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Mary Hargrove, West Michigan Delivery Manager

Managing a Frontline Team

Sending a team out in this environment while working from home safe and sound brings on many challenges.  Not being onsite and being physically there for your team can be extremely difficult.  Any manager working from home while managing a team that is still working in the field can relate to fear of the unknown.  For us, delivering equipment brings many questions and we hope that everyone out there is honest.  I care about our drivers like they are family and I would be devastated if one of them got sick.  We ask all the right questions about the sites we are delivering and visiting, but it’s difficult emotionally sending our team into hospitals and other frontline businesses.  However, this is part of us being an essential business during these times.  Other businesses operations depend on us.  We have to keep the wheels rolling and we must do it.

Tips for Managing a Frontline Team

1. Encourage Engagement

This can be tricky, especially as we’re all trying to navigate our current situation.  Checking in with your team regularly will help you understand your teams needs.  Communicate sensitivity to their well being and let them know they are always welcome to discuss any of their concerns with you or offer your HR team as additional support.  In addition, creating a time for one-on-one chats and video conferencing help keep the lines of communication open.  Ask your team members their preference for staying in touch.  For example, we’ve created a “How I work best” document for all team members to explain how they prefer communication.  With managing any team, but especially during this time when managing a frontline team, ensure you are collecting feedback.  This will ensure you are aware of pain points your team is having out in the field and can address them accordingly.

2. Adapt to the Environment and Culture

Promote safety by taking the time to wash your hands, wipe down equipment, wear masks and gloves that have been provided.  Empower your employees to make decisions and do what it takes to stay safe and healthy during this time.  The current situation is changing daily and frontline teams have to use their best judgement. Trust your team to communicate with customers and fellow team members. Trusting in them promotes a culture within your team that you have their best interest and reaffirms confidence.  In addition, give your workers the freedom to not stick to the scheduled workday.  See what works for the whole team including the customer.  This helps them be more productive, happier and more engaged in the workplace.  Request feedback on what is going on out there on the frontline.  What is your team hearing, seeing and feeling?  This makes the team feel like they are being heard and that their opinion matters and plays an important role in the company.

3. Change Your Mindset

Things are not normal right now and may never be the norm we once knew.  Therefore, we as managers must find new ways to motivate, build team unity, build a new normal, and most importantly – grow. Be more flexible in your approach and work with family needs in general during this time.  We’re all in the same boat.  Being understanding and empathetic will help your employees stay motivated and driven.  Brainstorm with your coworkers on ways your can keep your team busy and involved in creative ways.  For example, our drivers helped a local nonprofit, Kids Food Basket deliver meals to schools and other organizations.  Show your team that we can all help our communities too.  Authenticity goes a long way with your team as a manager.  Your team should know you well enough to know your personality and allow you to be able to be straight forward and have mutual respect and expectations of each other.  Most of all, show gratitude.  A simple thank you goes a long way and is often overlooked.  Yes, your team is getting paid to do a job, but during this time the job becomes more difficult and dangerous.  For example, send your employees a card in the mail.  This not only thanks them, but shows you have thought of them and have taken some extra time to put it in writing.

Lessons From This Situation

Listen to your team and experiment with what works best in the moment.  As previously mentioned, things are changing daily.  What works best now, may not work best tomorrow.  We have to face the fact that business everywhere will operate differently now.  However, we will all come out of this better, stronger, and more adaptable than we have ever imagined.  Take this opportunity to formulate a strategy that will help prepare your team in a disaster situation.  Take note of the continuous lessons we have learned and how we have overcome obstacles.  Planning for the future can help your team adapt quicker.  Our experiences now will make us stronger.

Plans For Moving Forward

When we are all back together again things will be different.  However, we will grow from this and develop new procedures as a team.  Working together to formulate and implement these plans will help those of us not on the frontlines better manage our team members who have been our could be in the future.  My team is more than delivery drivers – they are part of the logistics process before they delivery even happens.  Including them in creating these processes will build morale and continue to build trust.

Managing a frontline team can be challenging.  I hope for all of our sakes we don’t have to deal with any of this again, but in the event we do, I hope these tips help you grow your team to be even stronger.