Leading Remotely in the Age of COVID-19

The whole world is experiencing a surreal ‘digital transformation’ amid the COVID-19 pandemic, as people from all walks of life are being compelled to do everyday tasks remotely. It’s a wonderful privilege to have the technology necessary to continue running a business virtually, but even in 2020, working virtually can present its own set of challenges.

There has been much shared about how workers can adjust to this new normal and manage their time and productivity while at home. What about business leaders, however? Can you effectively lead from far away?

For the C-suite especially, who are highly dependent on real-time engagement and insights, having your teams remote means that new processes and systems will need to be put into place. Your leadership will be more critical than ever, as staff will want to feel confident the company can weather the storm. Consider the four universal needs that followers have of leaders, as identified by Gallup meta-analytics: trust; compassion; stability and hope.

In an era of remote work and during an unsettling time, how can leaders step forward to meet these employee needs, while also providing assurance to customers and staying in lockstep with the shifting requirements of the business?

Create a clear plan of action

When something unexpected happens, such as the shelter in place and work from home rules associated with the coronavirus pandemic, businesses can easily be thrown off course initially. That is normal and expected, but the ship needs to be righted, and quickly.

In a new work environment, employees are naturally going to wonder what is expected. Not only will they experience change in some of the fundamental ways they do their job, but they will also be faced with new distractions. Working from home while juggling childcare, as well as a spouse who may also be trying to work from home will be challenging. Add to it a natural level of uncertainty about the future, the state of ongoing work, and worries about their own health and the health of their loved ones, means that for most, this is a challenging time to work.

It is critical for corporate leadership to devise a plan of action that recognizes these challenges. Work with managers and other team leaders to devise a schedule for employees, but allow for flexibility. Clearly define boundaries and expectations, and then work at the individual level to ensure those expectations are reasonable. Determine what your business needs now to be successful, and encourage an all-hands-on-deck approach to keep everyone invested in future success.

Also, take time to examine employee and corporate policies to ensure they fit the new model of working. Are there clearly defined rules around recording and sharing conference calls for example? Are there features available on certain platforms that you don’t want employees using? Questions like these will help ensure you have policy in place should issues arise.

Communicate often and use a variety of channels

A recent Facebook Workplace study revealed that while 86% of employees feel connected to their work peers, only 14% feel connected to their headquarters. Even worse, only 3% feel connected to their C-suite.

Collaboration tools have proven to help. The same study showed that using any variety of collaboration tools doubled the amount of people who felt connected to their leadership. But beware of trying new things without careful policy and practice – many employees complain that collaboration tools do little more than distract. Take the time to set rules and boundaries for how best to use collaboration tools to ensure they’re beneficial for every employee.

Don’t get stuck relying only on emails or other forms of text communication. Employees used to working around others thrive on visual cues when communicating and find it helpful to see – not just read – how their managers are thinking. Video is also helpful for complex conversations or those that cover sensitive topics, and it can be a balm against feelings of remote isolation.

In order for communication to be effective, it is important to make sure, rather than just assume, that every employee in your company has the proper tools to work remotely. This should include hardware such as a laptop or desktop, preferably with a built-in camera for video conferencing, proper WiFi, remote access to company resources and databases and proper cybersecurity protections including a remote-access VPN. Some employees may need specialized equipment, and this should be part of the plan you create to manage the business remotely.

Maintain sight of strategy and progress

Without regular meetings or the pop-in-the-office moments you may take for granted, it can be harder to assess how projects are progressing. Especially if you’ve just created a new plan of action based on the current climate, it becomes more important than ever to keep tabs on its success.

StrategyBlocks makes this easy with our highly-visual approach to tracking strategic projects and initiatives. Through an easy to use dashboard, all stakeholders can quickly evaluate progress and input project or activity status. The visual nature of StrategyBlocks gives you a complete view of execution performance and operational delivery across the enterprise, linking activity directly to metrics and risk. 

In a time of uncertainty for businesses and individuals alike, when the status quo of doing business is no longer an option, employees will look to company leaders to help ensure the business will survive. By implementing thoughtful policies, being clear, flexible and empathetic in communication, and keeping an eye firmly focused on progress, executives will not only weather this current crisis but also set up their teams for greater strength and future success.