Coronavirus. The word strikes fear when we are ill-informed or thinking about preparation. But once we begin thinking through the organizational implications of our coronavirus planning, we will begin to settle down, build and work that plan. Here are some suggestions for leaders on where to start.
Where to Start
Your coronavirus planning has three parts, each of them critical to your ultimate success.
- Learn More. The amount of information about the virus, it’s spread, and potential impact is staggering. As a leader it is important you know what is happening and how it might come to impact your team and your work. While it might be hard to separate the facts from the fear, remember that news organizations focus on what is new and don’t necessarily provide context or the big picture. Gather your information broadly and as you absorb the news think carefully about the sources you are using before acting.
- Share Sooner and Strategically. Just because there is lots of information, doesn’t mean your team is well informed. As you learn more as the leader it is important that you share what you know – in the context of your team’s work and potential impact on your organization. If you aren’t talking about it, every team member is coming to their own conclusions – conclusions that might spread panic or lead team members to be under-concerned. If you are a part of a large organization, do your own learning, but make sure you are sharing what the organization wants/needs you to share.
- Build Your Plan. Once you know the facts and implications for you and your team, then you can build your response plan. Think beyond today or this week. What will you do if there is a major outbreak in your area? Will you wait until that happens? Think about the day to day decisions that you might need to adjust. As the title of this article suggests, preparation (and planning) overcomes panic. More than that though, having a plan allows you to respond more rapidly in an evolving situation like this.
About Your Plan
Depending on your situation, your plan could include logistical, supply chain and many other factors. For the purposes of this article, I want to focus our coronavirus planning around when and how people will do their work. One thing is for sure – the work, even if it is changing, will still need to be done. Your plan will determine where and how that work will get done.
As most stocks have taken a big hit in the first week of the widespread concern about COVID-19, some have spiked up. Companies that support virtual meetings and remote work like ZOOM Technologies (ZOOM) have faired much better. Why? Because whether the need for remote work comes from a quarantine, or a preventative measure of creating more social distance online meeting and collaboration tools will be needed.
There is a big difference between deciding to send (or let) people work from home and having it work effectively. While many people are successful working remotely, it rarely is immediately successful without proper planning. Here are some specifics to keep in mind if your coronavirus planning includes more remote work for some or all your team.
- Technology readiness. This one might be the most obvious, and unfortunately it is where some people stop. Make sure people have the technology to allow them to be successful, access to a strong internet connection, the ability to get through your organization’s firewall. Beyond that make sure they have the communication tools – web-platforms and more that will allow them to continue to be effective teammates.
- Individual preparation. Working from home is different than working in the office. The laptop alone won’t make people instantly productive. Help people prepare for the change in routines, give them guidance on setting up a workspace, and set clear expectations about when and how they need to work. In addition, give them access to someone who has been successful working from home to help them figure out the little things that will help them be comfortable and productive.
- Team preparation. Beyond helping individuals with their needs in this transition, help the team think through the logistics of how they will communicate with each other, support each other and more. Without thought about this, people may be individually productive, but the synergy and communication that existed in the office may be lost when folks are working remotely. If that connectedness was already weak when people worked in the same location, it certainly won’t get better when some or all are working at a distance.
- Tool training. There will be more virtual meetings if more people are working from home. Are people comfortable and adept at using the tools? It is one thing to be able to log in as a participant – but quite another if you are now responsible for running your meeting on a web-based tool. Give people the training they need to be successful in this new working world.
- New expectations. I’ve mentioned expectations already – getting this right is likely more important than you realize. When people are working from home, what is the expectation of when they are working, how quickly they need to be responding, how thy will communicate with each other? Answering questions like these are the tip of the iceberg. Remember that assuming expectations seldom works out for anyone.
These are some of the things your plans need to address. Use this list as a starting point for your coronavirus planning. Hopefully you won’t have to implement your plan – but once you have this plan you will be ready if another situation arises in the future.
As we have been planning – trying to follow our own advice, we determined the best way for us to respond. Since we have expertise that we know can help others in this situation, for at least the next couple of weeks, I’m dedicating Wayne Turmel, the co-founder of The Remote Leadership Institute, my co-author of The Long-Distance Leader (and of our next book, The Long-Distance Teammate), to focusing on helping organizations like yours take a positive step forward.
Yes, we have products and services that might help your leaders or teams, but first things first. If you want an expert in your corner to share your concerns and plans with, or want someone to help you get started, Wayne’s your guy.
You can successfully move people, short or long-term, to work remotely. But you will be far more successful with a plan and a process, than by simply sending people home and crossing your fingers.
Or sign up for our free video series, Demystifying Remote Leadership: How to create solid working relationships in a virtual team with more confidence and less stress. This series will completely demystify remote leadership, giving you practical ideas and actionable steps that you can take right away with your remote employees and team members. Learn more and get instant access here.