Agile. It’s a term we use in technology to describe the groups who have everyone and everything needed to get a new product out the door.
At its heart, agile means being readily able to move from one situation to another without missing a beat.
Is that even possible when you’re by yourself facing what could be one of the most stressful situations in a generation?
This captures what has happened practically overnight as COVID-19—know better known as the coronavirus—has grabbed our attention. To limit the possibility of its spread, federal and local governments have encouraged and even mandated large groups to disperse. That likely means you and your team.
Suddenly, workers are being told to work remotely. Or, in my own case, a routine of meeting and networking with different people and groups throughout the day has me shifting my calendar into virtual mode. While the team at Arizona Technology Council is staying on the clock to support our members, things are just not the same.
Workers everywhere are adjusting to the boss telling them to work from home. Fortunately, we live in a time when technology makes that more possible than a decade ago. But we really weren’t prepared as a society for this to happen en masse. One recent study revealed nearly half of Americans reported their employers created work from home policies in just the past 30 days.
If that describes you or your long-time policy succinctly states “It’s OK to work from home,” there are a number of things to consider. After all, you don’t want your team members sitting home alone wondering whether not being needed in the office is the same as not being needed period.
To start, communicate clearly and calmly why you’re taking such extreme measures. Admittedly, many people today turn to social media for their news. We’re now realizing that probably is not such a good idea as misinformation is spreading like wildfire. Collect the facts from reliable sources and share them as briefly as possible. Help them understand why gathering in groups all day is not the best for everyone. And be honest when addressing how long this all will last. Don’t give them false hope by saying it will all blow over in a week or so. Do commit to keeping them updated when they head out the door.
Then ask them to be proactive by gathering what they need to stay productive at home. Make suggestions to help them but this shouldn’t be a move to count the pencils. If you never lock up the supplies, now is not the time to start. If their belongings have value—monetary or sentimental—encourage them to take those. But reassure them that all else will be waiting when they return.
Make sure everyone knows how to access the network remotely and securely, especially if they are using their own computers and devices. If your team uses company equipment, make sure your IT person or department knows who is leaving with what and in what condition. Keep it low key so no one thinks you don’t trust them. Looking ahead, make sure you have a plan for IT support. I’m not talking about just help desk access but the process for replacing company equipment that suddenly fails.
Perhaps one of the most vital actions becomes communication. I live by the mantra that you can’t over communicate. This is your chance to step up and be a leader by keeping everyone on the same page—and calm. Spread the word about team progress. Point out internal successes. Even share a funny story.
If you are known as the person who grunts “hello” in the morning, this is your chance to grow as a manager. Writing can be very freeing by telling others what you’re about. You don’t have to be the best writer, but at least run spell-check.
Also communicate to individuals with a note of encouragement. Better yet, make a phone call. Now more than ever people will be craving feedback, especially unexpected. And if someone is getting off track, remember we’re all dealing with distractions by being home 24/7. Help them stay on track. Try to mentor first instead of immediately criticizing. Offer to help but don’t try to be a psychologist. Get them outside assistance if they need it.
Let them communicate among themselves. You likely hired them because they’re smart. Let them think smart. Encourage them to meet without you then offer you highlights as needed. If virtual meetings are new concepts, offer the tools now in place that let everyone see one another on the screen. Seeing a smile from a co-worker still is a motivator. Or let them go low tech with phone calls in conference or as individuals. Let them decide their comfort zones.
From time to time, ask them for help to move the company forward. I’m not talking about the routines of doing what they normally do. What I mean is take advantage of what they collectively are learning about getting the company through a crisis like this. My suggestion is having them start gathering information to create a team or company work-from-home guide. What are the best practices being developed daily? Collect them and create a guide that is digitally available. Besides creating a living document, they are doing team-building long distance. This also helps them increase their individual commitment to you and their company. And they will feel less alone.
It’s a fact that people from home for the most part work longer hours. Encourage them not to fall into that trap. Let them know it’s OK to take breaks to play with their kids or their pets. Suggest they go for a walk around the block to clear their heads. (Heck, some people may finally meet their neighbors!) Clear schedules on occasion for virtual groups activities. For example, Netflix Party has popped up for people to collectively watch a movie and let everyone chat about the experience at the same time.
The reality is we are facing a new type of experience. But you need not just open the office door and wish everyone luck. Odds are your success is tied to all members of the team. This is an opportunity to let that continue. We are not alone.