Leading in trying times

Fallouts of Covid-19 are not lost on anyone and it already feels like a lifetime. Meanwhile, we have all had to rethink how we adapt our professional and personal lives. 

Role of leaders in such trying times has also become more front and center. The harsh recessionary outlook requires extraordinary efforts to stay afloat, let alone grow business. There is also an increased responsibility to keep teams motivated in delivering with the same enthusiasm and rigor, while they navigate the uncertainty and alternative ways of working. Finally, this pandemic has accelerated the role that technology and innovation plays in transforming ways of doing business and creating value, which in turn demands for an inspiring leadership to navigate through this change.

Exhibiting compassion and care is key during a crisis. It inculcates a culture of openness and empathy and helps better identify concerns, allowing for a happier and ultimately more productive work environment. When the pandemic forced a lockdown, non-essential services transitioned to working from home. In the PR business,  wherein human connect and crunch timelines are the norm, this adjustment is not easy. However, the entire team came together really well. Being flexible about work schedules and stepping in for each other – when a team member had family obligations or emergencies – has been crucial. As a leader, I also tried to understand and respect everyone’s apprehensions, ensured that I was available if they had to voice concerns, and addressed any challenges or stress. While implementing return to work practices, I also took feedback and constraints into consideration. With the objective of prioritising people’s preferences above all else – we have the option of staggered work hours to avoid crowded public transport. The decision to return is also totally voluntary, with a choice to only come in on a few days or not at all. Camaraderie is of course how best work is produced.

Promoting healthy work practices is another area to focus on. Walking the talk is one way to encourage employees who may be worried about taking time off. Taking regular breaks and encouraging conversations about what we did during this time, may help address it however. Office conversations are now conducted differently ― we all interact from behind a screen. I encourage my team to keep their videos switched on, as it somewhat compensates for not having these meetings in person and also reinforces a culture of openness. However, the biggest deterrent to it is usually the fear of family and pets disrupting meetings, as working from home has blurred these lines. I have however been welcoming about this change, often bringing my daughters into calls to meet my team. I love that I now know most of my team’s family, and they know mine.

Finally, effective communication is key to managing through any crisis. At SPAG, I am very proud to share that we have frequent employee town halls for sharing the steps that we are taking to manage through these trying times, garnering feedback on what we can do better and differently, and also addressing any pressing concerns. During the day job and while working remotely, giving clear briefs and following up with regular reviews prevents unpleasant surprises later. During such a crisis, people also experience elevated levels of anxiety. Providing constant encouragement and recognition can however do wonders in boosting people’s morale.

As leaders, we have to juggle between our deliverables and motivating our teams, even while working remotely. As I reflect further, I do realise that these expectations are not new even if they require a fresh perspective and renewed focus. We are always required to openly communicate and build trust within our teams and stakeholders alike, exhibit a high level of empathy towards those we hope to inspire and lead, and clearly articulate our vision while complementing it with a bias for sharp execution to manage through any change.

I hope my tips have helped you in some way. This crisis shall pass too… Here’s wishing for better times soon!

The views and opinions published here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the publisher.

Priyanka Bajpai
Priyanka Bajpai – Regional Head, SEA, SPAG

An award-winning PR professional, Priyanka sits on the board for Public Relations & Communications Association (PRCA) SEA, bringing over 15 years of experience in various health communications and pharma roles to her role as Regional Head at SPAG. Prior to SPAG, Priyanka held senior communication specialist roles at multiple global healthcare organizations. Holding a postgraduate degree with a super-specialization in Microbiology, Priyanka started her professional journey as a research scientist in renowned research institutes.

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