One of the earliest and most apparent effects of the COVID-19 health crisis is that a record number of Americans are working from home, many for the first time.
Almost as many are learning that working from home… isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be. Remote work has many benefits, but it comes with its own unique set of challenges. If left unaddressed, employees can feel isolated, disconnected, and even burned out.
This dynamic presents a particular challenge for leaders, one that feels contradictory: We must on the one hand establish a sense of calm, normalcy and business-as-usual, while inspiring and empowering our teams to rise up to these extraordinary circumstances on the other.
The fact is, these are not normal times. There is no aspect of society and life that the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t touched. We all face unprecedented disruption and change, and the future is anything but certain. But as in any time of crisis, the present moment presents us with an opportunity… the opportunity to rise up to meet it with courage and decisive action.
As the CEO & co-founder of SnackNation, my team and I are in direct contact with thousands of Member offices in all 50 states. We’re learning firsthand about the challenges they’re experiencing, and what they’re doing to solve them. Likewise, my leadership team and I are developing a toolkit to help us rise up to the challenge.
Here’s what I believe every business leader can do to stay connected to their teams and ensure that their business is able to not just weather this storm, but emerge stronger on the other side.
1. Set Curbs and Parameters.
This is probably the most important thing, and something you must call out for your entire team: you have to create curbs in your day, time blocks at the beginning and end of the work day when the only task is to rejuvenate or decompress.
If you’ve worked from home before, you know – it can be so easy for everything to bleed together, and that’s a fast track to burnout.
In practice, this means your calendar should be more planned out than ever. Without the natural rhythm of the office work day, your calendar is one of the only things keeping your day from falling apart!
Stick to the morning routines that worked for you in the past – exercise, shower and dress as if you were going to work, and start your work day at the same time you did in the office. Give yourself a hard stop in the evening to practice active rejuvenation.
You should also create a dedicated workspace. Don’t work on a couch, your bed, or the kitchen table (if you can avoid it). Give yourself a mental, physical, and temporal barrier between work and the rest of your day.
Be sure to take breaks (get outside!) including a lunch break. But beware – one of the worst things you can do right now is to eat lunch in front of the TV news. It won’t serve you, but it will create needless anxiety.
2. Commit to 2x Daily Huddles.
Accountability can easily become a casualty of remote work, even when everyone on your team is acting in good faith (which at successful companies, most people are).
That’s why at SnackNation we’re conducting twice daily video conference huddles for every department, as well as for our leadership team. The goal is to keep everyone connected and informed, especially since circumstances are changing so rapidly. This practice is especially important during the initial transition to remote life, when you’re establishing expectations and best practices for remote employees.
I recommend two daily huddles, a morning huddle for intention setting, and an evening one to report back on progress and make adjustments.
To make our expectations crystal clear, I had every team leader at SnackNation commit to their answers to the following questions, and share with the entire team:
Team Dept Hours (consistency is preferred): ___________
Commitment: What’s the communicated expectation on how long it will take your team to get back to others? ___________
Commitment: How will your team notify each other when they will be unavailable and unable to meet the above expectation? ___________
Morning Huddle Time: ___________
Morning Huddle Agenda: ___________
Evening Huddle Time: ___________
Evening Huddle Agenda: ___________
Weekly Performance Accountability Meeting Time: ___________
Weekly Performance Accountability Meeting Agenda: ___________
Plans for ensuring camaraderie and interaction: ___________
Commitment y/n that you have communicated to your teams that video is mandatory for connection and accountability purposes: ___________
Commitment y/n that every employee has their personal office hours tracked in their calendar: ___________
Similarly, a dispersed workforce makes effective internal communication a must. You may feel like you’re communicating too frequently, but that’s rarely the case. It’s so easy for employees to feel out of the loop, so get ahead of that with frequent communication. Twice weekly video all-hands are a must.
This also means your internal communications channels must be dialed. There are two schools of thought here: you can either (a) designate a primary communication channel so that people are easier to reach, or (b) take a multi-touch approach, duplicating messages on multiple channels. Though it seems less efficient, we’ve found that the second approach is actually more effective. Sometimes you simply have to adapt to people’s behavior and reach them on the channel where they tend to spend their time.
Lastly, you should also create a Work From Home Policy that employees sign to clearly communicate employee expectations and responsibilities. Speaking of communication…
4. Video Conference Everything.
Zoom is your best friend during a pandemic.
It can be easy for employees in a work-from-home situation to feel alone and disconnected. This means that face-to-face interaction is more important than ever, even if it’s digital. In addition to being more efficient, face-to-face conversations also reduce the likelihood of miscommunication (even more so than phone calls). That’s why I’ve told my team that whenever possible, they must use Zoom for meetings and calls.
Ironically, I feel even more connected to my team now then I did a few weeks ago, simply because I’m talking to them more. In the office, it was easy to rely too much on email. But now that face time is a priority, I’m rarely in my inbox. Just take yesterday for example – during work hours, there were only about 30 minutes of my day that were not spent either on Zoom or on the phone.
5. Double-Down on Health and Nutrition.
Life in a pandemic is all about staying healthy. By focusing on simple things like hygiene, stress management, exercise, and nutrition, we can increase the likelihood that our immune systems will be at peak performance, and thus more able to fight off infection in the event that we do come in contact with the virus.
But just as employee homes are not typically optimized for work, their kitchens usually aren’t stocked with the type of nutrition they need to fuel their workday. This is especially true for those who rely on their workplaces to provide healthy snacks, fresh fruit, or meals. That’s exactly why we launched our Work-From-Home Wellness Box, so that remote employees can perform at their best no matter where they happen to be.
6. Don’t Give Up on Taking Care of Your Team.
People are everything in your business – and it’s no different now.
Under normal circumstances, it is always a person or team of people who creates all the value at your company. In times of crisis, it will be your team that sees you through it.
That’s why it’s so important not to abandon the perks and amenities that signal that your employees are cared for and appreciated. The fact is, most perks represent a fraction of your payroll expenses. Cutting them has more downside (in the form of plummeting morale) than upside (in the form of cost savings).
While no one knows exactly what the future holds, I am confident that we will get through this crisis. When we do, your people will remember how they were treated and the signals you sent.
7. Do All the Things You Wouldn’t Normally be Able to Do.
Here’s a practical example.
Under normal circumstances, I tend to do an early morning workout because that’s often the only time I can squeeze it in… but to be honest, it’s not ideal. The fact is, I’m usually sharpest in the early morning, and would love to have more time for focus work. Shifting to a short noon workout enables me to do that.
Try it out… and give your team the option to do the same. This is one of a few things you can do now that you really couldn’t a few weeks ago, when most of us were working out of offices. But it’s not the only example. You can also try working outside on a patio or balcony, or taking a 20 minute walk with your kid, dog or significant other in the middle of the day.
8. Continue to Innovate.
As I mentioned earlier, I believe that every crisis presents a unique opportunity to rise to meet it.
That’s why I’ve challenged every single leader on my team to continually think of new ideas, so that we can serve our Members in fresh, innovative ways. In fact, I start many of our daily leadership meetings by asking everyone to give me one crazy idea that they’d love to implement if they could because they know it would solve a major problem for our customers.
This practice has led us to new opportunities with customers we previously have not targeted or served (via our new Work-From-Home Wellness Boxes). For many businesses, surviving this crisis means coming up with new solutions and better ways to work.
9. Celebrate Wins.
Now is the time to celebrate the individuals and teams who are rising up to meet the challenge.
Even if the results aren’t as strong as you might have expected a few weeks, you can still celebrate extraordinary effort. So many people are going above and beyond right now – tackling new challenges at work while dealing with school closures, cancelled life events like weddings and birthdays, and a general air of fear and panic. Recognizing their effort will go a long way to staying connected as a team.
We constantly share wins throughout the day via Slack – everything from a big sale, to a great customer experience, to a fantastic example of collaboration.
10. Don’t Waste That Commute Time.
One of the most immediate benefits of working remotely is the lack of commute. Suddenly we have an extra hour (or more) in our day to allocate elsewhere. Amazing.
But our commutes often perform an underappreciated function – they give us space to pause, reflect, and decompress. They signal to our bodies and minds to relax, because we’re done for the day. For many of us, we use that time to call loved ones, listen to music, or expand our minds with podcasts or audio books.
It’s important to continue to block time for this purpose – giving yourself space – even if we’re not doing exactly the same thing (and even if we aren’t on the road).
11. Don’t Mindlessly Consume News or Spend too Much Time on Social Media.
Our media diet is so important during this crisis.
There is only so much we can control in a situation like this, and staying glued to cable news will only stoke our fears. There is very little actionable information, and much bias and misinformation (especially on social media).
Of course, we do need timely, relevant information on the crisis. For health information, stick to verified sources like the CDC and WHO. For general news, try only checking in once at the end of the day (maybe the morning too), and stick to less biased sources (i.e., not cable news or social media).
We will get through this crisis. When we do, I think we all have learned that there is more flexibility in our work-lives than we previously thought. I also believe that most people will return to our offices with a renewed appreciation of our workplaces, and the human connection that happens within them. Until then, it is our duty as leaders to recreate those connections digitally, while our teams are dispersed.