So now your whole team is at home and so are you.
If you’re used to operating like this, you’re probably thinking …”it’s really not that different”. Some things might be different. But in general, you’re used to handling it. But when you aren’t used to working from home, it’s a huge challenge. You are managing your schedule, your team, your personal life (children, partners, animals, lunches at home!) and your boundaries. Or, you might be completely on your own and not used to that either.
In addition to this rather huge change, we have the reason for it – an invisible disease amongst us. Certainly a jarring thought no matter how you look at it.
But negative dialog doesn’t serve our ability to handle the situation. And continually projecting the most extreme of outcomes does not help us to consider what we need to be doing to prepare ourselves to rebuild when we come out of this.
Take a breath, think about what you want to accomplish for you and your team and set your priorities accordingly.
Think about it as a strategy for our WFH professional lives; a way to maintain our connections and our teams to be able to weather the storm. Here are some do’s and, as important, some don’ts that hopefully will help manage through this so we can get to the light at the end of the tunnel.
Organizational Strategy Do’s
…ensure that everyone has the proper infrastructure to do their jobs. If they don’t have the ability to connect electronically, it can trigger a cascade of issues from disenfranchisement to lack of productivity that will exacerbate your ability to accomplish things during WFH. Give every team member the ability to send in a list of their needs, especially if they don’t have an on-line portal for tech support. To the extent possible give them permission to order what they need to have delivered from an equipment standpoint and try to alleviate their frustrations with training aids and videos on the new platforms they might have to get used to using. Let them vent if they need to. Not everyone is tech savvy. Approach the frustration with the maximum amount of empathy.
… set specific, clear goals and prioritize them depending on your needs and the needs of your team. Do they need more specific direction? Have your goals changed or modified? If they have, communicate that to them. Tell them what your new priorities are. One of the things you might consider as this continues is to set a time every day to bring everyone together via video conferencing. Talk about what the day’s accomplishments should be and what are the next things coming up. Remind your teams that working together and staying focused will help them keep your organization successful for the future.
…make an effort to understand what each team member needs. For those who are frustrated by the isolation and the new environment, make sure you make contact with them on a daily basis. If you have video conferencing, use it. If you don’t, check out different platforms. It makes a difference to be able to see people’s faces. For those who are used to WFH your contact might not be as frequent but they still need to be kept in the loop.
…assemble your team regularly. They not only need to hear from you, they need to hear from each other. One of the harder things to do is to account for the absence of the water cooler/stick your head in someone’s office/coffee maker chats that people are missing. Not only for the leader of the team but also for the team members. Consider opening team meetings, at least for the short term with a question like, “How’s everyone doing?” If you get silence or just a chorus of okays, consider asking more pointed questions like, “What have you learned through this whole thing?” or “What are you looking forward to when things loosen up?” Often times you will get very interesting comments that allow the whole group to relate to each other in a way you might not have had before. You’ve also probably seen virtual happy hours and other ways for people to get together socially to just chat. Consider setting up one of these for your team and see if it catches on. It’s a good way to keep people in touch.
…understand your perspective colors your view of things. If you’re not used to having your team work remotely, remind yourself of that. If it’s hard for you, ask yourself what you don’t like. If you don’t know your assumptions, you might not be able to see other people’s perspectives. For example, if being remote doesn’t bother you, you might not understand why people would have technical issues. If you aren’t sure whether or not you can maintain proper oversight on the work that’s getting done, it might lead you to believe that people aren’t doing their jobs. Make sure you don’t make the mistake of assuming what you’re going through is what they’re going through.
… have clear expectations for getting work done in a normal time-frame. Make sure everyone knows what’s coming up, what they need to do to support the rest of the team and what they need to focus on in order to complete their work.
OK, now for the other side…the don’ts.
Organizational Strategy Don’ts
…forget to trust people. Sometimes in a situation where people are not being supervised, there is the tendency to believe that they aren’t being productive or they’re taking advantage of the situation. Don’t get into that trap. Focus instead on what expectations you have for each team member and ensure they have the tools they need to complete their work. Then, let it go.
…expect perfect adherence to the schedule everyone kept at work. If someone on your team has family they need to help or a child to tutor, be flexible. Just as work from home is full of distractions, their desk is always there. What’s to say that if the lunch hour goes for an extra 45 minutes that they won’t pick up at 5:30 when things might calm down and they can get work done again? Don’t expect it but remember that it is likely to happen and be flexible.
…text or call at odd hours. Even if a team member chooses to work outside of normal hours to get something accomplished, don’t expect to contact them outside regular business hours unless they give you permission to do so. This helps maintain healthy boundaries in a situation where the office and the personal life are perhaps only feet away or, maybe even the same room.
…ever forget your sense of humor! Laughter is a great remedy for navigating new territory and pulling people together. Finding funny videos every once in a while to send and make people smile goes a long way. Make sure you are sensitive to what the other person might like. Tell a funny story on yourself to let them know you are going through some of the same discomfort they might be.
…don’t expect everything to go smoothly right away. Many people who work outside the home aren’t used to mixing their professional life with their personal life. While some situations can make you laugh, it can be very stressful. Do your best to keep a balance and when things get out of sync, step back and take a breath.
We will learn a great deal from this experience about leading, about understanding others and, hopefully, about how to better help those around us.