Tech Career Insights: Q&A: How Managers Can Keep Their Teams Calm During Stressful Times

Q&A: How Managers Can Keep Their Teams Calm During Stressful Times

By Jomiro Eming

When leading a team during extremely stressful circumstances, it can feel like a lot of responsibility to make sure they are informed, happy, productive, and supported. For Domina McQuade, Microsoft’s Lead Datacenter Recruiter, being a manager is a new position she’s had to learn about, and be deliberate about to get right. She’s found that being vulnerable, keeping your teams as updated as you can, and planning ‘morale events’ are really simple, but really effective ways to keep team members motivated, positive, and productive! These are some of her tips.

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Be vulnerable, and check in often

Q: How are you thinking about vulnerability and checking in?

Domina: I’m basically checking in a couple times a week. I’m trying to be vulnerable by telling my team that getting to open up about how I’m feeling is a distraction for me, and how I’m coping, just to try to get them to open up as well. If they need time off or a reduced workload because they have kids at home, then I’m load balancing work on the team, and covering for people myself while they’re out.

Q: Why is vulnerability important?

Domina: I think being vulnerable builds trust and allows people to feel comfortable enough to tell me how they are actually doing. If people are overloaded with work and home life, they won’t be productive, and they’re less likely to speak up if they aren’t given the space to do so.

Q: Can you give me an example that illustrates the impact this has on your team?

Domina: An example is when I quickly realised that almost everyone on my team has kids at home, and is juggling that on top of work. I communicated that to our team leads and set the expectation that there might be delays. They completely understood and gave us some slack to operate in this higher-stress environment.

Q: What advice/tips do you have for other team leads around checking in

Domina: I’m a brand new manager, and there is no manual on how to handle a global health crisis that is forcing people to stay at home, hah! I do think that constant communication is helping though, and really just leading the way with vulnerability - be the first one to admit you’re not feeling great.

Keep teams updated with new info at every turn

Q: Why is keeping teams updated so important to you?

Domina: It is a scary time! The stock market is volatile, there are fears of a recession and no one really knows what is going to happen or how long this will last. I think giving the team the most up- to- date info removes some of that distraction.

Q: How are you thinking about communicating things to your team?

Domina: I’m trying to ease concerns around job stability where I can by giving everyone the most up to date info. Granted, we are fortunate because Microsoft is a pretty stable company, and not all companies are in the same position.

Q: How are you practically keeping your team updated?

Domina: In my situation, I’ve been communicating closely with recruiting leadership, finance and my chief of staff for our datacenters to get the most updated info to my team. By rallying together, we’re better able to source reliable information that I can actually use to help my team feel more reassured.

Plan ‘morale events’!

Q: Can you tell me more about these events you’re planning?

Domina: I’m planning 3 remote morale events! I picked two people from my team that already work remote to help me. We are watching a silly movie together while chatting, one person on my team is going to lead a remote cooking class, and one person is setting up a remote game night.

Q: What important impacts have these events had on your team?

Domina: My team is missing the hallway/water cooler chats, and I think it’s a good leadership opportunity for the two people that are normally remote on my team. Our first morale event is watching a movie together. We are looking at a couple platforms to use, and figuring out which will work best still. Any suggestions? Haha! But we are using Microsoft Teams video chat for the remote cooking class, and same for the game night.

Q: What impact does that have on your team?

Domina: We are all missing the camaraderie of being in the office. We’re piloting remote coffee times, and one interesting impact I’ve noticed is that there is a lot more empathy towards people on the team who normally work remote anyway! Think we can all relate a lot better now.

Q: What advice/tips do you have for making these events effective?

Domina: My advice is that now is the time to pilot and try new things. This is the time to experiment and make the most of this situation!

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