It seems like nothing has gone according to plan in 2020. In what was supposed to be a year of innovation and prosperity has turned into a year where business leaders, like James River Capital CEO Paul Saunders, have had to move mountains to keep business status quo.
As states cautiously allow employees to return to work, it’s the duty of business leaders to make employees feel comfortable in the new normal. Now isn’t the time for hard leadership, it’s the time for positive leadership. Positivity and proactive action will help your employees succeed in a world where COVID-19 isn’t going away any time soon.
People are returning to work right now, but they’re still feeling an incredible amount of pressure, both at work and at home. As a business leader, you can’t solve all of the world’s problems, but leaders can still bolster employees in hard times.
We don’t have an instruction manual for operating during a global pandemic, but it’s still possible to steer your organization to success beyond 2020. In this article, we’ll share the leadership playbook of Paul Sanders, the CEO of James River Capital, for navigating COVID-19 at the office.
About Paul Saunders & James River Capital
James River Capital came to be in 1995, when Paul Saunders acquired the company with his business partner. Since that time, Paul has served as Chairman and CEO of JRC. With over 30 years of experience in finance, Paul enjoys finding alternate ways to improve investment risk and return.
Today, James River Capital operates out of Richmond, Virginia, managing alternative investments through commodity trading and other strategies. Because James River Capital specializes in alternative investments, the company diversifies portfolios in its products for risk-adjusted returns.
5 leadership approaches for COVID-19
Whether you’re working remotely or inviting employees back to the office, it’s your duty as a leader to make everyone as comfortable as possible. Try these 5 ideas from the playbook of the CEO of James River Capital.
The worst thing you could do right now is to stay silent. Employees are feeling anxious, and they need reassurance that their jobs and safety aren’t in jeopardy.
While daily updates might be too much, a weekly update on your COVID-19 policies would be helpful. That might mean communicating via:
- A socially distanced Friday town hall at your office.
- Email (provided everyone reads it).
- A pre-recorded video shared internally on Vidyard.
Try to be as transparent as possible about the company’s current standing and the future. Even if things aren’t going well, try to use optimistic messaging. Connectedness and communication will debunk employee fears, but they won’t help if your tone is morose.
Paul says you can’t be transparent about everything in your business, but during COVID-19, regular updates are a must to keep employees comfortable.
- Prioritize safety
It’s understandable that your employees feel on edge at the office. As a leader, it’s your duty to prioritize safety at every turn—that means making changes that keep everyone safe.
Paul believes companies may want to think about adding:
- Free personal protective equipment (PPE): Always provide free, accessible safety materials. That includes masks and disinfecting wipes at a minimum.
- A professional cleaning crew: Don’t expect your team to clean everything themselves. Have a cleaning crew to deep-clean daily so your team can focus on their work.
- Social distancing spaces: Whether you need plexiglass between cubicles or limited seats at the conference table, adjust your space to spread everyone out.
- Block schedules: If it makes sense for your business, alternate which employees are in the office on particular days. That reduces the number of people gathering in-person.
Remember, although a return to the physical office is an option in many areas, don’t overlook the safety of working from home. Give the option to employees who need it.
Remind employees of what you’re doing to keep them safe during the pandemic. Cite reputable sources to remind them of how you’re reducing transmission.
- Empower employees
Eliminate decision-making siloes for strong leadership during COVID-19. After all, you’re calling the shots, but your employees are the ones who live with your decisions.
Collaborate with employees from every level of the organization. Paul has thought about adding this with James River Capital to arrange a customized work schedule for his team. You’ll get a much better policy that makes employees feel heard and empowered.
You should also give employees lines of communication for COVID-related concerns. Designate an HR representative to handle all inquiries or start a Slack channel. Create an anonymous tip line to help employees feel comfortable passing on feedback.
As a leader, it can be hard to give up some control, especially in hard times. But if you want to retain and motivate your employees, it’s time to pass the mic to your team.
- Be flexible and giving
Yes, you should hold employees accountable for results. But the added pressures of quotas and deadlines are just too much right now. While you can’t ignore productivity, positive leadership means giving your team more flexibility than usual.
Paul also believe in the benefits of adding more flexible policies during COVID-19, including:
- Extended deadlines.
- Lower productivity thresholds for evaluations.
- A casual dress code.
- Generous PTO.
If you’re able, create an emergency relief fund for your employees. Invite them to apply for aid if they need financial assistance in this time of crisis.
Remind employees of your benefits, too! EAPs for counseling or financial help matter a lot right now. Make sure your team knows about telehealth options, flu shots, FMLA policies, COVID-19 testing, and any other perk you offer.
Your people are distracted and worried right now. Give flexibility and an extra helping hand if you’re able.
- Remember the fun
Results aren’t always about metrics and productivity; sometimes it’s about the human element. If your employees are stressed, give them safe opportunities to have fun and relax.
A little levity doesn’t hurt, and it can help to know what’s going on in each other’s lives. That might mean trying:
- A socially-distanced cupcake party
- Margarita Fridays on a Zoom call (whether working remotely or in the office).
- An outdoor company picnic, social distancing style.
We’re living through dark times. These small moments of fun might seem silly, but they can put your employees into a healthier frame of mind that boosts resilience.
The bottom line
Leaders have to look at the big picture right now. Treating employees how they want to be treated is not only the right thing to do, but it’s positive leadership in action. When you accommodate and support your team through times of crisis, you’ll deepen trust and develop a healthier culture.
Disruption will be the standard through 2020. Use these 5 leadership plays from James River Capital to forge ahead with a calm head and stay your course.