Getting work done in a normal workweek is hard enough. But when the coronavirus causes travel restrictions, or natural disasters strike business districts, as it did this week in Nashville or during the hurricanes in Houston, everything becomes even more chaotic than normal. The key to remaining calm and productive during crises like this is to be prepared in advance.
I realize that is little comfort when suddenly travel is suspended, or training is suddenly cancelled, and people are expected to get the same work done in ways they never have before. If your organization is being impacted right now, take a deep breath and think about what can help you get through this moment and also prepare for future unexpected interruptions to your business.
Ask yourself the following questions:
What work, tasks and behaviors absolutely must be done to keep the business going?
In a perfect world, you can ask this question when you have time to ponder the answers. When things reach a crisis point, though, it’s still important to conduct a kind of triage: what absolutely cannot be postponed or dropped until things calm down? Once you have identified the tasks, the next question should be fairly obvious.
What people are connected with those tasks, and do we know where they are and how to reach them?
Odds are that you have connections with people who already work remotely. You know how to reach them in multiple ways, and have emergency contact information for them. They know how to access the network across devices and understand response times. But what about people who normally work in the central location and suddenly find themselves working from home? Are all their contact numbers stores on a central network that is now unreachable to them? (Full disclosure, I just realized on a family emergency trip out of the country that all my contact numbers are on the network, and I couldn’t access them on my iPad, so this is a very real lesson.)
Do you have the tools and processes you need to get work done to at least a minimum acceptable level?
Does your company have access to a web-meeting platform? Great. Do people have webcams? Who is authorized to start and host meetings? Is there one account for the whole company and the person with the password is unavailable? Many organizations have been working with tools that only a few people actually can access. This might have seemed like the simplest solution at the time, but what if everyone suddenly needs to use tools that have been held in the hands of only a few?
How will you train or coach people in a short timeframe to leverage technology or take over a new role (even temporarily) during the crisis?
Among the most under-appreciated tasks managers have is creating redundancy in roles, or developing new leaders who can step up, even if they won’t be doing that job regularly. While it’s not ideal to try to “skill up” people during an emergency, it can be done. Do your managers have the skill to use tools like screen sharing, webcams, white boards and more? Do they understand the processes and tools well enough to explain it to someone with little or no experience?
As you ask yourself these questions you should be thinking about “the next time.” Do your people know how to start, lead and follow up on a virtual meeting, even if most of the time they are in the same room? Do your people have an off-line list of contacts and ability to access company information? Do you know who should perform which roles in case of emergency?
We want to help.
If you’re in the middle of dealing with a crisis now, we hope these questions help focus your thinking and find a short-term solution. If you want to take a longer view and plan for the inevitable next surprise, now’s the time to begin planning. If you want to help people learn to work from home effectively, I encourage you to check out our newest learning program, 12 Weeks to Being a Great Remote Teammate.
And yes, we have plenty of products and services that might help your leaders or your teams, but let’s keep first things first. If you want an expert in your corner to share your concerns and plans with, or want someone to help you get started, we want to help you.
You can successfully move people, short or long-term, to work remotely. But you will be far more successful with a plan and a process, than by simply sending people home and crossing your fingers.
Hope isn’t a good strategy. But we can help you build one.
An initial consultation with me will cost you nothing – we want to help you and your teams be successful in what might be a trying transition. You can schedule your time with me right now.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Co-Founder and Product Line Manager
Wayne Turmel is the co-founder and Product Line Manager for the Remote Leadership Institute. For twenty years he’s been obsessed with helping managers communicate more effectively with their teams, bosses and customers. Wayne is the author of several books that demystify communicating through technology including Meet Like You Mean It – a Leader’s Guide to Painless & Productive Virtual Meetings, 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations and 6 Weeks to a Great Webinar. His work appears frequently in Management-Issues.com.
Wayne, along with Kevin Eikenberry, has co-authored the definitive book on leading remotely, The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership.