I was never a fan of working from home, for myself personally or for my team. In fact, not only was I not a fan, I actively battled against it. I pretty much rejected the concept. Even on those days when I knew that people would be out or remote, my blood pressure skyrocketed, seeing empty seats in the office. I needed to be in the middle of a busy, bustling office for peace of mind.
Company culture has always been a focus at Charitybuzz – together, we celebrate our wins, commiserate about challenges, brainstorm, and build friendships. And my leadership approach is rooted in the power of relationships, which, historically, are forged in person. When our NYC office closed in March due to COVID-19, all I could think was: “How were we going to create the motivating, supportive, effective, and truly unique team dynamic outside of an office setting?” I thought it was impossible, but my team quickly proved me wrong by staying committed to one another and a shared vision, steering clear of micromanagement, and maintaining consistency.
For someone who likely would have never come around to a remote work policy or culture, I am now genuinely a WFH believer. Here’s how I got there.
In trying times, we need our teams more than ever. To foster collaboration, ownership, and focus, leaders should make sure each and every employee feels connected to a shared vision.
This cohesiveness occurs more naturally in an office environment, so, when remote, we need to be intentional about galvanizing our teams through transparency and consistent communication. Even if you, as an executive, are thinking about the same goals and plans day in and day out, most other employees aren’t hearing those messages as frequently, if at all.
From the very beginning of quarantine, I started sharing more and more about the business performance and projections – both highs and lows – with the full team. The level of transparency continued to increase over the past few months, resulting in a notable shift in how employees view their ownership in the business. Team members across departments and levels are stepping up, demonstrating significantly more “intrapreneurship” and innovation.
Management: don’t go micro
For someone like me, who is accustomed to seeing everyone working in the office each day, moving to remote work can trigger the instinct to check on everyone’s progress and activities with ridiculous frequency. (My advice: don’t do that).
During the unsettling timeframe in March when we transitioned out of the office, the urge to micromanage indeed crept into my mind. I was determined to fight the instinct and maintain my normal management approach, so I focused my thoughts on the fact that we’ve hired the best people. That gave me assurance. I’ve always had confidence in my team; why would I think their work ethic, ingenuity, and commitment would all of a sudden change drastically simply because they’re sitting at their kitchen table now rather than in our office?
The shift to working remotely and dealing with a pandemic was challenging enough for everyone, so a change in management style would have exacerbated that feeling of insecurity. Thankfully, our middle management led the way, and none of us let our fears affect how we interacted with our teams.
Our results quickly revealed that the same things making us effective and successful in the office, make us effective and successful remotely. If you hire the right people and establish the right management style, based on your company’s values and unique needs, you’re already putting yourself in an exponentially better position to take on the big challenges.
Yes, I did just advocate for maintaining the same culture and work style as in the office. But the reality is there are some tactical changes necessary when going remote. For us, we implemented daily department team standups, increased our staff meeting cadence to weekly, employed new project management and collaboration tools, and made sure our virtual trivia challenges were on the calendar.
Across industries, company sizes, and locations, leaders talked a lot about the necessity of virtual facetime, morale-building, and work/life balance back in April. My company was not alone in implementing standups, updating communication protocols and setting up team activities. The key for us, though, has been following through on those plans.
When we start seeing numbers go up and feel optimistic about our business, we take it as a sign that our approach is working, and we should keep on that path, not let up. In fact, the outcomes of these tactics have been so impressive that we’ve already decided to continue them once we are back in an office setting. I suppose that is a silver lining, one of the positive lasting effects of this COVID era – we’ve tested and proven new ideas and ways of working that we can now take into the future.
So, as we methodically analyze and prepare for the best way to safely transition back into an office environment, I am more confident and excited than ever about our team’s capabilities, adaptability and commitment to one another. We’re emerging as a better version of our company, ready to work toward success from wherever we may be sitting.