SUPERVISING IN THE AGE OF CORONAVIRUS: A 12 STEP PROGRAMBy Joseph F. Duffy, Award-Winning Author of: Being a Supervisor 1.0: a Handbook for the New, Aspiring and Experienced Supervisor

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I wrote an entire chapter on supervision in my book “Being a Supervisor 1.0: a Handbook for the New, Aspiring, and Experienced Supervisor” including a section with 12 Steps for Providing Supervison. Wondering if those 12 steps still applied in this post coronavirus era, I re-read that chapter. In the first paragraph of the chapter I wrote good supervisors are flexible in their management style, able to adapt it to changing circumstances. With that caveat, I believe the 12 steps in the chapter very much apply to the coronavirus situation and social distancing and working from home practices currently in use. And so, I re-present the 12 Steps in this article, revised and expanded to be flexible to the current workplaces and virtual workplaces in which supervisors work. For comparative purposes, click here to read the original 12 steps as they appear in chapter 9 of my book “Being a Supervisor 1.0: a Handbook for the New, Aspiring, and Experienced Supervisor”.


Familiarity with the different online gathering platforms and social media communications options will greatly facilitate your ability to supervise staff remotely. While tools such as Zoom and other social gathering platforms aide in your supervision, their use is not obligatory. You can implement all the steps, at least to useful degree, even if the only tool you have is email. To the extent you have access to texting, facetime, and online gathering platforms, you can increase your effectiveness and be more responsive to your team’s preferred way of receiving communication.

This can be a learning opportunity for you. You can google “you tube how to” presentations to learn more about any of the above communication tools. You might ask one of your team members, familiar with one or more of them, to coach you and the team in their use. If your organization has an I.T. person or service, they might help you, even set-up the video/audio conferencing suggested in the steps. And there are multiple free video conferencing sites you can access to use video conferencing if it is not available through work. A partial list of such free sites can be found under resources at the end of the article.

I also recommend implementing the posting of a daily inspirational message. If you have the skills or access to an I.T. person at work, you can subscribe to such a service and have the message email blasted to your distribution list at the selected time each day. Or you or a designated person can cut and paste it to the employee intranet referenced in Step #4 below, or send it as an email message to your team distribution list. Two such examples are provided in the Resource List at the end of this article. Such a message can be reassuring and calming to team members, and even be a source of conversation and team building in any of the communication steps enumerated below.

In all your communications continually gauge the stress and engagement levels of staff (Timothy Clark, 8 Ways to Manage Your Team While Social Distancing, Harvard Business Review, 3/24/2020,) asking these two questions: 1. On a scale of 1-10 rate the level of stress you currently feel. 2. Rate your level of overall engagement. Especially watch for increasing ratings day to day and consult with EAP and/or HR if you become concerned. And practice self-care.


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1.      Continue practice of regularly scheduled individual supervision meetings. If possible follow the same day and time schedule and agenda that were in place before implementing “work from home”. Be sure to ask the employee if that works as perhaps being home with children and balancing family needs, that particular day and time might not be convenient. You can use an online gathering platform like Zoom, Facetime, or even a phone conversation for these meetings. Keep in mind that seeing the person on the other end of the conversation enhances the conversation, allowing the observation of body language, and I think, building a reassuring personal connection. If the precoronavirus meeting schedule had been monthly, a more frequent meeting schedule might be desirable, at least every other week, perhaps weekly.

2.     Continue practice of department/team meetings. As in #1 above, if team/department meetings had been monthly precoronavirus, consider increasing them to at least every other week. It helps maintain team esprit de corps and increases communication n among team members. Maintain standing agenda from precoronavirus adapting as needed to the changed circumstances and work requirements of the coronavirus era. Circulate a draft agenda in advance of meetings allowing for staff input for added items. Send out an email summary/minutes quickly after each meeting.

3.      Maintain Open Door (modified) Policy. It is more important than ever, when staff is working in isolation from you and peer support, that you be available to them. This is the time to communicate with them as they feel the need and in the medium most comfortable to them. So be sure to provide your email and phone number and encourage them to text, email, call or facetime as needed. Let them know that if you do not answer when they call, they can leave a voice mail that you will return promptly. Do not ignore your own self-care. If you are scheduling time for personal/family time, and specifically for your self-care, let your staff know and ask them to try to respect that time and you do the same for them.

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4.     Communicate frequently and with variety. As in precoronavirus days, communication is important, even more so as your team is working in isolation from peer and management support and from the traditional workplace grapevine. They will miss that support and socialization time. In addition to the communication that occurs in #s 1&2 above, I suggest a short text or phone message daily, just for the purpose of checking in, that morning greeting that took place at the work site. It does not need to be long, a quick how are you, anything new, is there anything I can do to help you. Mixing it up, sometimes via text, phone or even facetime might help keep it from becoming monotonous. Consider having a daily update and posting it on the agency intranet. If you do not have an employee intranet, you could just email such a newsletter. If a daily one is too much, then perhaps every other day or twice a week. Now may not be the time to learn how to blog or teach others too but if there is such familiarity, start team blog and invite ongoing conversations. Minimal instructions to team members will afford them an easy way to communicate throughout the day, maintain social connections, ease anxiety and increase peer support. Email, text or call with work related messaging in between the regularly scheduled individual and team meetings. Caveat: when conducting phone, video, email or text conversations with staff, be attentive to patterns in terms of tone of written communication; rate, volume, pitch and inflection of voice; and physical gestures in video communication (Timothy Clark, 8 Ways to Manage Your Team While Social Distancing, Harvard Business review, 3/24/2020). Consider implementing a buddy system with the expectation that paired buddies check-in daily with each other providing peer counseling and mutual support (Clark, 8 Ways…).

5.     Continue the practice of praise in public. Praise remains an inexpensive and very effective motivator. Who doesn’t like to be told “nice job” at anytime? Who doesn’t want to feel recognized and appreciated in this stressful time? Such feedback is even more important when working from home and others are less likely to be aware of the good an employee does. Give specific praise individually and publicly at every opportunity via that newsletter or employee intranet page mentioned above, team meetings, and individual meetings. Take the opportunity to do a group email or text with a shout out praising a team member’s effort. Praise should be specific (not just great job –rather spell out what the great job or effort was), and be as close as possible to the time you became aware of or observed the act. Keep a record of such praise for use when doing the employee’s annual performance review.

6.     Criticize in private. It is never a good time to criticize publicly. Such an action is embarrassing and demoralizing for the incumbent and for the team. Yet work must go on and so from time to time someone’s performance will be off and mistakes will be made that should be addressed respectfully and timely. It can be helpful to the employee pointing out what was wrong, and or, how and why something can be done better. Blanchard (2002, page 47) calls this “One Minute Re-Direct” emphasizing the importance of ending such sessions by emphasizing your trust in them and support for their success. Constructive feedback helps the employee grow and helps to create and maintain a positive work environment. As in #5 above keep a record of any such actions for reference when conducting annual performance reviews.

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7.     Performance Reviews. Continuing the practice of conducting annual reviews in the coronavirus era reinforces that work life goes on and can be reassuring to employees. While it can be conducted entirely by email, I would suggest if possible that it be presented face to face via Facetime or an online gathering platform such as Zoom. In every organization I have worked, employees received an annual performance review. I offer a caveat. I believe an annual review is a useful and necessary tool. It is that time of year to formally review the entire year and to set goals for maintaining and improving performance and growing in the next year. But an employee should always know how he or she is doing. The annual review should be a confirmation of what the supervisor and employee already know, not a surprise. Performance should be part of the scheduled individual and group meetings, part of informal PRN meetings that occur throughout the year, and be reflected in the occasions for positive and negative feedback documented all year long. I offer a second caveat. Do not hope bad performance will improve if ignored or talked around. Deal with it timely, directly, and specifically. Doing so is the fair and right thing to do for that employee, his/her co-workers, clients and the organization.

8.     Be fair not necessarily equal. As happened at the worksite precoronavirus your employees will continue to have different needs and wants and different capabilities. It makes no sense to treat them all equally. If you do, some will get more attention than they need or want and others will not get enough to be able to perform well. And in this stressful environment, even working from home, some employees may need more of your time and more guidance, than usual for them and more than other employees. As you can give them the time and attention they need. Avoid favoritism.

9.     Reward. Of course praise as covered in #5 is a very effective reward. A gift certificate to a restaurant, a show, sporting event or movie is not feasible at this time. Try to be responsive to what your employees would consider a reward. Perhaps they like yoga and miss going to sessions. You could give them a gift card or paid subscription to online yoga classes. How about gifting an online cooking class? There are any number of online gift certificates you could offer, e.g. books, concert and movie subscriptions, perhaps a few free coaching sessions. Can you think of other ways?

10. Manage By Walking Around (MBWA). While this is a very powerful management tool it is most difficult to practice in this work from home social distancing environment. Even if it is permissible to be physically present at a work site where essential work is going on, it would not be wise to do so. You will want to be there to show your support for staff and clients and to help and let them know you care and appreciate them. But doing so could lead to you becoming infected and carrying the virus home to others. Do not do it. You can try a virtual version of MBWA. You can Facetime select staff on duty in the work place and actually have them do the walking, stopping to chat with clients and other staff (at a safe distance) along the way. As a way of showing you care, you can do the same thing using face time with employees at home, letting them show you where they are working and how, and you could do the same – it is ok to be more personal and human.

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11.  Ask “How am I doing”. Three-term New York City Mayor Ed Koch was famous for his trademark question “How am I doing”? While he frequently asked his constituents the question, some critics say he often did not listen. You need to know how you are doing so you can take positive steps to improve. So ask that question of yourself and others often. Very importantly, listen to and act on the answers. It is even more important that you ask and know how you are doing in this coronavirus era. Invite your team to tell you what it is you are doing that they find helpful and what more you could do to help them.

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12. Continue to be a person of integrity. Being a person of integrity means doing the right thing at all times, even when no one is watching (how do you know when no one is watching or listening). If you are not a person of integrity, people will lose trust in you. If people do not trust you, they will not follow you (for long). If people trust you they will give you their proverbial right hand, follow you to hell and back, ask how they can help, improve the work environment. In this time of crisis it is very important that you be honest and transparent, and consistent, across the board. If you do not know something, do not fudge it, acknowledge it and tell them you will get back to them and do so.


Supervision always has its challenges. Flexibility is a must to remain a successful supervisor. Disasters place added demands on supervisors. The coronavirus pandemic is a disaster of monumental proportions that stress every facet of life including the entire workforce and those in supervisory roles. The 12 Steps enumerated above will aide supervisors in being flexible and easing the added stress of this pandemic. For more information on supervising employees click here. And practice self-care.


Free conference call websites

Free This is a great service that gives its users access to some excellent features. It allows users to video conference, as well as giving you a screen sharing option and an online meeting room. It also sends you reminders about calls on your agenda, including an SMS notification so you never miss a call. You can set up groups in your address book to connect with all members on one call. 

Google Hangouts Hangouts allows users free group chats and it can be used on any device with video or audio support. The call quality is great and all you need is a Google account, which is very multifunctional on its own as well. Additionally, Hangouts is integrated with Google Docs, as well as several other apps, allowing users to collaborate on-call, and the screen sharing function allows you to view necessary information as well. A Hangout can also be streamed live to your YouTube channel. 

GoToMeeting This free service allows you to meet online, with features including personal meeting rooms and screen & application sharing, as well as a VoIP or phone audio option. The host can also pass control of the call to another participant. GoToMeeting has paid upgrades, providing different plans for different business sizes. Some plans include a session recording option, and the service even has a mobile app available for users. 

TokBox With Tokbox you can easily conduct group video conferencing with 20-25 participants. There is no download required for using TokBox. It has also launched OpenTok in recent times which is emerging as the leading WebRTC platform for embedding live video, voice and messaging into websites as well as mobile apps.

Wiggio This group-management service does more than just let you make conference calls. It also helps users plan meetings and projects, send mass texts and take polls in a group. Of course, conference calling is a significant feature. You can set up a group within the system, or you can invite participants individually. During the call, the moderator can switch between modes, allowing you to mute callers if necessary, for instance in the case of a presentation. Video conference and screen sharing are also supported, along with a shared whiteboard.

GroupMe The app is originally a group messaging app but it also offers a great conference call option. A user can create groups and each group is assigned a single phone number. Texting that number allows you to reach out to the entire group. Calling it sets up an instant conference call including the whole group. There aren’t any scheduling or meeting invite options, so this service is great for smaller teams and more informal or internal communication.

Speek Speek makes conference calling really simple. Registered users get a personalized link, which any guest can use to join the call with one click. You can share your screen or chat within the conference. Users can also share files. File sharing is integrated with Dropbox and Google Drive. Users can record a conference call, making it easy to take minutes later, or to gauge meeting productivity. Speek has a mobile app available as well.

UberConference With unlimited free conference calling, Uberconference is a terrific option. It supports file sharing from your computer, Google Drive, Dropbox, and Evernote. It also allows you to share your screen. Call controls let you block out ambient noise so your call can stay professional. Plus, it even allows you to select custom hold music to convey the perfect impression to callers. Free call recording is available too.

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