All I Really Need to Know (to Manage), I Learned in a Pandemic

The Great Resignation, The Big Quit… whatever your term of choice, it’s likely an understatement to say being a manager has never been more challenging. As many of us close in on the two-year anniversary of working from our kitchen counters, basements, or wherever we can steal a moment of peace – what likely won’t change anytime soon is the need for managers to focus on their engagement game, now more than ever. 

As remote work, hybrid work, and dispersed teams becomes a longer than planned reality for many of us, here’s a few thoughts on keeping your teams in it. 

Be purposefully un-purposeful about some meetings. In my post-college life, I can honestly say most of the close friends I’ve made have been through work. And in many cases, they weren’t always bosses or direct teammates. They were those people that between work happy hours, lunches, and conversations over cubicles walls, they gradually moved from the co-worker to friend column. 

That’s getting harder to replicate as we jump from one Zoom call to the next with a clear agenda for each meeting. A simple thought, plan time to just connect. I started a “lunch club” early in Covid and would invite two teammates who I thought might not know each other well to simply spend 30 minutes having lunch together – just the three of us. People connected about being new homeowners, postponed travel plans, Netflix shows – essentially, life. The feedback I heard most often, “It was nice to just have time to connect.” 

Give space for personalities to shine. Pre-Covid, I managed a team that was split between New York City and Los Angeles. Being based in New York, I found over time I knew my team there much better – in terms of their families, interests, and the things that made them who they are. 

We put in place a “One Cool Thing” segment to end our weekly team call, and each week one person took on the task of telling (or showing) us, you guessed it, One Cool Thing. It started as you’d expect, podcast suggestions, bingeworthy shows. But over time, people really took to it. One New Yorker shared about a weekend bike trip to the Little Red Lighthouse, an LA colleague shared pictures from a Palm Springs excursion to Frey House II. It was cool to learn about these places, but cooler to see my team’s personality emerge in what they shared.

When all else fails, call. Zoom, Teams, Slack, text, email – the list of 10 things we all monitor constantly goes on. But in these challenging times, it’s a relief to be asked “How are you doing?” Yes, I mean an actual human voice asking the question. Even more important, knowing the person asking the question really cares to know about how you’re doing. It’s easy in the business of 1:1s, deadlines, and project lists to forget that despite how much we think we’re connecting with people – there’s sometimes no replacement to hear (or see) someone just reaching out to check in.

In the best of times, keeping employees engaged and connected is never an easy task. But now, perhaps more than ever, the job of a manager has never been more essential to the success and well-being of a team.


This post was written by Mark Crowley, Global Communications Practice Leader, Blue Communications.