IBM offers best practices for managers during the COVID-19 crisis

Like other employers, the tech giant is offering its managers tools on how to engage and destress employees.
By: | April 20, 2020 • 3 min read
(Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

Managers need to know how to motivate and engage their team during a crisis. In the case of COVID-19, the challenge goes well beyond what they have faced in the past, so the need for even more focused and effective strategies is critical.

At IBM, for example, HR Vice President Deb Bubb, chief leadership, learning and inclusion officer, says the company, based in Armonk, N.Y., currently offers daily updates on support and resources for managers so they can effectively lead teams during this particularly difficult time. These resources include:

  • Leadership training and tips on how to boost resiliency in the current public-health crisis.
  • Personal blogs by IBM leaders on how they’re addressing challenges within their teams.
  • Virtual discussion groups with experts, such as IBM’s chief medical officer and epidemiologists.
  • Online forums with outside leadership experts on how to manage during crises.

With about 95% of IBM’s 350,000 global employees now working remotely, Bubb says that IBM also equips managers with important information on “mental-wellness benefits,” to help them cope with the stresses many are feeling during the pandemic.

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“COVID-19 is testing the resiliency of companies everywhere, and for employees, this uncharted territory can bring with it a tremendous burden of uncertainty and anxiety,” Bubb says. “Employees are looking to their managers for guidance on matters like mental health, work/life management and productivity more than ever beforeand those managers may themselves be at a loss as to how to proceed.”

Bubb adds that IBM also is supporting its managers with new connections, fresh education, tips and resourcesso they can engage teams with empathy, information and clear priorities.

“Our managers and our teams are coming together, solving problems and focusing on what matters,” she says.

In addition to the company’s overall approach, IBM’s new CEO Arvind Krishna, who started the job on April 6, explored the issue of managing in a crisis in a letter to the IBM Workforce.

Finally, Bubb offers several ideas for helping all employers support their managers, as employees depend on them more than ever before:

    • Engage your team: Communicate frequently, be present, find ways to connect one to one. Beyond virtual meetingswhich are not enough to keep people engaged—set up virtual coffee chats, office hours and virtual happy hours. Check in frequently on their wellbeing and see what they need.
    • Be strategic: Set clear priorities and focus on what matters most by using the right tools and resources to help your team succeed. Help the team appreciate the authenticity and purpose of directives, and be open and flexible about shifting priorities.
    • Earn your team’s trust: Since working remotely is hard when work, school and family are all happening at once, be empathetic, flexible and adaptable.
    • Be seen and be your best: When you and your team can see each other via camera, bring your authentic selves to meetings. Read body language, expect delays in response, maintain eye contact and be present.
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  • Prepare for clients: Make sure the team knows the play before meeting with clients, and set up pre-calls or group texts between different virtual teams involved so everyone feels prepared and connected.
  • Give people a breather: Schedule meetings to end at :25 or :55. Get up and stretch between meetings, and suggest that your team do the same. That way, you give yourself and your team a chance to shift focus and be fully present.
  • Show gratitude: Go out of your way to commend good work via email or text, and take the time to celebrate team or individual success.
  • Reach out to your mentors: Now is the time to tap into your mentors, regardless of their role or seniority. Most people are eager to help mentees and colleagues who need advice.
Tom Starner is a freelance writer based in Philadelphia who has been covering the human resource space and all of its component processes for over two decades. He can be reached at hreletters@lrp.com.