Adaptive Leadership Strategies in Tumultuous Times

What works, what doesn’t, and why you should care!


Different teams need different strategies. You play to your strengths, have comprehensive knowledge of your personnel, and build a team around a common goal. However, now, with situational factors beyond our controls, our teams are more divided than ever. Yet, the strongest management has taken this opportunity to build adaptive strategies for the future and have continued to lead strong teams in tumultuous times. This is what good management and leadership is all about: keeping the boat on course, even when waters are choppy.


Navigating these times has been a burden on all. However, the best management has been able to stay the course by not only adjusting to the terrain and the unforeseen circumstances. but by reemphasizing the destination of the work. So as a manager during these peculiar times, how does one keep their employees working at their optimal potentials, keep them accountable for their work, highly motivated and committed, and continue to cultivate a unique company culture?



Communication at a time of decreased exposure is vital to actualizing the collective goals built through individual efforts. Even when all employees and upper management were in the office, allowing individuals to complete their work without constant surveying of their progress was important to achieving maximum productivity. Having an employer lurking around the office like a shark in warm waters has never fostered a conducive workplace environment, but a complete lack physical oversight coupled with divided teams could naturally brew anxiety over productivity in the stomachs of employers.


When the shift to remote work abruptly changed the workplace landscape in March 2020, executives were estimating that productivity would plummet 15 to 20 percent. Some managers - panicked and afraid - began transforming useful communication tools into abusive spyware. Slack, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, etc. are there to keep you connected, not to intricately intertwine the office in a bureaucratic web of surveillance. However, with the startling shift to shelter, some executives were just as lost as anybody else.


“The first reaction was to smother… I was trying to replicate the many touch points you have in the office environment,” said a Chegg Senior Executive. He not only noticed his incessant nagging as an unpopular tactic among his employees, he himself felt burned out from his hawkish management style. These actions were reactive in nature. But now as we approach November 2020, successful managers have found ways to communicate, but not suffocate.



This concept is not new to the COVID-19 times. Peter Drucker - famously the "the founder of modern management" - had already found the answer to the question:  what is the best management strategy for remote workers? Management by Objectives, as coined in 1954 by Drucker, was centered around the idea that giving employees clearly defined goals, they would be more motivated and committed due to positively communicated responsibilities with underlying trust in the employees capabilities. By translating the organizational objectives to employees into SMART (specific, measurable, acceptable, realistic, time-bound) goals, managers and employees would remain on the same page regardless of physical distance. Simply, being extremely clear and organized in terms of task delegation and timeline, team cohesion will naturally form an accountability system.


One way of creating this culture of accountability during these times is through frequent check-ins, or team briefings. I believe utilizing a meeting time at the beginning of the day to set the daily agenda, or convening at the end of the day for a comprehensive recap and update on upcoming agenda items, is the best way to foster accountability through communication. Not only are employees hearing what they need to do, but also what is being asked of others. Remote workers have forfeited the ability to pop by other’s desks to check-in, and gauge when it would be a good/appropriate time to engage. These meeting serve to further the productive remote workspace through forcing you to pick up on the task that are on the plates of others.



As a manager, another thing to be acutely aware of is how this time has affected everyone differently - posing unique problems and situations for all. Specifically, when analyzing performance and productivity, accounting for the fact some may have remote workplaces that are extremely favorable for the work they need to do- ideal work station, no additional people in the home, or even how their specific role is translatable to the remote workplace.


At Eventbrite, an event management and ticketing service, although their business has been so hard hit by the lack of open venues and live-events, their engineering team has been thriving on new projects and features for the company, while the sales and customer service representatives have had a much more difficult transition. Understanding not only the physical barriers of remote work, but the adaptive barriers of your colleagues is vital in promoting a positive workforce.


Promoting positivity in your colleagues is critical in ensuring that they will be producing quality work and motivated to reach their potential at a time when distractions and listlessness are hiding behind every corner. One way to do that is by fostering a growth mindset. Even the most talented and skilled teams need to remain challenged. By having personal check-ins to promote individualized improvements and performance ideas will not only elicit a challenge to them, but it will show them you are invested in them.


Not all companies are built the same, and not all units within a company function similarly. So, were those who were afraid of decreased productivity right about remote work? Can one successfully manage a team remotely?


The answer: it depends.


Some companies in fact struck gold with the movement to the decentralized workplace, instituting it as a possibility even after we- hopefully- see an end to COVID-19. Each employer has also used this time differently to reassess what they want to see from themselves in the future. Many managers have used this time to focus on reemphasizing company culture and employee resilience through the ups and downs.


For those ups and downs, look to reward your team for all their hard work, innovative thinking, and personal sacrifices they have made during these times. Acknowledge the resilience that they have displayed alongside you as a leader, and perhaps go the extra mile with a random act of kindness to show your sincere gratitude. Whether that’s sending customized, company mugs to bring back memories of the breakroom or sending a box of someone’s favorite chocolates for going above-and-beyond on a certain task, just a small gesture to portray appreciation is much more poignant than an encouraging email or a Zoom round of applause. Bringing back the tangible is the best way to feel those intangible workplace qualities we all have missed during these difficult times.



By Noah Gassman

October 29,2020