Tips and Tales From Our Own Experience with Managing During Coronavirus
Whether you felt ready or not, here you go: you’re now the leader of a 100% remote team.
Even under normal circumstances, going totally remote is very different than managing a department in a shared workspace – even if you’re used to supervising occasional or part-time telecommuters.
But of course, these are not normal circumstances. For most managers facing this abrupt new reality, the past several weeks have been a time of profound adjustments. From tech challenges, to altered work schedules, to the flood of raw emotions infusing your team, you’ve probably had your moments of wondering how this is all really going to work. Same could probably be said for every member of your team right now.
In a previous post, we shared some of the best practices we’ve found (and tested) for telecommuting during mass quarantine. We hope your employees are finding those tips helpful. We also hope they’ll reach out to share their own best practices.
In that same spirit, we’ve assembled the following 6 Leadership Tips that we’ve discovered, tried out, and found the most helpful.
1. Your Job Description Just Changed: Adjust Your Messaging Accordingly
This pandemic is a scary but short-term challenge. The experiences and memories your employees take away from it, however, will last forever. It is hard to imagine a time – in the entire history of telecommuting – that a team needed their manager more than your team needs you, right now. As each employee handles their own worries and anxieties in their own, unique ways, they’re looking to you for consistency, encouragement, clarity, and compassion. All that, while protecting your team’s long-term productivity and results.
We’ve seen some management tips that suggest that right now, leaders should project confidence, calm, and optimism. We agree… but we’re also discovering that the best thing we can do is balance the upbeat messaging with recognition that these are difficult, uncertain times, and appreciation for all the ways that each of your employees are rising to the occasion.
2. Shift Your Expectations To What’s Achievable
The performance expectations you established for employees before COVID-19 may – or may not – be realistic right now. That’s especially true when it comes to how and when the work gets done. No matter how highly motivated your top performers may be, you may find they’re not capable of working a solid 40 hours every week right now. Or, if they are, those hours might not occur Monday through Friday, from 8-5 pm. With Minnesota schools now closed, many of your team members are just beginning to juggle the “home-schooling” and social needs of their young children. But that’s not the only challenge facing your team. Other individuals are taking on urgent caretaking responsibilities for elderly parents or other dependents. Others are likely facing the potential unemployment or reduced employment of a spouse – and struggling to stay focused on their own work for long stretches of time as they face waves of worry and fear. Requiring folks to be at their keyboards at their previous standard working hours won’t help and could only compound a sense of helplessness. Instead, work with each individual, privately, to prioritize goals and results. Based on those, figure out which days and hours of the week they can be “on call” for meetings, project collaborations, etc., and understand that you’ll likely be adjusting those over the coming weeks.
3. Bump Up Your Communications
Set daily team huddles and daily one-on-one’s. If that seems like overkill, keep in mind, you can always dial it back as things stabilize. But right now, you and your team have just lost all of your everyday, ad hoc face time. You can ease that loss with brief agendas that:
- Begin and end with your appreciation of each person’s efforts.
- Check in on goals, priorities, and progress.
- Allow for plenty of employee input and questions.
If you haven’t already shifted from phone calls to video calls, do it. Do it now! For many team members, this sudden leap to telecommuting-under-quarantine is a deeply isolating experience. Facial expressions, hand gestures, and eye contact are the familiar threads that can help hold your team together. Finally, remember that one of the biggest parts of your job now is to keep refocusing your employees on what they can do, the skills they bring to the challenge, and your belief in their ability and value to the team.
4. Create The Time and The Headspace for Celebration
Block out time on everyone’s calendars for regular, whole team celebrations and protect that time fiercely. Here at SkyWater, we’ve had a long tradition of celebrating our quarterly performance results with Happy Hours, tables full of food, and brief presentations where we thank everyone – everyone – for creating our success. Now that we’re all remote, we’ve made a weekly event with a virtual happy hour every Friday, which we call "Weekly Wins."
While the tone is upbeat, playful, and positive, these gatherings are run very intentionally. Everyone shows up with their beverage and snack of choice. We kick things off by highlighting our “Weekly Wins” that include specific business results, team efforts, and “Shout Outs” of special recognition for acts of kindness and support. We invite everyone to chime in with shout outs to other team members. That part of the meeting usually only takes 10-15 minutes. From there, we invite people to log off if they need to, or stick around and talk about whatever for the remainder of the happy hour.
These gatherings have become more important than ever. They’re fun. They reconnect us all, as a whole team. But they also help us close out each week by focusing on what’s going right.
5. Approach Each Day With an Open Mind
The truth is, there won’t be a perfect (or even near-perfect) set of rules for leading your team through this. Most days, you’ll start with your goals, you’ll rally your team, and you’ll keep the trains moving on time. But given the magnitude of our current, national situation, there will surely be moments that were never anticipated in your supervisor manual or covered in a coronavirus blog. In those moments, remember that you are not expected to have all the answers. Your team doesn’t need an oracle. They just need a reminder that you’ve got their back.
6. Gather Your Lessons
We’ll close with the same reminder we shared in our earlier post for new telecommuters. As you and your team face this uncertain time together, you’re probably acutely aware of all the feelings swirling around. That’s important. But many of us at SkyWater are also trying to set aside at least a few minutes at the end of each day to look beyond our emotional responses. We’re reflecting on our daily discoveries – from moments of unexpected human fragility to mind-blowing reminders of our capacity for kindness and innovation and strength and resilience.
We didn’t choose this adventure, but we’re in it. Together. One of the greatest gifts we can take from it all will be the insights, wisdom, and stories we share afterward. Your stories will bear repeating. So capture your thoughts. Try to write them down, at least once every day. Revisit them as this journey unfolds. You’re mining a treasure – not only for your future grandchildren, but for yourself, right now. Reflecting on the deeper lessons of this experience is one of the most powerful – and underrated – ways you can keep yourself grounded and connected during difficult times.
We'd love to hear from you
What have you learned while leading your team remotely? Leave us a comment so we can help share your best ideas.