How empathy can help teams thrive, post-Covid


Offices, manufacturers, retailers, educational outlets, etc., etc…all these industries and more knew where they were before Covid-19 hit.

They were sure about workplace etiquette, their company’s management structure and internal culture, what was expected of employees, and how ambitious colleagues could progress through the ranks. These things were known. They were largely straightforward.

We’re not far enough through this pandemic to confidently know the answers to these same questions – sales performances in the face of coronavirus, national and local lockdowns, and social distancing, are exponentially disruptive. With many people still working from home, and with as many returning to workplaces that now have stringent rules and regulations surrounding health and hygiene as the ultimate priority, much has changed for UK Plc during 2020.

Managers need to work doubly hard to inspire and lead what could be worried, fragmented and perhaps-directionless teams. If ever their soft skills were necessary, it’s now. If ever their flexibility and resilience were needed, it’s now. If ever their empathy was required in buckets, it’s now.

Employees, understandably, may not know if homeworking will become a standard element of their working week/month. They will likely have no idea what their company’s priorities are; after all, overall sales may have stalled and contracts may have been cancelled. Suppliers may have gone to the wall. So many businesses are struggling to even survive – already, some household-name brands, as well as smaller outfits, have folded. It’s an uncertain time on so many levels.

Yet work will still need to be done

Projects going ahead that need to complete. Some industries have seen record sales and have been working round the clock to fulfil orders. It’s different for everyone.

Unsettled employees will look to their managers for reassurance. They will cling to the familiar and hope for continuity, even if this isn’t possible. And this is why managers need to exercise empathy. Resist laying the law down or insisting something has to be done a certain way, ‘because it just always has’. Try and see issues from your employees’ point of view and consider the other huge issues that will be weighing them down at the moment. Use your compassion, your patience, your understanding.

Remote Working

Employees working from home may have proved more difficult for managers to oversee and control through lockdown. We’ve mentioned before the convenience and cost-savings that can be realised when employees work remotely. According to a recent Gallup study, 56% of UK employees wish to remain homeworkers. Productivity has been shown to be higher when employees do so, as they enjoy more control over their working hours and environment. That said, homeworking is not without its challenges.

Communication can be an issue with homeworking, as can a feeling of disconnect that wouldn’t be as prominent if the whole team worked from the same space. Managers, post-Covid, need to set clear expectations when it comes to delivery of work and the way their team communicates/responds.

It may be technically convenient for managers to have a group Zoom meeting with their homeworking team. Don’t let remote working stop you, however, from connecting with each employee individually. Some people need more support than others, as our Jigsaw Discovery Tool will identify. Even if everyone worked from the office, this ethos would still stand. People’s various personality types, motivating factors, internal beliefs, strengths and weaknesses, mean we each react differently to situations than the next person. Understanding people’s different traits and behaviours is a helpful tool in many walks of life; it is, however, particularly useful for leaders, managers, coaches and consultants, as well as larger organisations with an in-house learning and development department.

Gallup Research

The Gallup study shows that employees working from home have different demands and needs than those working in an office environment. It’s more difficult to tell if an employee is masking feelings or concerns when they’re on screen – you don’t have the vital cues and clues a person’s body language would display if they were physically in front of you. Homeworkers are more at risk of burnout and ill-health, as their lines between home and work often become blurred. It’s much more difficult to mentally ‘shut the door’ and walk away from a project for the day/evening when the computer is blinking away in the corner, or your phone is buzzing with notifications and it’s only an arm’s reach to switch the computer back on and answer them immediately.

Homeworkers tend not to be privy to company developments

In their tiny bubble, within their home office or at the kitchen table, homeworking employees tend not to be privy to company developments and changes to shared outcomes. They have to be told everything, and therefore can find it hard to reach their own conclusions, as they only have one view of an issue. With no ‘office water cooler moments’, where a lot of knowledge sharing actually goes on, someone working from home may feel detached, out on a limb, expendable, ignored.

If a homeworker is managed well, however, this doesn’t have to be the case. Hear what Gallup have to say about their findings: ‘Gallup has been studying remote working for over a decade, including research into remote working since the outbreak of the coronavirus. The data show that employees working from home can be as or more productive and engaged than in-house workers and tend to have higher wellbeing.’

The important words there are ‘can be’. With support and access to their manager when they need it, guidance and feedback concerning their individual tasks/role, as well as updates on the project overall and the company’s current outlook where possible, they will feel involved, valued and engaged. Regular hangouts/meetings with the rest of the team shouldn’t stop, either – Zoom and similar tools can accommodate a large amount of people in the same digital space. Work is not just about…work.

We may not know the future……

Whether your employees are in the office or working from home, managers and trainers can learn so much about their team with the Jigsaw Discovery Tool. We may not yet be able to control the fallout from, or the future that follows, the coronavirus, but we can begin to understand who we are as human beings. Because, whether we’re living through a pandemic or not, the traits and beliefs we hold commonly shape what we think and do. People have the ability to change, yes, but it’s also possible to predict their behaviour – if you know how to, and that’s what the Jigsaw Discovery Tool can help with.