The importance of asking your team, ‘how are you?’ during the pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic forced many companies—including my own—to shift from working in an office to switch to working from home. This new context in which we were operating forced me to evolve and grow as a leader. To a certain extent, I had previously relied on passing conversations and individual meetings to keep folks informed. In the office, I almost assumed people knew my thinking and intent via osmosis by simply from being in the same room. Once we were all remote, I realized that I had to become significantly more intentional and open with communications for the team. Also, like many other CEOs, I faced innumerable decisions and challenges that had to be addressed quickly.

Pre-pandemic, one of the ways I would touch base and check in with folks was by breaking the team into groups of roughly eight people. The agenda for these meetings was simple. It was time for individuals to ask me anything. I’d spend an hour with each group. They would ask me questions that were top of mind, and I would try my best to answer them. These meetings, which we called “tea time” (since we would bring in fancy pastries and tea), were an opportunity for me to get a feel for the pulse of the organization and an opportunity for others to gain insight into my thinking. The questions were far ranging. People asked about everything from “which new initiatives do you find most exciting?” to “what kind of furniture are we going to buy for the front patio?”

When the pandemic hit, each of us on the team, myself included, were dealing with a wide range of emotions—from anxiety, fearfulness, grief a sense of loss—along with the reality that the world simply wasn’t the same. Additionally, companies were shuttering, conducting layoffs, and freezing hiring. It became evident that I would need to evolve my communication style.

When there is so much that can’t be controlled, I knew I had to provide greater visibility into the decisions we were making, share a side of me that was more vulnerable, empathize around how crazy and difficult things were, and provide a steady hand.


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