a quiet moment before running  a race
PHOTO: Jonathan Chng

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, many organizations have asked their employees to work remotely. While close to a quarter of the US workforce already works from home at least part of the time, this crisis leaves many organizations facing a new, complex challenge: transitioning entire workforces to full-time remote work, and juggling the policies, procedures and technology required to keep staff productive and effective.

As you prepare for an uncertain future, here are three things you’ll want to consider.

Bring Empathy to the Table

This is unlike any situation any of us have dealt with before. Employees are balancing full-time work and full-time childcare, not to mention the emotional stress and constant anxiety of an unpredictable environment. They may also be feeling the financial pressures of partners who have been laid off.

All of your employees are likely to be more emotionally fragile than usual. Some will be anxious. Some will be angry. Some will feel hopeless or depressed and wonder why work even matters right now.

You’re undoubtedly feeling many of the same feelings — and that’s fine. You should feel whatever you need to feel. But in your role as a leader, you need to maintain your emotional equilibrium. The more you can appear calm, the more your teams will be able to calm themselves and maintain focus.

Especially in the context of an abrupt shift to remote work, it is important for managers to acknowledge stress, listen to employees’ concerns, and empathize with their struggles. The more empathy you can bring the table, the more you can help your team stay on track. Here are some ideas to help:

  • Stay calm and positive — your team is looking to you for cues about how to react.
  • Focus on achievable tasks to provide your team with a sense of control.
  • Check in with managers daily, even if it’s just to say hi.
  • Encourage your managers and staff not to neglect self-care — it’s important to manage stress.
  • Most importantly, recognize your team for doing their best in an extremely challenging situation.

Related Article: Working Remotely: A Manager's Perspective

Fill the Gaps With Technology

This transition to remote work is different than a planned pilot or pivot. It’s sudden, probably messy and likely leaving you struggling to keep up. Organizations need to ensure that employees have access to the information, systems and processes they need to keep business moving.

Your team must have access to their colleagues, and be able to simulate the in-office experience as closely as possible. In addition to email, tools like video conference calling and Microsoft Teams can help teams stay connected for meetings and general office chatter.

If you’re collaborating on content with team members, make sure you are storing content in a centralized location. You can also try using the collaboration feature in your content management software so multiple team members can work on the same document at once. For us at Laserfiche, our Microsoft Office 365 integration has also been critical for our teams’ ability to securely and simultaneously collaborate on Office 365 documents within the Laserfiche environment. This makes it easy to work together and share information.

Remote team collaboration hinges on each member knowing what needs to be done and knowing their colleagues’ progress. Effective remote team working requires that your entire team is on the same page. Supplement interpersonal chats with a shared to-do list or project management software. This also cuts down on email clutter, enables everyone to stay aware of the status of collaborative projects, and leaves no one out of the loop.

And don’t forget process automation. Business process automation can help to keep business moving without manual intervention, so teams — who may already be stretched thin in a time of crisis — can focus on activities that matter, such as complex decision making, creative projects and, of course, customer service. Automated processes can enable organizations to shift to a work-from-home model, take steps to protect the health of their workforce and community, increase communications about COVID-19 response and more, all while minimizing disruptions to day-to-day business processes, such as HR onboarding, payroll, IT ticketing and accounts payable.

Related Article: Virtual Workspaces: How to Do More Than Just Meetings Online

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

Communication is crucial. A Blind study found that employee burnout is often a result of poor leadership and unclear direction. When employees don’t understand the company’s direction or vision, they’re much more likely to become disengaged. In a crisis, employees look to the leadership team to determine how to feel. Should they be worried about the company, or confident in your leadership and direction?

If you’re on the leadership team, be sure your managers are equipped with the tools they need to support their teams. Communicate regularly about status and check in on their emotional well-being. Your management team can’t look after your front line if they aren’t looking after themselves.

When it comes to communication, here are a few ideas to keep in mind:

  • Be compassionate. Your managers and front line are experiencing stresses and anxiety that are pushing them to the limit. Communicate your recognition that they are doing their best in extraordinary circumstances. Set the tone from the top that you appreciate your team showing up and stepping up to serve your customers. 
  • Use video. Employ your video communications perhaps more than you normally would now that you’re more isolated. You want your organization to see you, connect with you and be reassured in your leadership.
  • Communicate regularly. Be rapid, transparent and compassionate in your communication. Your employees are likely scared. They want to know that you’re going to get through this together, and you can help encourage them.
  • Consider new forms of communication. Can you host an all-company town hall? What about an “ask the executive team” event where employees can submit questions to be answered? Think beyond emails to make employees — especially if they are isolated at home — feel connected and reassured.
  • Stay open to innovation. As employees adjust to working remotely, they’ll bring new ideas to the table about changes to processes, new software to enable collaboration and new ways of working. Don’t let fear keep you stuck in stasis. Empower your employees to adapt to changed circumstances and you might be surprised by what results.

Related Article: Will COVID-19 Be a Tipping Point for Technology?

Turn Challenge Into Opportunity

Many leaders are finding themselves forced to suddenly put theory into practice. At the same time, teams are being tested, and you may be surprised at who steps up unexpectedly in this challenging environment. Trust in yourself and your decisions, but also remember to trust in your team — those who are excited by challenge will feel empowered if you empower them. They’ll seize an opportunity to try new ways of working, take on more responsibility and continue to grow despite the circumstances. And you may come out of the crisis with improved practices, innovative ideas and a new generation of leaders.