company reacts during this particular moment will have an impact on the overall employee experience.

But it’s also the responsibility of each individual person, whether you’re a manager or the most junior person on a team. Connect first with humanity and with empathy before connecting logistically. It’s an ingredient that’s easy to overlook.

Remember that the wellbeing of your community – including employees, customers, partners, vendors – is essential to reach the goals you’re trying to accomplish as a business. The reality is that all of us are feeling unsure. But if we develop a people-centric work culture and collaborate as human beings first, we can get through this together and stronger.

Navigating how to best serve our people is a daily challenge—I’m sure you’re experiencing the same. I’d love to have a conversation about strategies for putting people first. Please comment below or reach out to me on Twitter: @YILuvMyJob.

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