Have you ever heard the saying, “be the leader that people want to follow?”
I can’t think of a more fitting time in our world to aim for that style of leadership.
Our employees are concerned.
They aren’t only concerned about the health of the company as we all figure out a new way to work. They are concerned about working remotely with active children, pets, and parents who rely on them. They are concerned about how long this will last and if they’ll have a steady paycheck to meet their obligations, and to maintain their much-needed health insurance. They’re concerned that they, or someone in their family, will get COVID-19.
And, I know that you, the business leader, have those same concerns and then some. You’re wondering how this will impact your employees, customers, and the overall business health. You’re wondering how productive the business can continue to be with remote working, staggered schedules, and/or partial or full shut down. You’ll also wonder, what can I do to keep my employee engaged? How, what, and when should I be communicating?
First, establish a communication plan now.
It is imperative that your employees know that they’ll hear from you often (every week at a minimum), how they’ll hear from you (e-mail, slack, etc.) and when they’ll hear from you. This is important whether your business in fully or partially remote, or currently closed.
Have you ever heard the story about the vast communication difference between two airlines? Both had delayed planes. One airline let their customers know the plane was delayed and that they’d update the customers, even if there was no update, every 15 minutes. They followed through with that promise. The other airline let their customers know the plane was delayed and left it at that. I am sure you can guess which gate was total chaos and full of angry customers at the counter, and which was calm with people contently waiting for the next update. Our employees are no different. When left to our own imaginations, we can and do, script the worst-case scenario. We can’t help it, it’s a human fight or flight response.
Check-in with people one on one via phone or electronic resource every day/week.
I was sharing with my daughters that we’re in the midst of history. I shared that someday, their children will read about this in their history books. My daughters are quite clever and replied: ”uh, Mom, do you mean they’ll read about on their screens?” SIGH. The point is, this is uncharted water for all of us. Let’s get in there with them and talk about how they are doing, not just with their work, but with their mind, body, and spirit using all the media available to us. This is a great time to build further ties with your employees. No one is exempt from our current state of affairs.
That said, I’ll share that you need to be careful with how you inquire about their health. You can ask if they, or anyone in their household, are showing symptoms of COVID-19. You don’t want to ask them outright if they have COVID-19, as that is protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA.)
How do you maximize your remote employee’s production?
Guess what? Our employees want to be productive as well for several reasons.
Being productive may be a bit of a challenge with children, dependent parents, and/or pets vying for their now “seems to be available” attention. Encourage your employees to do their best. They need your support right now, not another thing to stress about. When we come out of this, we’ll want to hit the ground running with a dedicated and engaged team. Here’s a framework to keep our team productive and engaged:
- Set expectations for, and serve as a role model, to move the majority of communication to video and minimize e-mail overload. This helps keep a personal connection as even introverts may find our upcoming isolation daunting.
- Assume that they’re doing everything they can to be open and transparent with you about what they’re able to get accomplished.
- Set expectations for how you are going to manage their productivity and check-in:
- For experienced employees, you may not need to do anything different than what you do now to evaluate their workload and performance.
- For employees who are new or have not worked remotely before, consider setting mutually established expectations regarding what they should accomplish, by when, how to go about it, and who else needs to be looped in.
- Give factual feedback on their deliverables and performance, redirecting as needed.
- Get the full team together, over video or phone, as frequently as possible to maintain the continuity.
- Enable easy access to shared tools and documents.
- Take advantage of your shared tools to ensure that everyone has the most up to date document or version.
- Avoid having employees save their work on personal hard drives.
I know that no one is sure how long this pandemic will continue. I like to find the silver linings in all situations, and this is no exception. I’d like to think that on the other side of this, we’re going to be more efficient and that we’ll have peace of mind, that if anything like this happens again, we have a plan and our employees take comfort in that.