What a difference a week makes! Last Sunday I blogged about how to lead during a panic epidemic. (Thanks for all the shares!) Who knew that one week later, schools & universities would be closed, sports seasons cancelled, and sudden onset TPDS – Toilet Paper Derangement Syndrome – the irresistible urge to buy more toilet paper than can be used in a year. What will next Sunday bring? Who knows! For now, let’s tackle the OPPORTUNITY of unexpectedly leading or working from home.
Leading / working from home may be something you and your team do every day. If so, great – you’ve got virtual team practices established and underway. Feel free to share survival techniques with us! However, if your kids are sent home from school or college – that may NOT be the norm!
A couple of ideas to help make this sudden transition something to be proud of a month from now.
If you and your teams have NOT been working remotely before, this is going to be TOUGH. And thank goodness, technology is here to help. Here’s what teams need from you:
- Make good use of the technology. Hold team meetings and conversations via Skype, Zoom, Webex, and any other system out there. If you’re a newbie, Skype and Zoom are easy ways to begin.
- Manage those pesky imaginations. Use rich forms of communicate with your team, especially in the beginning. Avoid terse texts, instant messages, etc – those plant seeds of doubt and dismay that will grow like a weed. Use video chat or phone so that we can hear tone and read body language. Stress amplifies imagination. Let’s do what we can to mitigate that.
- Be stable and available. A “business as usual” in-person conversation may not be possible. People can no longer wander past your office or desk to see if you’re free. If you’re going to be offline or unavailable, let the team know.
- Communicate, communicate, communicate! Be sure that you and your teammates over-communicate. Check on people frequently. Establish a team and 1/1 meeting cadence – the more structured you can add to this unfamiliar new world, the better they will feel.
- Keep it fun and personal! What are they struggling with today? How are they managing? You’re in this together – feed that esprit de corps. If people who don’t engage, they are likely unhappy or struggling. Don’t let that linger. Instead, quickly request a 1/1 conversation to investigate.
- Learn a New Skill. I lead online leadership courses for Cornell (including a series on global & virtual teams!) These courses last two weeks – not forever, and yet long enough to go deep. The leaders who take them leave motivated and excited about their new knowledge. Find something that you and/or your team need and would enjoy and go for it. Investing in personal and professional development always feels good.
How many times have we heard that we don’t spend enough time with our families? Well, if you’re working from home and your families are home, that’s about to change! Consider this an opportunity to create some new traditions.
- Meals at home! It’s time to reboot those “dinner table conversations” that may have fallen by the wayside in our hectic and over-scheduled lives. Think about the new rituals that can be created, designed to deepen your connections with one another.
- More time outside. Now that school in Michigan has been shut down through April 5, I’ve seen kids taking up some new outdoor activities – trying skateboarding, basketball, and lots more bike-riding. Obviously, if kids are learning online, that must remain the priority. Nonetheless, with most after-school activities cancelled, this is a chance for more unstructured play (with good social distance).
- Shut off the boob tube & READ. My brother and his wife raised my nephew with no TV in the home (Malcolm Gladwell also grew up that way.) When I visited a few years back, they had a ritual of ending the evening by reading a book aloud – a rustic version of books on tape! When I was there, they had just finished reading “All Creatures Great and Small” by James Herriot, a British veterinary working in Yorkshire, England. What if you and your families gathered around the comfy couch and read a classic book aloud before heading off to bed? Notice that both #2 and #3 are designed to engage without technology.
- Introduce them to the classics! The Three Stooges, Monty Python, Bugs Bunny cartoons, old Disney movies – things that don’t include special effects. What do you remember enjoying growing up? Share it. Even silent movies are fair game. I remember watching a documentary of school children in Africa who were watching Charlie Chan, roaring with laughter. Older kids can watch classics like To Kill a Mockingbird, The African Queen and Casablanca – vintage movies that have a sense of humanity, adventure and tremendous dialogue. These films often show courage, like this scene from Casablanca. Backstory: the Nazis have commandeered the piano at Rick’s Café. Victor Laslow, a resistance fighter shows what great leadership looks like. Rick, who sticks his neck out for nobody, must finally decide what side he’s on. And he does. Here’s a 90 second clip: What does courage look like to your kids? When have they had to choose between action and inaction? Here’s a list of the top 100 greatest films of all time. I’ve seen all but three and there’s a reason they have made the list (Casablanca is #2 by the way!) Some wouldn’t be appropriate for kids but you’d be able to figure that out.
- Remind them of our history. No matter when you live, your country has been tested by trauma, disease, or war. Sometimes we forget, or may not even know about, some of the challenges we’ve overcome. This weekend I saw the most poignant photo of young kids being vaccinated for polio. There was a time when polio was the most dreaded disease – paralyzing and killing children and adults. Yet overcome it we did. Here’s a cell phone shot of that photo – look at the kids lined up to be vaccinated – one right after the other, with no coddling of those who were afraid. We’ll get through this.
- Pack your patience. This is going to be hard for everyone. You’re gonna get tired. You’re gonna get cranky. You’re gonna want to stop the world and get off. Off course! That’s normal. Don’t be judgmental of yourself or of others. Transitions and change are not easy. There will be an adjustment curve. Be a good friend to yourself.
- Keep sending those thank you notes! Somebody out there has done something nice for you, your team, your family – keep sending those notes. (I sending two today – one to a lacrosse coach and one to my local market who has remained open AND been helpful and cheerful!) Feeling appreciated boosts morale!
We can, and we will, rise above this.
Author / Leadership & Team Consultant
Missed my leadership tips from last week? Read them here.