Sometimes, the race you run is not the one you prepared to run. Runners who fall during a long-distance race take the time to stop and check for injuries. The race goes on, but it becomes a different kind of race than originally expected. One time, back when I used to run marathons, I was that runner. I found myself in a runner’s nightmare, standing nowhere near the starting line when the starter’s pistol went off. By the time I started, everyone else was long gone. I learned a lot that race.
We prepare for one kind of race. We train, we eat right, we stretch, and we hydrate, but race-day conditions rarely pan out as planned. It’s either a torrential down pour, brutally hot, or frigidly cold. Now, the race requires a different strategy. Keep a clear mind, and just run the best race in front of you.
The COVID-19 pandemic upended the 2020 strategy for businesses across the world. No one expected a pandemic. The fortunate businesses that remain operational had to transition to fully remote work. Some companies may have had a contingency procedure in place to work remotely for a couple weeks or kept some extra cash on hand, but few, if any, had a plan that accounted for a sudden change in their business model. This uncertainty and fear now gripping the world has caught everyone off-guard. We are already facing a new normal, which will become clearer with time. Businesses will have to innovate to continue growing, team members will have to be flexible, and leaders will have to step up and be a guiding force. And now our nation faces even further pain, anger, and division. That is so much to weigh and absorb, but as leaders and teams, we must work together.
Business leaders face the need to take a step back and evaluate the situation. Old strategies no longer apply. It is time to rethink the coming months and even the next year, because the impact of this crisis will not end once the quarantine is lifted. In all the chaos, what remains the same? What must the organization change to adapt to work remotely? What must change in order to reopen and operate at half capacity? How is each team member dealing with the crisis? What accommodations must leaders make for their teams? Clearly, these answers depend on individual circumstances, but the more effort put into crafting a new, agile, resilient strategy now, the better the position in which the company will emerge following the fallout of the Coronavirus. There are some guiding principles I would like to offer.
Remain Devoted to Your Mission
Ben Horowitz, author of What You Do Is Who You Are, pointed out that whereas in times of business-as-usual, organizations rely on their strategies for growth; in times of crisis, their culture is forced to the center of their decision making. Teams with strong communication, trust, and enthusiasm for their mission are in good positions to make the necessary adjustments to operate remotely. Businesses lacking these elements will likely struggle. We all are being tested. We do not know how long this will last or when we will come back, but we can continue to examine and build our culture.
Although the new work setting may be unfamiliar, the mission and goals of the company remain unchanged. During times of such uncertainty, teams need a point of stability and consistency. One of the few things that remain certain is the mission of the company. Business leaders need to both be devoted to the mission and to demonstrate their devotion to their team. In short, this is not the time to compromise your mission.
The economy has experienced a shock, and many industries will never be the same. How will your business respond? How can your business grow in light of this economic downturn? As a leader, it may seem unacceptable to stagnate or decline. Such a climate requires innovation. A static workplace restricts creativity and openness, and ultimately stifles innovation. Rather, it goes beyond verbally encouraging creativity; it also involves restructuring incentive. A flexible business strategy relies on the capacity to adopt a new way of functioning to account for interruptions and challenges.
In reflecting on how practices will change while working remotely, business leaders and team members must be flexible and understanding of the situations that each other face. It is not only the team that is adjusting to working remotely but their families as well. Are colleagues juggling between their work, taking care of children who now have to learn from home, and elderly parents who no longer have access to care? Everyone has lost community. Do team members or their family have the resources or infrastructure to work from home? The simple answer is no one can know until teams ask one another.
Remain in Communication
Working remotely introduces new dynamics in communication that often lead to inconsistency, which creates gaps in coordination. The confidence of team members and leaders accustomed to working together in the old office dynamic drops off when these gaps emerge misunderstandings and mixed signals arise. Activities slip through the cracks and trust between the team deteriorates.
Clear communication improves coordination and keeps members engaged. Coordination and communication builds trust. Trust yields confidence. As a result, these values are central in teams achieving peak performance. How can leaders be sure their team members are working in coordination with the team? Even with the preparation of a strong strategy, ultimately, a team will struggle without trust. Whether on-site or remotely, a company will fall short of its peak performance without trust. Managers with faith in the abilities and intentions of their team know their team is working well, and in consistent coordination. The tendency to micromanage is averted. Team members who trust their leader are more likely to collaborate confidently and engage fully. When team members and leaders trust each other, everyone can focus on their own roles and contribute greater energy to the team. Company culture is strengthened when built on trust.
Establishing consistent communication requires setting up video calls at fixed times to provide a reliable weekly routine and to ensure that each team member is engaged. Video calls have advantages over telephone calls. Many nonverbal cues are obscured during phone meetings and being able to see each other helps ensure that no one is falling through the cracks. Involving everyone on the call makes everyone hear each other’s thoughts. Members want to be noticed and feel that they are contributing to the mission.
Another form of communication that I find very useful while working both in-office and remotely is a regular progress report. Regular reports help multiple people work with full awareness in their shared project. More frequent or daily reports should include a list of the top two or three priorities for the day, as well as progress completed on relevant projects. What are we keeping an eye on? What concerns do you have? What priorities are changing?
Remain a Strong Team
A crisis period may seem an inappropriate time to experiment with trust. In fact, now is the best time to experiment with it. Not only that, it is a necessary time. The team will work as they always have, and perhaps could become even better. And team members, I encourage you to take additional actions to show your accountability. Foster a sense of confidence that your team can continue under these new circumstances for an extended period of time, if necessary.
Culture is how your values are used to organize people into a team to pursue a mission and how the team interacts based on the shared core values. A company’s culture remains when all but the most essential and valued portion of the organization—the interactions between the team—is stripped away. It is the way back into our race. In the weeks and months ahead, we all face a new race with some very tough hills and different challenges, including running together. It is time to trust our preparation and our teams. May we run well.
We want to help you run your race well, please contact us to begin the conversation.