man on video call working remotely
From checking in with employees regularly to making sure you practice your own self-care, there are several ways business owners can support their employees during times of crisis. — Getty Images/fizkes

In the best of times, employees often look to their company's leaders as a source of information, clarity and guidance. During a crisis like COVID-19, a leader has an even greater responsibility to support their teams and assuage their growing concerns.

According to a Gallup study, what people need most from leaders during unpredictable times are trust, compassion, stability and hope. Lily Scanlon, a principal at Korn Ferry, echoes this finding, noting that employees need management to provide a sense of stability and a vision of the organization's future.

"We may not know what the immediate future looks like, but leaders are responsible for visioning the future and communicating that vision to employees so they know how to act," said Scanlon.

"Employees are looking for a leader who … [demonstrates] a clear path forward and what the impact will be on the company and employees," added Maria Rosati, CEO and founder of Eminence Communications Inc.

To provide this level of support for your team, here are a few steps you can take now and throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

[Read more: Managing From Home? Here’s How to Keep Your Team Engaged During Coronavirus]

Provide regular company updates as your circumstances evolve

During any crisis, leaders must provide frequent updates to ensure that everyone in the organization is up to date. This is especially important during COVID-19, when new statistics and safety guidelines are being issued constantly.

"These updates should balance providing helpful information — the status of business operations, closures or adjustments to operating hours, shifts in business operations … and the corresponding impact to the various business functions, etc. — without over-sharing," Scanlon said. "Assuming no significant changes, these messages should be provided every one to two weeks."

You may also wish to share information about company-provided resources and benefits, as well as resources in the local community.

"Put the safety of your employees above all else," Scanlon added. "You'll want employees to feel you genuinely … care for them more than the organization's bottom line."

Put the safety of your employees above all else.

Lily Scanlon, principal, Korn Ferry

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Check in with your employees and be accommodating of their personal challenges

Your employees may be facing new and evolving challenges during the pandemic. For instance, said Scanlon, they may be working parents with kids at home. They may be responsible for caring for elderly parents. Their partners or household members may be essential frontline employees who don't have the same luxury of working from home.

For this reason, Dave Hill Jr., founder of Go 2 Market Coach, recommended that leaders check in with their team regularly on an appropriate personal level.

"Your employees likely have concerns about the health and financial well-being of other family members and friends, so now is an especially tender time," he told CO—. "Even a casual, 'I'm thinking of you and hoping your family is safe' goes a long way."

If your employees are dealing with personal situations, it may be more difficult for them to juggle a "typical" 9-to-5 work day. Scanlon said it can be helpful to make accommodations for these team members, such as providing flexible work hours or adjusting meeting times.

Build a sense of community

Staying connected and bringing some positivity into your (virtual) workplace can help relieve some of the anxiety and tension your team is likely feeling at home.

"Most of us are working remotely, [and] employees want and need to feel connected to a community at this time," said Rosati. "It is okay to have some laughs … to ease the uncertainty."

You can stay in touch with employees through formal messaging, video conferences, virtual happy hours or informal catch-ups, said Scanlon. Similarly, Hill suggested holding weekly virtual "office hours" where your team can drop in and catch up with you.

"We are all craving human contact and interaction," he added.

[Read more: 7 Ways to Improve Company Culture Remotely]

Be kind to yourself and get help if you need it

While supporting employees should be a top priority for you as a leader, it's equally important to take care of yourself, so you can be the best leader possible for your team.

"Like the in-flight oxygen mask, you have to take care of yourself first in order to weather the storm and help others," said Hill. "There are people to reach out to for support, depending on what you need. Many other leaders are also facing unprecedented unique challenges and we need creativity, self-care and support to make it through."

Hill recommends focusing on mindfulness and anxiety reduction so you can make clear decisions.

"Even small exercises such as deep breathing, gentle meditation or walks in nature, if possible, can help add perspective and sense of calm," he said.

For more resources from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce:

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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Published April 29, 2020