By Suzy Taherian, Graduate School of Management
Taherian is a lecturer at GSM who writes regularly for Forbes. This is an excerpt from a recently published article. The full article is here.
As companies transformed to respond to the economic crisis brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, they made dramatic changes to corporate strategies, objectives and processes. With so much change, business leaders shouldn’t ignore the crucial task of rebuilding company culture. Yet, creating a sense of shared purpose virtually, at a distance, presents its own set of unique challenges. Employees may be confused about evolving priorities, new policies, and job security. It’s critical to rebuild a connection for employees to the company’s mission. Finance leaders that are able to empathize with their team’s personal experiences and be human, through sharing humor or grief, forge these links with their team.
Employees Need to Feel Connected Before They Contribute
Employees who feel connected to the company and its leadership stay longer and perform better. Those ties, however, have been tested as the COVID-19 crisis eroded employee morale and created anxiety and depression.
“While execution and process are still important in remote work, leadership style should shift to a focus of making people feel connected to one another and the organization’s purpose,” said Bill Bala, senior vice president of finance at Verb Inc., a leadership development software company.
This is easier said than done. Malek Bohsali, managing director at Value Realty Inc., a real estate management company, said it’s inevitable that performance will slip in the shift to remote work. He predicts that many workplaces will founder and initiatives and project languish undone. “It will not be entirely efficient, effective nor enable us to hit our goals,” he said.
Leading a remote team comes with its own set of unique obstacles and challenges. In a remote workplace, finance leaders are able to pull together team members without the limit of geography, even reaching beyond national borders. But there are some distances technology cannot easily bridge, said Cindy Zamora, president of an eponymous investment firm. Zamora has been leading virtual teams in finance for 15 years and noted cultural differences between team members from different nations. “Time is required to delve into these personal differences and adjust meetings, management and communication accordingly,” Zamora said.
Hold Small Personal Gatherings Online
Many workplaces have held virtual town hall meetings and other similar all-hands-on-deck gatherings in hopes of strengthening ties. But some CFOs have looked to smaller, more personal gatherings. “Recently, I hosted a Mother's Day call mid-morning with some of my working colleagues to talk about our children and the silver linings we are finding during working from home,” said Christine Battist, principal and chief financial officer of Avison Young, a commercial real estate firm. “It was exactly what my colleagues and I needed after a long week.”
Humanize with Sharing Humor or Grief
Some CFOs shared stories of using humor in videoconferences to connect with employees. The use of funny costumes or virtual backdrops or unexpected incidents with children or pets appearing on screen helped these executives appear more human. While some may dismiss these events as silly and trivial during a global crisis, they are a welcome break from dark times for others. Sharing vulnerabilities is humanizing and connects us.