The role of the leader is changing
by Arun Mani, President of Freshworks Europe
A lot has changed in the wake of the pandemic as businesses look to support their remote working colleagues through such an uncertain time. This has precipitated a change in the role of the leader to encompass a much more supportive role than previously imagined or indeed required.
Businesses need to understand that we are operating in unprecedented circumstances and what was normal behaviour while in the office, surrounded by people, with usual targets and routine, is not the case now. There has to be an element of flex within business operating models, but also in how leadership teams approach communicating with, and managing their employees.
The need of the hour is to have empathetic leadership, being open to listening and putting relationships first with your employees. It is time for leaders and businesses to double down on their employee assistance programmes (EAP) and not shy away from difficult conversations that need to be had. Lots of businesses already had great structures in place before the pandemic to support their employees, through wellness days, formalised EAPs, mindfulness sessions, and exercise activities like yoga or gym memberships. Now is not the time to cut these programmes. With nearly 1 in 7 people experiencing mental health at work difficulties, pre-pandemic, it’s not hard to see how the current situation can exacerbate these feelings.
As leaders, we should be constantly checking in with our workforce on how they are feeling, show empathy and formulate creative solutions to address their daily challenges. These challenges aren’t necessarily going to be work related either and we need to be prepared to support our teams through these. This doesn’t just stop at employees but should also extend to a business’s customer base.
Looking after employees
While working from home has many perks – you can have a longer lie in, no commute and more family time – it also has more pressures. During many European lockdowns, schools were closed so parents had the added pressures of keeping their kids entertained or working, while working themselves. Leaders need to be cognisant of the fact that many people in their team are parents and a whole morning of parenting will have happened before the working day has even started. By offering flexibility in working hours and understanding that the odd Zoom call might be interrupted, leaders can show their true leadership qualities. Helping to share personal anecdotes of when this has happened to them is also a great way to make employees feel more at ease with the difficult situations they might be facing. But it’s not just the obvious signs that leaders should be looking out for.
There are of course other signs that the situation might be taking its toll on your team. Mental health is of huge importance, especially as the weather draws in and becomes darker and colder. Businesses should support employees in reducing stress, improving emotional wellness, and finding balance in all areas of life. This could range from accommodating flex timings to take into account people’s personal lives, like parents who need time with their children, remote meditation or breathing sessions, or virtual exercises to be done as a team. A great example of this in action is Freshworks just reached our virtual trip to Chennai, India, with employees covering over 40,000km through individual activities such as walking outside, on exercise bikes etc.
Mental health programmes can generate a return on investment of up to 800% in preventing related medical expenses so beyond looking after your employees makes sense for the business too.
Looking after customers
Leaders need to be looking outwards, as well as inwards when it comes to providing support at this time. Customers will be struggling through all of the same things as your employees are, but due to the lack of proximity you’re unlikely to notice as much. The first conversations leaders should be having with customers is to let them know that their business will be well supported in the long run. Goodwill can pay off significantly when the customers’ business or industry starts to improve again, and they are unlikely to forget the support you provided.
How we are helping our teams
At Freshworks, we put our employees at the centre and truly believe that happy employees make happy customers. To keep our teams motivated and supported, we have organised everything from virtual cooking classes where we made biryani with an Indian chef, to yoga, meditation, and twice weekly sports sessions. We have also provided funds for equipment to help our employees work from home better and organised a big internal party following our virtual customer event, Refresh. We have even been taking company days off where the whole business is shut, allowing everybody a chance to switch off and spend time with their families.
We are all in a very difficult and confusing time at the moment, both personally and professionally. It’s in times of adversity however that you see the true leaders and those that are able to keep their teams moving along and their customers happy. I’m proud to be surrounded by those leaders at Freshworks and it should be a goal we are all aspiring to.