With so many fears in the world at the moment it is a critical time for employers, leaders and managers to communicate clearly. An area that undoubtedly will grow is remote workers and virtual meetings. With staff beginning to work from home in greater numbers everyday a lot of people are offering solutions around technology and quick movement to AS (A Service Platform) to assist in ramping up your team’s ability to work from home. For the moment I will stay out of that debate. Instead, here are thoughts for business leaders on how to communicate and set proper expectations for their newly remote employees.
Health And Wellness First
- Ground your road warriors (Sorry to my friends at the airlines and hotels I usually live in). Odds are you have done this already but if not do it now. Most industries seem to have canceled conferences and my advice is to expect at least 60 days of this type of restriction.
- Work with HR and Legal on what messaging goes to employees. This includes, in my opinion, transparency on any employees who have a verified positive test result. Lack of honesty in this case will only cause more rumors and fear.
- If your benefit’s plan includes counseling services, remind your teams about that.
Communicate Expectations on the Change
- Have a senior Exec tell everyone live, over a web meeting or a video call.
- Plan for a Q&A – I recommend text chat but if you want to go open mic kudos to you
- Put everything in writing as well, where to go for more information and updates.
- State clearly how long the initial Work from Home period is.
- Remind them again when and how changes will be communicated.
- Are their hours to be the same, have you staggered hours to start earlier and work later, which departments, when does it start?
- Get everyone on the same page.
Review your Disaster Recovery and Weather Policies
then adapt from there rather than starting from scratch
- Do you have a snow emergency plan?
- A Hurricane Protocol?
- Disaster Recovery Plan?
If so, read them, use the tools you created there and modify as needed. Put the changes in writing, email them out to the company, Have managers re-communicate them team wide in emails a bit later. Link to an FAQ on an internal shared location to anticipate the most often asked questions.
Move all Customer Sales Meetings to Remote as well.
- Equip your sellers, even the top performers and most senior people, with relevant talking points to help them get customers fully on board.
- State the Mission – You pick it, make it customer and business focused. Support your customers, vendors and suppliers like always so they can meet their customers’ needs and expectations.
- Trust Your Team. Stay in touch but don’t stalk. Managers and execs are used to seeing their people often struggle the most with this. Here is where you have to have trust in the people you have hired. Don’t be the one that calls 27 times a day to ask what they have been doing (yes that is based on a real case and real behavior). Touch point meetings, read out calls with valuable stats and info. All of those things are fine.
These are strange and uncharted territories that we are in… allow every team member a little space to adjust and reach out as needed. Don’t “hover” or be a “helicopter” manager. Trust that the work will get done. Also know that they will be cooking and doing laundry in between. Perhaps even caring for ill loved ones. I remember one team member commenting how clean her home was when she worked at home all the time because she walked around while on conference calls with a Swiffer duster in her hand. Personally I pace and re arrange my books. Everyone will have something.
Consistent Customer Messaging. Let customers know what you have done for the benefit and safety of your employees and that they can still count on you. Keep them informed on any changes, good or bad. Let them know if you’ll be offering extended hours or extra deliveries to help them out.
One example of what not to do is have a frustrated but probably well-meaning department manager at a retail location respond over an open radio channel that every customer and employees within earshot could hear, “I don’t know when or if there will ever be another paper products delivery” Yes true story. As a customer I thought it was funny, many others however did not.
When things are slow there is the temptation to try to drive the business too hard. Committing unnatural acts to bring in revenue. There comes a time for that but a time of crisis and fear is not that time.
Final thought here…..Product launches may want to be curtailed. In a fairly well known case of Jack Welch (former CEO of GE) had a book come out right before 9/11 that quickly went from talk of the town to nothing. Unless what you sell is relevant to the situation and a better outcome perhaps its best to not expect too much fanfare.
Get the Tech Right
- Plan for Tech Issues
- Ensure that your IT team is ready willing and able to assist with the sudden onslaught of remote tech issues. As a business leader with a Tech background here’s a few extra steps to work through as I’d learned the hard way.
- Does everyone’s laptop have the most current security protection, updated virus definitions?
- Remote access to essential programs?
- Backup software on their machines?
- Have you tested your IP Phone system’s capabilities?
- Do all of your team members have a virtual phone loaded on their PC and/or Cell phones?
- Will you be changing your cell phone reimbursement policy for anyone who goes over their data limits? (Trust me, people will and then ask afterwards)
- What is the client license limit for simultaneous VPN logins?
- Is your password reset protocol automated?
- What information can be stored locally vs what the corporate requirements are to save things on networked drives? Then make sure your team will have those default permissions when remote.
- Do you allow employees to access corporate data from personal machines?
These aren’t geek questions, they are business questions. Other good practices are to remind employees to keep laptops, phones and tablets charged. Expect your employee’s home networks will be bogged down as more and more people are home. Literally think Christmas day with gamers, movie streaming, kids off school, and trying to work on top of it.
Work with Property Management Early and Often
Most commercial property management companies have strong procedural policies for when buildings and tenants are allowed to be open and closed during emergencies. If you choose to stay open and at full staff they may tell you otherwise. If your space is in a larger multi-tenant building perhaps the decisions you make will save lives, set the example and ultimately get business back on track as soon as possible.
Ultimately after keeping your teams and customers safe it is really about keeping things as normal as possible and establishing the routines to get there as your business shifts to a work from home model..