No basketball, but plenty of hoops to jump through

I used to think March Madness was all about basketball and our annual trip to Augusta for the Masters. Nothing like a global pandemic to change my perspective.

COVID-19 has affected nearly every aspect of our lives. These are uncertain and anxiety-producing times. Some changes are temporary (like the toilet paper shortage), but some will have a fundamental and lasting effect on how we view the workplace. Sam Cooke had it right five and a half decades ago when he penned: “…It’s been a long, a long time coming, but I know a change gonna come…”

But what an incredible opportunity for leaders!

Many of us are under a “stay at home” order, and if we aren’t, we’re likely to be soon. And, while there was already a trend toward working remotely in some sectors, most businesses were unprepared to be forced almost overnight into such a radical change. It may be too late for a company to get ahead of the trend, but there are some things that leaders can do to keep at-home workers connected and productive.

First, understand the home situation. Everyone has a different situation. Some have small children that want mommy’s or daddy’s attention. Some have kids on extended spring break who are bored to tears and occasionally have to be fed. Some have a home office where they can work in peace, and some have to work at the kitchen table, distracted by the television, doors slamming, music blaring, and other people FaceTiming. Understanding everyone’s home situation will help you…

Manage expectations but make them clear. It’s going to take time to get used to the new work routine, so have a little patience. Working remotely is rarely a 9 to 5 environment, so remember to focus on the result rather than the process. Describe what success looks like and let them accomplish it. It might even require some flexibility on expected work hours, so if it doesn’t matter if the work gets done between 9 a.m. and noon or between 9 p.m. to midnight, include that in the expectation.

Make sure the proper equipment is available. Not everyone has the same computer set-up at home – assuming they have a computer.  The I.T. department may have to work overtime to help remote workers get their equipment configured with the programs they need, especially if they have to do it over the phone.

Communicate, communicate and communicate some more. Remote workers often feel isolated or forgotten. There are plenty of programs like Zoom, FaceTime, and Microsoft Teams that allow leaders to see and talk to remote workers to check in, offer encouragement and help if needed. Kind of like a virtual reality version of “management by walking around,” it doesn’t need to be a long, drawn out conversation. Also, be available and responsive to requests for guidance or help. Remote workers can’t exactly stop by the boss’s office whenever they’re stuck on something.

We’re eventually going to get through this, but we’re going to have to step our game up a few notches when it comes to providing support for our folks. If the company is going to survive this transition to the new normal (whatever that turns out to be), it’s up to the leadership being creative and finding new ways to make their team successful.

It’s up to you, leaders.