Navigating uncertain times with the new ‘business as usual’

Business & tech

This article was originally published on Forbes.

As a result of the coronavirus, businesses of all sizes and industries are facing unprecedented levels of disruption and uncertainty. At the center of this crisis is a deeply human concern: our own health and well-being, and that of our loved ones.

There’s no real playbook to follow, and at times, navigating this new reality feels like an experiment. When this is all behind us, we’ll all have stories to tell. How will this experience change us? What can we learn from it? It’s probably too early to reflect and make conclusions, but sharing our observations and insights can help us to make sense of what’s going on, stay connected and prepare for what’s next.

With that in mind, I want to share my notes on how my company transitioned more than 100 employees to fully remote work, as well as offer a few suggestions on how we all can continue to adjust to a new way of doing business.

Facing the reality early

Economic changes, market downturns, disruptive technologies, competition — these are familiar forces that have shaped how we run and future-proof our businesses. They all cause stress, but the anxiety surrounding the coronavirus is exacerbated by the fact that it is first and foremost a human crisis that blurs the lines between business and personal.

At my company, our first response was to protect the health and safety of our employees, and that meant deciding to transition to fully remote work even before local authorities advised doing so. As knowledge workers in a technology company with remote team management experience, we were in a better position than most businesses to take immediate action to protect our employees and communities.

The key takeaway here is that as a leader, you shouldn’t be afraid to face the reality of a crisis early. Responding right away can make a big difference, even if you don’t know what to expect.

Transitioning to 100% remote work

From a technology and infrastructure perspective, using a number of collaboration and planning tools, such as Slack, Google Suite and Zoom, made the entire transition smooth and helped avoid interruptions. Many of our employees had been working remotely one or two days a week already, so they had proper setups at home, including high-speed internet access, virtual private networks and security precautions.

But the technology side is only one side. There’s the human side, which is a lot bigger than just using some tools and new gadgets. Whether it’s worrying about getting sick, figuring out how to homeschool children, or taking care of family and friends, an extreme amount of stress has become part of people’s daily lives and can impact work and productivity.

If your company has recently transitioned to 100% remote work, ensure you’re staying aware of all these factors, leading with empathy and giving your people space to figure out what works for them. Make sure they know we are all in this together.

Managing and motivating remote teams

As I mentioned earlier, we couldn’t predict how this transition would turn out. Two months later, our teams are even more productive than before and have kept up performance. Some of our staff thrive with less time spent on face-to-face interactions and commutes, thus producing great work with more focused time.

To help manage and motivate your own remote employees, encourage your human resources and people operations teams to create opportunities for people to connect with one another in meaningful ways. Virtual luncheons and check-ins, dog walks, yoga sessions, cooking lessons, talent competitions, story time for your employees with children, and company newsletters with helpful resources are just some ways you can try to engage and support your people as they adjust to a new work reality.

I’ve also learned that company culture and a sense of humor play important roles in motivating and engaging teams. Fun Zoom backgrounds, silly hats and pets can bring some levity to a tough situation and help maintain a fun company culture.

Adjusting to economic uncertainty

While we’ve been able to quickly adapt, I am fully aware of the different realities our customers are facing in different industries across the world. It’s important that you consider supporting clients who use your company’s services. At the same time (and depending on your industry), you might need to consider reducing sales targets, as many companies are postponing purchasing decisions until they have more surety around their revenues.

The situation is changing fast, and we have only a few weeks of data. We also don’t know how much new government policies and legislation will affect businesses in the U.S. Finance, analytics, sales and marketing teams in organizations around the world are struggling to make sense of the situation and plan ahead. What is the drop going to be? How much will massive unemployment affect us? Can we stick to our current plans and guidance from the market and/or board of directors?

One of the best ways I’ve found to deal with this uncertainty is to constantly assess and monitor events as quotes and figures come in so you can continuously recalibrate on all fronts and continue to innovate and service your customers wherever they are.

Learning as you go

It’s hard to think too far down the road right now, so remember to learn as you go. At my company, for example, we’re looking into creating more flexible remote work policies. Our old preconceptions about working from home have been proven wrong: Our employees have been extremely productive and, in some ways, even more efficient while working remotely.

Beyond that, I believe these uncertain and difficult times have reminded everyone of our ability to come together, support and uplift one another, and persevere in the face of great adversity. They have also given leaders an opportunity to develop resilience, reevaluate company policies and see their team spirit at its best.

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