One of the most stressful aspects of coping with the COVID-19 crisis—at least for me—has been learning to operate in a constant mode of uncertainty. Whether it’s concern over the health of loved ones, anxiety about job security, or just wondering whether your summer travel plans are cancelled, we are all grappling with uncertainty.
This is, of course, a highly individual experience, but there are also some broader concerns that certain groups or communities are facing collectively. One very important factor that shapes how COVID-19 has impacted of our lives is generational differences. In the workplace, this means that employees of different age groups tend to be grappling with different challenges—especially in the context of remote work.
As a leader or team member, it’s important to understand the context in which individuals are operating, and learn what you can do to best address them or show support during the pandemic.
Boomers (Born 1946-64)
Baby Boomers spent much of their careers in a world where virtual work was rare, if it was available at all. This means that they may not be accustomed using virtual meeting platforms or communicating across distances. That’s why is essential to establish clear guidelines for all employees, and make sure everyone has easy access to the tools they need. For example, be clear about which programs to use for meetings or keeping track of important tasks. All team members should also be registered with any company accounts so they are able to do things like organize meetings and install security software, and everyone should feel comfortable using all platforms.
Of course, there are plenty of tech-savvy Boomers out there, and this advice may also be relevant for younger employees, especially if they have only recently onboarded. Overall, it’s a good idea to provide written instructions for how to use relevant tech or equipment and make sure people know whom to contact if they have questions.
Generation X (Born 1965-79)
Because we are facing an unprecedented challenge, all of us are facing unprecedented circumstances. In the case of Gen X, their generation is most likely to currently be responsible for the care of children, older relatives, or both. This added layer of complexity can make remote work even more stressful, so it’s important to understand that people may need time during regular business hours to tend to family or personal needs.
If you are managing a virtual team, establish clear times for team members to check in or provide progress updates. It’s also helpful to focus more on completion of tasks rather than monitoring online presence. This makes it easier for employees to balance remote work and personal needs without becoming overwhelmed. Finally, it’s a good idea to only invite necessary individuals to any meetings, which helps save time and often makes it easier to move through the agenda.
Millennials (Born 1980-95)
You may have already heard that Millennials are “the most stressed generation.” This may be due to a number of factors, including high levels of student debt or a rise in cases of depression. During such stressful times as this, stress can make it harder to stay focused and engaged, and for those still adjusting to working remotely, time management can continue to be a challenge.
To help employees manage feelings of stress or anxiety, it’s important to maintain a sense of trust and comradery on your team. Encourage everyone to participate in group chats, and host virtual hangouts where employees can chat informally. These can not only be important forums to let off steam, but they can also provide a space to share ideas for self-care and staying connected, like recommendations of online meditation sessions, multiplayer video games, fitness apps, or even dance parties.
Generation Z (Born 1996-2010)
Although most of Gen Z are still quite young, many of them are choosing to enter the workforce earlier than their predecessors, and they are bringing their own personalities to the workplace. One characteristic of Gen Z seems to be their entrepreneurial spirit—maybe because they grew up seeing a huge boost in the gig economy and the massive success of tech startups.
This attitude makes Gen Z strong workers who are eager to challenge themselves and seek out new opportunities. To keep them engaged, it’s a good idea to find ways to let Gen Z employees get creative, such as including them in brainstorming meetings or letting them take on different types of assignments if a team member needs extra help or calls in sick. Gen Z also appreciates regular feedback, so it’s important to follow up with them and be as transparent as possible about expectations during this time.
COVID-19 has affected everyone, even if only indirectly. In these times of uncertainty, it’s crucial for teams to learn how to adapt to changing circumstances, stick together (from a distance!), and foster a supportive, inclusive environment for one another. The above recommendations may be most relevant to particular generations, but they’re also best practices for virtual teams in general. Especially now, these tips can help provide employees with a greater sense of control and capability, and they’ll likely help your team run more smoothly and efficiently.