In this 6-part series on working virtually, we acknowledged just how tough the business world has become. For some the last few months have been challenging; for many others – the toughest ever and nothing short of life-altering. Many have been confronted with the biggest challenges ever faced. And so we began this series by recognizing the need for thoughtful change brought by COVID-19 and the movement for greater social justice. We suggested these two compounding crises are unique and pressing; requiring people to become deeply aware of the complex issues impacting everyone. We discussed how this new awareness must be used to think critically about our current situation and leverage lessons learned to identify and implement meaningful change going forward.
We also maintained that we must start now to create and apply ideas that are not just new and fresh but in many cases profoundly different. We urged people to stay calm, focused, and open to expanding beyond their comfort zones. And lastly, we asked everyone to work on themselves — and with others — to act boldly, accept new realities, and move ahead with a spirit of experimentation, humility, courage, and imagination as working virtually becomes part of our everyday work environment and shared work-life experience.
In addition, we discussed the need for genuine transformation (a true change in one’s perceptions and assumptions leading to different action) and personal growth for every individual, team members on and off virtual teams, and every organization. Extreme demands and confusion about the future can cause a variety of responses. When circumstances are tough some flee, some freeze, and others push forward. This becomes even more challenging for remote workers working on remote teams in the new virtual workplace as they continually struggle to maintain a proper and healthy work-life balance.
In this last post, we recommend how you can leverage your mind, heart, and passion to make significant positive differences—changes that can affect you, your role, and your organization right now. Our suggestions are focused and purposely short and to the point. We urge you to try them and share your results with us.
The Blog Series Recap
6-Part Series on Working Virtually
- Part 1: The Virtual Workplace: How COVID Created a Whole New Way of Working That’s Transforming how remote employees engage in the virtual workplace.
- Part 2: How Emotionally Intelligent Are You?: Why emotional intelligence matters more than ever and how the crisis around social justice added another impetus to use and increase one’s emotional intelligence.
- Part 3: Moving Beyond Fear: Why fear and anxiety must be directly addressed and how you can use this knowledge today and for the rest of your life because events that trigger fear and anxiety aren’t going away. Leading a virtual workforce is here to stay.
- Part 4: Reimagining the Role of Managers & Leaders: Why all the extreme and disorienting pressures and subsequent dilemmas for people at work mean re-imagining the roles of managers and leaders (and others) with focused lists of new priorities.
- Part 5: People and Virtual Leadership Strategies: Leadership and organizational strategies that may surprisingly need to be re-focused and invested in for more people.
- Part 6: Successfully Dealing with Today’s Current Crises – Recommendations & action steps for various leadership roles
Working Virtually: Recommendations for People in Various Roles
- Demonstrate holding behaviors as described in blog post 5.
- Act boldly but do so with humility and a belief in experimentation.
- Be more deliberate about modeling greater self-awareness, reflection, and learning.
- Share your genuine self. Be transparent.
- Stand for change and do concrete things that demonstrate you are serious about the changes you stand for.
- Encourage those on your leadership team to grow, transform, and be bold.
- Support those needing more time to engage in self-development and help them find a path for moving forward. This may be especially true and needed for virtual workers and virtual team members.
Talent/Human Resources/Chief People Officer
- Re-define the way you calculate your value to the organization. If you’re not directly helping people to be calm and productive in these complex times you are not adding value.
- Develop a more experimental mindset. Try different approaches and follow ones that yield the best results. Look for people willing to innovate with you.
- Imagine the help your organization’s employees need and supply it. Be there for people.
- Support leaders and help them focus on a few key priorities like providing clarity and as much truthful information as possible.
- Provide resources for the development of character and emotional intelligence.
- Focus more energy on supporting leaders and managers and saying “yes” to innovative ways to upgrade their self-knowledge, engage in self-coaching, and acquire the skills needed to coach others.
- Be particularly mindful of your organization’s working environment. What’s your approach to virtual communication, virtual meetings, and employee engagement as more and more work is done by global teams across different time zones.
- Directly help people be calm, focused, and open to experimentation.
- Suggest concrete and specific ways you might work with other internal leaders and vendors to focus on the needs of the organization right now.
- Act as a model and a coach—not a “chief.”
- Do anything you can to support increased coaching and mentoring for others in the organization.
- Have more meaningful conversations and encourage others to do the same.
A Member of the Senior Leadership Team
- Consider what you are learning, reflect, and when ready begin to think boldly outside your role. If you are not ready, work on yourself and build your own resources. People are waiting for you.
- Be the first to drop things that no longer matter—or properly set them aside for another time.
- Be creative. Encourage and suggest experimental ideas that can be tried and evaluated. Don’t stick to your assumptions—many may have changed, will change, or should change.
- Practice “holding” as described in Blog Post 5.
- Listen more and provide support and help with people’s focus. Be there for your team. Set clear expectations and be direct, open, and leading forward.
- Encourage check-in at all levels.
A Business Unit Leader
- Take personal responsibility for caring for and supporting all teams in your area. They need support. Provide it.
- Make sure people see your own vulnerability but also your strength to focus on fewer but only the most important things.
- Increase your personal development sharply and suggest others do the same. Model being that “continuous learner” in these trying times.
- Be clear and transparent.
- Stress accountability—your own and others.
- Have confidential one-on-ones with everyone that works for you to assure them where you can, comfort them if needed, and understand where they are relative to the issues going on. Show respect for where and how they are.
- Re-prioritize with the help of your own boss and begin the process of helping team members do the same.
- Share your own vulnerabilities but also share your own key priorities, as well as provide as much support and relevant information around issues that affect people.
- Be straightforward about what you know and don’t know.
- Make your own learning and that of others a priority.
- Focus even more energy on team building, project management, and working effectively in a virtual environment that is quickly defining how work is done in the 21st-century workplace.
- Learn that effective leadership, decision making, and managing dispersed teams are all critical management skills that every manager must learn to use effectively.
- Understand that everyone’s workday is becoming more—not less—complicated. Stay connected and involved through video conferences, timely phone calls, and a deep understanding of what remote working entails.
An Individual Contributor
- Take stock of yourself and your situation calmly and with discretion. You are in charge of you.
- Be a team player even if it is harder and more challenging to do so and work with team leaders to be the best they can be.
- Engage your co-workers and virtual team members in smart and sensitive ways. Know that just as there are times when you struggle, so do they.
- Meeting around the water-cooler and face to face interactions may be diminishing, but Skype, Zoom, Videoconferencing, instant messaging, video chat, and other tools and techniques are all available to help you stay connected. Use them!
- Don’t get too high or too low. Use learning as a coping skill. Keep finding out what you can and read and reflect on the information that is useful for your role in these changing times.
- Make it clear to your boss and other senior leaders that you are committed to helping the organization move forward as much as possible. COVID 19 Pandemic will eventually be solved but the need to work smartly and with focus will never diminish.
- Volunteer to work on yourself and work with others to develop greater skills that may be useful in going forward.
- Show empathy and understanding to others. Always be aware – especially during times of stress—that people may have more difficult situations than you do. Don’t assume you know what is happening with people’s family, friends, or other issues in their lives. Cut everyone some “slack” and lower your expectations of others being there for you.
As you consider your role and a path forward, here are some additional facts we think you’ll find helpful.
- Businesses have their work cut out for them. A recent effectory survey of 85,000 employees indicates that fully a third of employees feel that they were not able to perform at their full potential in the first three months of COVID (March-May 2020)
- A recent Harris Survey found 82% of people think businesses need to do more for racial equality. But only 21% of those people thought they were actually accomplishing this.
- U.S. companies have increasingly issued statements of solidarity and vowed to take action on racial equality this year following nationwide antiracism protests over the killing of George Floyd. How is that resonating with the public? A recent report from The Harris Poll found 82% of Americans surveyed said it’s “very” or “somewhat important” that companies work to make a positive difference in the issue of racial equality. Only 21%, however, felt that companies have actually made a “very positive” impact.
Some additional thoughts based on a New York Times article (June 30, 2020) Working from Home Has a Checkered Past
- There still is not complete agreement and any consistent research to suggest that working virtually will be a good long term solution for the workplace. The article points out that organizations have tried to go virtual for decades, but it often did not succeed. Peter Drucker the esteemed management guru claimed in 1989 that “commuting to office work is obsolete.” Some might say he was way before his time but perhaps right.
- The idea of having people work virtually had appeal because it would save on high real estate costs, and it would be easier to hire “the right people” because workers did not have to be located near any given office. Ventures were tried but many were downsized or abandoned. “Remote employees felt marginalized, which made them less loyal. Creativity, innovation, and serendipity seemed to suffer.” The tide turned and lavish spending on campuses by Tech companies followed. This trend of course was cut short by COVID 19.
- It does appear that virtual work is going better this time around, but time will tell if it is working better because there are more rules around it as well as improved technology. Or, as a PR executive quoted in the article mentioned. “Companies are saying working from home is working so well we’re going to let people work from home forever. It’s good PR, and very romantic and very unrealistic. We’ll be back in the office as soon as there’s a vaccine.” We aren’t quite so sure.
- For the most dramatically affected industries—hospitality, travel, retail, and personal services for example—much will be needed to determine how, when, and even if these industries (or individual businesses within them) can recover and become profitable again. Pandemic related effects in these industries will take longer to address and mitigate. Progress related to working, learning, collaboration, managing, leading, and all other aspects of work will take longer to establish and every succeeding crisis or challenge will take additional energy and resources from already diminished supplies. The road back will be filled with challenges, discoveries, and exciting new opportunities.
But for many organizations and institutions—large and small—it is unlikely that the profound changes made over the last few months to accommodate the need for reduced face-to-face interaction will quickly fade especially if good results continue. The “new normal” will be shaped permanently by what we continue to learn and experience. At this point, we will likely continue to create and support more opportunities for virtual work by individuals and virtual teams.
Thanks for reading! If you liked this topic, check out more posts on leadership challenges.