top of page

Balancing Empathy & Performance Management during COVID-19

For many we are entering into a second, third, maybe even fourth, week of remote working. The novelty is likely to have worn off, people may be losing focus or energy. Whilst the situation we are in is unprecedented, it is now more than ever that strong leadership is paramount.

Be a purpose-led, people-focused leader that your team will look to and look up to. Which leads us to the tricky concept of managing a team in these turbulent times. It is now more than ever, that our team needs our full understanding, empathy and support - but it goes without saying that businesses still need to operate and function effectively and efficiently.

How do you walk the fine line of ensuring team and individual performance, whilst navigating the minefield of personal circumstances and emotions? Teams are now settling into the groove of remote working, for some it might be seamless, for others, some direction and accountability may be required. You and your leaders need to help them adjust, make sure they are connected to each other and the strategy, and then it is important to show them the way forward. Here is a simple framework to keep your team focused in this period.


  • Be clear around roles and responsibilities - make sure people are clear on expectations of them each day.

  • Break it down into bite size pieces – some people respond well to daily input and help with prioritising. This keeps people focused and feeling they have something that is achievable and makes them accountable.

  • Once the team has adjusted and the practicalities of working differently are sorted out, it could be timely to revisit the team plan or recent strategy exercise; perhaps the team or divisional plan need to be refreshed and adjusted.

  • Revisiting the team plan can keep people focused on the organisational goals and objectives. Sometimes it is easy to lose track of the big picture.

  • Keep bringing people back to the handful of core business imperatives and your Purpose. We all need a ‘north star’ in this environment.

  • Check in frequently and ensure that you are being open and transparent around what the team needs to achieve in this time.


  • Stick to team routines - be disciplined with your meeting times and stick to it. Lead by example. When people see leaders drop off or be late, it's easy for the team to follow.

  • Be consistent with your calls - don't have one rule for someone and a different for another. Teams talk and are looking for consistency in your leadership at this time.

  • Don't cancel, provide certainty and reliability - for many their one call a day or a week gives people structure and routine and becomes something to look forward to. Keep in mind that people are looking to leaders in this time more than ever.


  • Don't overwhelm your team with giant audacious goals, especially in times of pressure and duress.

  • Break tasks down into manageable pieces that give people a sense of control and achievement.


  • It is easy to fall into the trap of worrying about your own situation and personal circumstances; so make sure you are sorted and your ‘self-care’ steps are in place.

  • As long as people are employed and teams are functioning, remember they are looking to you for leadership.

  • Remember the boundaries and responsibilities of leadership, don't vent about your own position when team members may be worse off.

  • Try to maintain a healthy balance of conversation - checking in and making sure people are safe and well, but not inflaming the situation with hearsay or negativity.


If you can see your team beginning to lose focus and drop the ball on their workload, it is important to ensure you maintain expectations and boundaries, whilst being sensitive to how they are coping with the situation. Some tips for managing these difficult conversations:

  • Be people focused - focus on the person first; without a healthy, safe individual, work cannot be completed with any confidence. Ensure their well-being first and then move to focus on goals and effort.

  • Check your wording and language – working remotely and without the typical context and non-verbal communication we need to be very mindful of how we communicate. Be mindful to say things that maintain of enhance self-esteem; use empathy & vulnerability when appropriate; some of the phrases and questions that we used to use a few months ago, may not work so well in this environment as people are a bit more ‘heightened and may get defensive easily.

  • Timing - avoid calling out performance in a group setting or group web-chat. People might be struggling and this will only make them feel more isolated and distressed; set time for one-on-one conversations, check-ins that allow people to speak freely in a confidential environment.

  • Purpose and goal lead - should they be coping OK, but simply dropping the ball or losing focus, bring it back to KPIs and goals. Remind your team member that we have a job to do together as a team. That we all need to work together to deliver on our roles and responsibilities despite the challenges we face.

  • Study and recognise effort - people are all working in challenging environments. If you can see a parent is putting in as much as they can, but having three kids might be impacting output, now is the time to provide support before judgement.


Incorporate Psychology (ICP) is continuing to work with organisations throughout this period. We are available for phone and Skype consultations with leaders, executive teams and broader organisations. Should you, or your leaders, require EAP or individual support, guidance, further tips and training, please contact us at or contact Matt Dale directly on 0411 113 617.

Recent Posts
Follow Us
  • Facebook Basic Square
bottom of page