How Should I Lead Virtually During a Crisis?

5 Leadership Principles to Support You to Lead Remotely Now

What are the primary differences between leading your team day-to-day vs. leading during a crisis?

Leading during a crisis requires a different level of leadership than might be expected from you during the regular workweek. While there are many overlapping principles — it is crucial to add some new leadership tools into your toolbox to better support your teams and ensure that they feel supported, engaged, and stable.

Principle 1: Assume everyone is doing their best

When leading during a crisis, keep in mind that everyone on your team is doing their best. So many are faced with unprecedented and uncertain circumstances —and you likely don’t know what their home situation looks like or how they may handle the inevitable anxiety that comes from so much uncertainty.

If you notice that one of your team members seems to be “slacking” or “unproductive” first and foremost, assume they are doing their best. Then open a conversation about what’s going on. Ask them what they are experiencing, what kind of support they need, and what you can do to support them.

Give them a chance to express what’s happening in their world and what they might need from you to help them stay engaged. Or perhaps they need a chance to express whatever below-the-surface circumstance they are facing. This gives you the chance to show compassion and empathize with their situation and to problem-solve the situation together.

Principle 2: Be Transparent

Share what you know and be honest about what you don’t know. In general people seek out clarity. They want to know what is happening around them and what the implications might be to their day-to-day. While you may not have all the answers right now (and you don’t need to!) you can share what it is you do know.

This goes for when the news or information you have to share is unpleasant — it’s better to be open about what you know without causing undue panic or anxiety, and trust that your team is capable of handling the information you share.

Feel free to share your own concerns or struggles (in fact, I strongly encourage this). This not only helps your team feel that you care about them and their well-being, but also builds trust that you are willing to share openly with them and that you understand and empathize with what they are experiencing.

Principle 3: Establish (or Revise) Team Rules

Your team might be used to working together face-to-face and suddenly they are faced with working in isolation, without the typical interaction & engagement they’ve likely grown accustomed to. I recommend every team I work with to establish their own Rules of Engagement — and this is no different during a crisis. (For teams who have already done this — this would be a good time to revisit these rules and check that they still serve the needs of the group).

Essentially, you ask every member of the team to co-create the Rules of Engagement for which every member of the team agrees to abide by. This document can help you illustrate questions such as;

  • How often do we meet as a team?
  • What communication channels do we use to communicate?
  • What do we do when projects are off track?
  • How do we celebrate successes?
  • How do we give each other feedback?

The Rules of Engagement is a living and breathing document which should be referred to and revisited often. Each member of the team is empowered to check in with the rest of the group on the rules and to ensure that they are still relevant and supporting the team (or if they are not being honored).

By creating the space to have this discussion you empower your team to design how they wish to work together and to set the parameters for what happens when things don’t work well.

Principle 4: Create a Safe Space to Communicate

Your team will look to you for leadership and to give them answers, and while you may not have answers to give , you can create a safe space where the whole team comes together to share what they are experiencing and to provide support for each other.

I recommend that you find times for your team to connect outside of the regularly scheduled meetings or daily check-ins. This helps create more informal connections between team members (think about the famed water cooler or lunch in the kitchen scenario). This helps build a support system for team members within the micro-community of your team.

It also has the added benefit of giving you a chance to check in on the mood and emotional state of each of your team members, and also allows them to continue to feel connected to the team and part of a community.

Some other ideas for creating a safe space include establishing confidentiality within the group, allowing team members to set a descriptive status or use memes to communicate “Today’s Mood” to the rest of the group, or letting the team share intention statements at the beginning of each day to see where everyone is.

Principle 5: Self-Care → Resilience

Your ability to practice self-care will keep you resilient. The better you take care of your own emotional, physical, and mental needs the more you will be able to show up for others.

Self-care looks different for everyone — for you, it may mean taking an extra 30 minutes in the morning to enjoy a hot cup of coffee, or taking time in the evening to read your favorite book. For someone else it could mean finding 45 minutes every day for yoga or eating a healthy lunch every day. Whatever it is that helps you remain balanced and strong will help you show up as a leader for your team, without depleting your own energy reserves.

Hint: Take a look at your fitness, sleeping, and eating habits to see where you might be able to shift things and improve your self-care.

In essence, showing up as a leader during a crisis means taking extra good care of yourself, practicing open and transparent communication, and showing empathy and compassion to your team members — in particular those who may be struggling.

Allow people to feel safe, allow people to feel supported, and make sure that you continue to get the support you need (from your team or others close to you) to be able to show up with resilience and courage each and every day.

Do you want to get support to see how you can show up as a better virtual leader during this crisis? Schedule a free 20-minute consultation with Amanda to learn how to improve your virtual leadership today.

The Courage Factory’s Leading Virtual Teams Online Course opens this week! Sign up to The Courage Factory’s mailing list to be the first to know when enrollment begins.

Amanda is the creator of the Alchemy Transformational Leadership Program. She lives in Berlin and loves all things cats.

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