The unique professional challenges of managing a team during a pandemic

    When the first wave of quarantine-related shutdowns and work-at-home transitions began in earnest in the spring, the initial focus from business leaders was taking care of the practical. Sorting out the logistics. Organizing the technology. The technical and procedural challenges associated with moving employees off site and continuing to maintain a high-level service to meet the needs of clients and professional partners was (and remains) no small task.

    Remarkably, those early days of the crisis are now more than six months in the rearview mirror. As the pandemic has gone on, it’s become clear that the challenges faced by businesses and leaders have evolved.

    While successful organizations have continued to refine their processes and improve their day-to-day operations, the general focus has shifted from concentrating on technical issues to managing mental and emotional challenges. It’s not just about logistics, but about morale and communication. There are fewer discussions about how to log on to a Zoom call, and more time and energy dedicated to finding effective ways to keep your team motivated, engaged and upbeat.

    If the early days of the pandemic were about bailing out the ship to stay afloat, the last few weeks and months have been about charting a course, keeping the crew’s spirits up, and learning how to become a better navigator as we move through unfamiliar waters.

    The new (and more supportive) normal

    Effectively managing, monitoring, and motivating a team during the pandemic means devoting more time and energy to keeping employees focused. That also means making sure that you are supportive at a time when so many of us are facing new personal and professional stresses.

    Great leaders are spending lots of time reassuring their team members. They make it clear that the company cares about them on a personal level: not just their work, but their families and their lives. All leaders need to recognize just how extraordinary the pressures can be in this unique moment. Even the seemingly mundane annoyances (transitioning to a work-at-home environment, complete with barking dogs, crying babies and frustrating technical issues) can feel insurmountable.

    On top of economic, social and health concerns, normal everyday stresses may be elevated significantly. It can be incredibly powerful to simply let a struggling employee know that you understand and are there for them.

    Keep on keepin’ on

    While nothing is “normal” these days, part of managing your team in a pandemic is making sure that opportunities for growth and development—both individually and as an organization—do not fall by the wayside. We’ve continued to hold our Farbman University classes remotely, and as such, have actually been able to increase the number and scope of classes. The remote setting has made it easier to bring in timely speakers, guest instructors and subject matter experts. We’ve also hosted a series of educational “town halls,” an educational forum for clients, employees and fellow real estate professionals.

    While hiring today is all online, just like everything else, it can also be a more efficient and streamlined process. Video calls and virtual interviews aren’t just a great way to evaluate applicants, but critique and improve your interviewers, as well. The onboarding process can now give every new hire a chance to virtually meet the head of every department. Additionally, there are now more options for new hire training, which may include some combination of on-site or remote work.

    Adaptation and connection

    Proactive communication is important at all times, but it is an urgent priority during the historic circumstances in which we find ourselves today. Companies have devoted a lot of literal and figurative bandwidth moving to a flexible work model and implementing measures to ensure an appropriate work-life balance.

    Those efforts will be largely wasted if you let the social fabric that binds your team together start to fray. At Farbman, for example, we took steps to make sure that wouldn’t happen by immediately introducing a number of routine calls and check-ins to touch base with all departments and groups multiple times per week. Staying connected and cohesive in a remote environment takes extra effort. Establishing regular rhythms and routines not only keeps connections strong, but enables you to keep everyone in the loop and address issues and concerns quickly and proactively.

    The best leaders are also finding creative new ways to make sure that they are reaching out to and connecting with their people. Every week we ask each member of our leadership team to reach out to one person they might not otherwise talk to and initiate a conversation.

    These are times that require more leadership, guidance and effort. The result, for those that can adapt and evolve to manage their teams effectively, will be a stronger, more flexible, more resilient and more connected team.

    Andy Gutman serves as the president of Southfield, Mich.-based Farbman Group, a leading full-service real estate firm with Midwest expertise and a global reach, handling all facets of real estate transactions, from property management and leasing to acquisition and disposition. For more information, visit