Lessons Learned from COVID-19: How to Lead During Disruptions 

As many of you may know, in mid-March V2 joined the ranks of businesses around the globe whose teams relocated to remote work for until the pandemic passes. This adjustment posed a highly unique leadership moment for Jean and me: how were we to support our now-widespread workforce as its members endured an ever-expanding list of challenges caused by the coronavirus outbreak? 

The answer laid in practicing what we preach: communicating honestly and often and prioritizing the well-being of our employees. Amidst so much disruption, making a concerted effort to maintain an atmosphere of normalcy and connectivity was and continues to be one of our strongest solutions for dealing with the pressing situation. From our own experience, here are best practices for enduring the remainder of this crisis and leading in future ones. 

Communicate honestly and often 

As an agency whose operations are predicated on communications, we understand the value of transparency, especially between management and fellow employees. Executing thoughtful communications when disaster strikes has the power to ease fears and guide individuals as the situation advances. While circumstantial details may be lacking at the onset, it is still the expectation of leaders to update their employees on the situation to the best of their ability, being mindful not to spread unverified information. From there, proactively addressing how your company will collectively face the challenge at hand offers a sense of control over the issue, as leaving employees in the dark will only contribute to an environment of anxiety and chaos.  

To be clear, a strong leader is not someone who has all the answers all the time, but simply someone who demonstrates active problem solving and offers consistent reassurance rather than cynicism. Honesty with employees signifies that you trust and value them; to show them anything less would be a disservice and disrespectful to them as well as your company.  

Base your crisis response plan on company values 

Your crisis response plan should be an extension of your company value set, which is defined in the first place to govern the daily operations of your workplace. As you navigate the situation at hand, think of how you intend to uphold these guiding principles despite having a displaced workforce. For example, at V2, we’re big advocates for a strong company culture, and so rather than forget the camaraderie while we’re out of the office, we’re changing how we support it remotely. Like seemingly everyone else these days, Zoom calls have become a regular fixture in our workdays—for business meetings, to be sure, but also for some fun. From video staff meetings to digital happy hours, we use tech to keep us connected. Especially because working from home can feel isolating, having time to gather and connect boosts our spirits and reminds us that we all have a supportive network behind us. 

Prioritize employee needs and emotions 

Executive suites may feel a pressure to accommodate the demands of stakeholders and lawmakers during a crisis to protect revenue and mitigate liability, but the priority here should really be the wellbeing of your employees. Choosing to cater to outside parties instead of the individuals who constitute your organization will be a major mistake for business integrity and productivity, which will inevitably crash without the support of hardworking staff.  

In addition to all-team meetings and communications, make time to connect with employees on a person level. This includes sharing thoughts and concerns of your own and making yourself more available than usual to staff who may want or need to discuss their concerns with someone in seemingly more control of the situation. By affirming that you’re weathering the crisis alongside your team, you develop a sense of camaraderie and allegiance across your team.  

Celebrate the victories as they come 

To quantify business success during a crisis by the same metrics you would use in the best of times will inevitably yield a disappointing and inaccurate reflection of your company. Atypical circumstances require leaders to redefine how they view and measure success for the time being. Even just maintaining operations (e.g., steady sales or an intact client roster) instead of growing marks a victory, as it demonstrates that your team has still been able to meet expectations despite pressing challenges. And to circle back to company culture: don’t forget to celebrate victories as they come. Thanking employees reassures them their work is valued and encourages positive spirits.  

The coronavirus outbreak has demonstrated that all businesses, regardless of industry, will have to face crisis situations at one point or another in their lifetime. This means that business leaders need to be prepared to direct their organizations when the time comes. If your handling of the pandemic went less than exceptional, take the time to reflect on how you can do better in the future. Whatever the situation, honesty and authenticity will always be the answer for earning employee trust and maintaining a sense of calm amidst crisis. 


June 25, 2020


By Maura FitzGerald


Leadership Series