“Even the strongest companies will cycle through good times and bad,” says Dave Hopson, managing partner at the information-technology consulting firm Triumphus and author of Surviving the Business Storm Cycle: How to Weather Your Business’s Ups and Downs.

It can be a real challenge to keep employees motivated, engaged, optimistic and forward-thinking during those down times. It can be even tougher when your employees are mostly (or entirely) located in different locations. You miss out on those in-person team-building “kumbaya” moments where everyone comes together to support one another.

While you can’t avoid downturns, layoffs, pay cuts, unpopular decisions and negative changes, Hopson recommends that you take these steps to protect morale, performance and productivity when they do happen:

Put people in the roles that fit them best

“This is the time to ask some tough questions,” Hopson says. Who on the staff is so tired and discouraged they can no longer do their jobs well? Who has been moved outside of their normal roles, and how are they handling their new positions? Do they need to be moved back or not? “Once you’ve answered these questions, you can step back and take a more accurate look at your staff,” he says. “You’ll be able to add people where you need them – and remove people where you don’t.”

Expect resistance to change

If this is painful for you as a manager, think about how it is for staff members who have a lot less control over the situation. “How you and your leadership team present change to your staff can make a world of difference,” Hopson says. Employees who feel involved in the change and understand what’s going on demonstrate a more rapid recovery and may even perform better in the end.

Clear and frequent communication is vital

“If you introduce processes that staff members don’t understand or haven’t learned, you’re going to slow things down rather than speed them up,” Hopson says. Invest in your people, he advises. Make sure they always have proper training and equipment.

During the consolidation period between high times and low times and back to high times again, a leader’s primary role is to rally those frazzled and frustrated troops. “Make sure everyone understands you’re in the midst of a normal process,” Hopson says. “And keep waving that flag so that no one gets discouraged.”

Dave Hopson, author of Surviving the Business Storm Cycle: How to Weather Your Business’s Ups and Downs is the managing partner at Triumphus, which offers IT consulting services to companies from startup through exponential growth to IPO. He has a bachelor’s degree in political science from Sam Houston University and a master’s in international relations from Claremont Graduate School. He also has a doctorate in international relations and econometrics from the Peter F. Drucker and Masatoshi Ito Graduate School of Management and School of Social Science, Policy & Evaluation at the Claremont Graduate School. Hopson also served in the Marine Corps.

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