There’s plenty of confusion, fear, and anxiety surrounding the recent outbreak of the Coronavirus. And, that uncertainty doesn’t just include how the pandemic will impact our health and economy. The fact is, many leaders have been presented with new challenges—like how to lead people during challenging times, and how to keep them engaged.
“I don’t know what I’ll do,” Josh, a manager of thirty-two employees told me. “I work for a company where my team isn’t used to working remotely. How do I lead people if we’re all at home?”
That’s actually a question I’ve been asked numerous times throughout the years—as I’ve spent most of my career working on projects from around the globe, from my home. And, under normal circumstances, I may offer similar advice to what you’re about to read. But, this is slightly different—because people are scared, they’re being forced into uncomfortable change, and this might be the first time they’ve ever been asked to do their job from their kitchen table.
What do leaders need to know about managing employees working remotely?
1. We’re humans before we’re employees. Pandemic is a scary word. And, although your first reaction to sending your employees home to work might be, “I’ll monitor my team to ensure they’re working when I expect them to be working,” it’s time to step back and realize we’re all in a weird spot. Schools are closed so you’re teams are at home dealing with children. Curiosity is high, so they may be monitoring the news for further cancellations. And, at the core of all this, we’re all human, and we all understand that the safety of ourselves and our families takes precedent to our work. Your first question, as a leader, checking in on your employees, should be, “How are you? Is everyone safe and healthy?”
2. Distractions are not defining moments. As a leader, it’s important to understand that not all employees will respond equally to working from home. There will be some that have more distractions than others. And, yes, there will be some who try to take advantage of the situation—treating their remote work like a vacation. As a leader, it’s your responsibility to understand that these are strange circumstances we’re all encountering. It’s your responsibility to also be aware that this circumstance will hopefully be short-lived. Some employees will underperform because they’re distracted by legitimate concerns and responsibilities. Other employees will be distracted by things like Netflix or Judge Judy. You need to keep in mind that not every person is capable of working remotely. Some will struggle (even some of your top performers), and some will exceed expectations (even your typically marginal performers). Now is not the time to make judgments on their value as an employee.
3. Deadlines still exist. Or, do they? And, for what? We all work in different industries. Some industries are currently suffering, while others are flourishing. If you happen to work in an industry that is currently suffering (like entertainment, specialty retail, or travel and leisure) maybe it’s time to realize you can bend some deadlines, and take this opportunity to do something you otherwise thought might take people away from their primary focus. For example, I talked to a CEO the other day who runs a large fitness company. She said, although business has slowed dramatically, and she will be closing the doors for a couple weeks, she’s working with her team to deploy various online training programs to her employees. Some will take leadership courses. Others will take service courses. And, she and her executive team are taking a branding course—so “when this is over, we’ll all come back healthy, rested, and ready for a fresh rebound.”
4. Business hours are only for meetings. I’ve spent most of my career working from home—both as an employee of a company, and being self-employed. And, while certain industries might need employees to be working during a certain segment of the day (customer service or call-center employees, for example) other employees simply need to perform their work. Consider each of your employees expectations. And, when their responsibilities don’t need to be performed between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., loosen your expectation. Some of your employees will be distracted during standard business hours. Let them be distracted. Allow them to create their own work schedule.
5. Your team will surprise you, if this one condition exists. Your people want to work. They want to feel necessary. They want to be productive. But, they also want to feel appreciated for their contributions, and respected for the other elements of their life that feel pretty scary right now—their children who are at home, their own health and safety, and their elderly family members who are facing the greatest risk. If your employees feel appreciated for their contributions and respected for the other aspects of life we’re all juggling right now, they will rise to the challenge and accomplish more than you can imagine. Give them the opportunity to rise.
We are facing trying times. But, we’re also facing changing times and a possible future we never expected. It’s time to expect the best from our people whether we’re looking over their shoulder or not. It’s time to let your people rise to the occasion.
Source: Todd Nordstrom via Forbes