Now Working from Home: Leading and Connecting during COVID-19
As far as work is concerned, for the majority of people now forced to work from home, this was a massive shift sending them into what could be a chaotic or isolated work situation. How do we help people navigate this abrupt change during this time of uncertainty and uneasiness? I discussed this topic with a friend who is a leader in a company that shifted 10,000 employees to working remotely. Here are a few main ideas that will help:
Prioritize People over Process: Everybody needs to personally connect with others.
Putting people first to ensure they know they are cared about as a person should always be the main priority for a leader – but even more so now. All those random conversations and personal interactions during the day that kept people connected and helped build relationships are now gone.
Remote workers need personal connection. This will take even greater intentionality than before. Schedule a meeting with the sole goal being to allow people to personally check-in with each other: How are they and their families doing? What’s on their minds? What’s one funny or unexpected thing that’s happened while working from home? Take a moment to share what’s going on with you. Wrap the meeting up with a positive word of appreciation and affirmation.
Get creative. Invite people to a virtual lunch or coffee. A friend of mine invited people to jump on Instagram Live with their favorite craft beer one evening after work. Nearly 20 people hung out for over an hour. People need some fun to reduce the stress in their lives. Let your team know that working remotely does not mean being isolated.
Encourage Healthy Self-Care Habits: Everybody needs a realistic plan.
Working from home can blur the line between work life and personal life. My daughter is the picture of this – sitting at the dining room table, blending a professional “on camera” look for a video call while rocking the sweatpants.
But the downside of this situation is that many have a hard time shutting work off. Some start work earlier, others work through lunch, many work later. It’s hard not to be “on” all the time. Buffer.com’s State of Remote Work Report found that 22% of at-home workers had a hard time unplugging after work (https://buffer.com/state-of-remote-work-2019).
Work together with people to create a realistic schedule that helps them manage their personal life while meeting work expectations and goals. Establish clear start and finish times, lunch hour and small breaks that require them to physically get up and walk away from their screens. Ask them what routine might help them transition from work mode to personal time? Touch base with them weekly on how the plan is working. Most of all, model healthy self-care habits for your team.
If these plans are going to be useful, they will require everyone to …
Be Flexible: Everybody’s at-home situation is unique.
I have four adults in my house sharing space, trying to do their thing, while juggling different schedules. One day last week, my wife was teaching an online English class downstairs in the family room; one daughter was video conferencing from the dining room; my college student was “in class” stationed in the living room, and I roamed the house looking for a quiet place.
Different people have different circumstances they trying to navigate at home. My daughter’s boyfriend lives and works alone all day. A friend is working out of his garage while he and his wife tag team schoolwork with their three children. Remember, we’re all dealing with unexpected, sudden changes we didn’t see coming.
Flexibility is a functional necessity to getting things done. Depending on the nature of their jobs, some employees may find that they have less on their plate working remotely while others more. Work as a team to shift responsibilities so that no one gets overloaded. Consistently communicating and clarifying expectations will keep everyone on the same page, avoid frustration and create positive work from home experiences.
Circle Back: Everybody has something they are going through you know nothing about.
Looping back to the first point, a big part of prioritizing people over process is listening well. It’s not just what someone said, it’s how they said it. Did they seem anxious or frustrated? Maybe they mentioned a family member who lives in an area that’s a coronavirus hotspot. Maybe you noticed they just weren’t themselves today. As appropriate, reconnect individually to follow up with them to offer support, encouragement and care.
During this time, we are all dealing with a situation not of or our own making, that we have no control of, and do not know when we’ll be able to return to a life that is more familiar. We need to make sure people know that physical distancing doesn’t mean social distancing and that working from home doesn’t need to mean working alone.
Stay healthy and lead well, my friends.