The current outbreak of COVID-19 is having a profound effect on our society, and not only from a public health standpoint. From canceling public events and restricting travel to changing how we shop and communicate, everything is changing day-by-day and minute-by-minute. And this is especially impacting how we work.
As we all grapple with how to work through this challenging time, we are rapidly adapting to a “New Normal” when it comes to conducting business. For years CEOs and business leaders have written about the changing nature of the workforce, the growth of global enterprises, and the increasing prevalence of remote workers. Now we are seeing it play out but in days not years. And we must adapt to these shifts as quickly as possible so that we can all do our part to keep our people safe and our businesses open for as long as it takes to beat this pandemic.
To slow the spread of the Coronavirus, many companies are having their teams work from home. To protect our employees and support the global campaign to slow the virus’ spread, Betterworks early on asked employees to work from home. Still, while this is certainly the right move from a public health and safety standpoint, it does come with some unique challenges and will have some growing pains associated with it. With that in mind here are a few pieces of advice that I have for business leaders who are steering their ships through these uncharted waters.
Put Your People First
It’s paramount that business leaders put the welfare and health of their workers as well as their families first and foremost. As my friend and colleague Josh Bersin put it, our philosophy has to be “people first and economics second.”
From a health and safety standpoint, this means doing the best you can to stay on top of the latest information, best practices and guidance on how to manage the virus and keep your employees informed of those. This means clearly communicating vital information from trusted sources such as the CDC and state and local officials. The CDC also has a dedicated resource center for employers and businesses on how to deal with the virus.
There is another element, and that’s the mental health and emotional impact on your employees. Your employees will feel uncertain and frightened. Others may struggle with the prospect of extended periods of isolation. In all cases, it’s essential to reassure your workers that they are not alone and that you and your company are there for them.
Provide Clear Leadership
People look to their leaders in trying times more than any other. And as business leaders, it’s important to take our roles seriously and rise to the occasion. We need to trust our workers and do our best to keep them connected, motivated, and aligned around the top priorities of your company, which may be changing rapidly. In these challenging times, some projects will have to be shelved or put on hold. It’s more important than ever to maintain focus on the essential initiatives that will keep your business afloat while we work through this pandemic.
One way of effectively managing and communicating these priorities is through Objectives and Key Results, or OKRs. Work with senior leadership to ensure that they are aware of and aligned around the top priorities of your company. I’ve seen leaders make mistakes using OKRs, so check out this article on what some of those are and how to avoid them. Once you’re confident your leaders are aligned, then take the necessary steps to ensure that your OKRs are clearly communicated and accessible to every member of your organization or team.
The beauty of OKRs is that they give your workforce a clear view of their top priorities and provide a framework for adjusting those priorities as needed. Normally, we advise our customers to revisit their OKRs quarterly, but in this situation with your workers spread remotely, I’d recommend increasing that cadence. Clear and frequent communication around these critical initiatives will have a twofold effect: your company will stay more closely aligned and agile around potentially changing priorities, and your employees will feel connected to their work and motivated.
Be Aware of and Sensitive to Shifting Work Dynamics
As more and more businesses tell their employees to work from home, it’s essential to recognize that managing and motivating a remote workforce is very different than an in-person or even partially remote one. For some people, this may be the first time they’ve worked remotely. And for most people, it will be the first time they’ve worked remotely for an extended period.
I understand that as a business leader, the thought of all your people suddenly working from home for weeks or months may cause anxiety. Still, I want to make it clear that good leadership as we transition to this period of remote work does NOT mean micromanaging. If anything, now is an opportunity for leaders to build autonomy, deepen trust in the decisions made by individuals and teams, and improve transparency through enhanced communication skills.
As leaders, we’ve all done our best to hire smart, motivated, talented people. So treat them like adults, assume positive intent, and focus on keeping your employees motivated. A great way of doing this is through Conversations, Feedback, and Recognition. Having frequent conversations with your employees helps them feel connected, and you can stay on top of how they’re doing and what help they may need. Providing ongoing feedback helps them continue to develop their skills, and ensures they are aligned with your top priorities. And do not underestimate the value of recognizing their accomplishments; now more than ever, we all need wins. When your employees do great work, recognize it publicly. Let’s build each other up and celebrate our successes.
In the face of the most significant public health crisis of our era, I can’t help but admire the positive changes our society is making on an unprecedented scale and in record time. We’re pulling together as human beings, joined across the globe in a united fight against an unseen enemy. And although we’re all doing our part (I hope) to practice smart social distancing, we are coming together as never before with a renewed focus and determination that I haven’t seen in a long time. We’re in this together and we will get through this, together.