Facing The Unknown: A Little Luck & a Lot of Planning

As the new reality of COVID-19 unfolds, bringing more changes every day (sometimes every hour), it’s challenging to stay positive, motivated and engaged. In fact, the company water cooler—one of the places where employees share news, fears and concerns—is most likely closed. Almost every entertainment venue, at least in my area, has been shut down. Even the local library is in darkness. Geesh! No school, no gym, no St. Paddy’s Day Parades, no dinners out, no movies, even a friend’s upcoming wedding…all on hold or cancelled. 

If you’re managing a team at work, you know that you’re going to have to think and act differently in the weeks ahead. And by weeks, I mean maybe months. Looks like we’re all going to need a lot more than the Luck of the Irish to see us through.

Working From Home: Yay! For the first week.

For those of us who work from home, we’re well aware of the pros and cons of this setup. Yes, employees will be grateful to have the option to stay away from the office during times of a health crisis. And from a practical standpoint, it’s good riddance to the commute and work-appropriate dress. But there are other considerations this time around. For instance, lots of folks also have kids at home during the COVID-19 crisis. Finding times to connect remotely without interruptions or distractions may be difficult. As you connect online, make sure to send out invites and get a feel for the times that work best for most people. While it’s good to shoulder on, we need to be a bit more flexible than usual. 

Hello? Hi? Did someone join the call?

Of course, this isn’t the first time your team has worked remotely or spent the entire day in teleconferences. But day after day (after day after day) of it may be something new. Even with the very best technology and perfect webcam connections, it’s not the same as at least sometimes meeting face to face. Do your best to NOT schedule 8 hours of TCs a day. If you do, you’ll burn people out quickly and they’ll be multi-tasking (more than usual) and not listening. Try to keep calls short.  If it’s a touch-base, it’s a quick and relevant update. If it’s something more, send an agenda so everyone can be prepared to engage. And be realistic: you are probably not going to accomplish the same amount of work that you do when things are functioning normally. So really prioritize the work that needs to get done. (Unless your team normally doesn’t get very much done. But that’s another conversation.)

Gray, gray, the world is gray.

It’s very possible that you and your team are starting to feel a little blue. This isn’t a snow day shutdown. Not even close. It’s a pandemic and it’s incredibly anxiety producing and stressful for even the most unflappable of us. We worry about our kids and our parents and our neighbors and our friends. We worry about our businesses and our 401k’s and our healthcare coverage and all of it. It’s incredibly difficult to keep the old nose to the grindstone when panic is circling every conversation and every newscast. 

While there’s much you can’t control, try to remember the things that you can. Be kind. Listen. Smile (even if you’re not on video, you can hear a smile). It’s OK to tell a joke or attempt to lighten the mood. Really. Tap into any employee assistance resources your company may have. And give people space to process these serious times.  Build “How are you coping” time into your calls. Let folks share how they’re doing and how they’re finding new ways to get by in this new world. For instance, I’m teaching one of my neighbors all about Zoom and she’s teaching me to play Chess. (What? I never learned.) Challenge your team to come up with “If anything like this ever happens again” lists. What would you have done differently? Do you need to upgrade your remote technology? 

Take a trip to Tomorrowland.

If your business if going to take a hit, and many will, this may be the ideal time to think about how you can reinvent or reimagine your product or service. My favorite yarn store owner quickly realized that her little business would quickly wither once our county shuttered retailers for 2 weeks. What if people couldn’t wander into her shop and browse through the materials? She sent out an email offering to videoconference with customers, virtually walk them through her store, help them choose a pattern, needles, etc., and then she’d pack up their purchases and deliver them to their homes. Extra work for her? Heck yes. But if she wants to survive this trying time, this will help her to do it.

How your company reacts matters.

Some businesses may have little choice other than to temporarily close.  But there can be alternatives, that positively boost your business when things eventually return to normal.  My local YMCA, for example, notified all members that for the next two weeks they are offering live stream of their classes for free—everything from yoga to circuit training to Pilates—so people can stay healthy while at home.

Other businesses will find themselves in high demand. Streaming services and videoconferencing come to mind. How can they grow quickly? Attract new customers? Ensure that they have the infrastructure and technology to take on many more customers? These are great problems to have but if they are not tackled, these businesses also will not survive for long because their competitors will beat them to the punch. If you and your employees temporarily find that you have empty hours to fill, what could be better than to imagine an exciting, prosperous and steady future? Spend your unbusy hours wisely, for as the saying goes, This too shall pass. When it does, make sure you’re better off, not worse.

How’s your company coping with the ramifications of COVID-19? Leave your comments here!

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