Leadership lessons: 7 learnings from 7 months of COVID-19
The author reflects on the ins and outs of remote working and how it has brought about a change.
For the last seven months, several organisations have been working in a fully remote mode. Many switched to work-from-home overnight, thinking it was for a short term. As the pandemic lingers on, companies are now bracing for a long haul.
For the long run, managing a fully remote team and growing a business where interactions are completely virtual requires corrective and preventive actions (CAPA).
Here are seven learnings from my experience:
1. Restore productivity with flexibility, autonomy and fun
A morning huddle with the team is essential. Initially, we did not insist on everyone turning on their cameras, but soon realised it makes a huge difference when you see facial expressions and not a screen that merely shows circles. Now, all our calls are video calls, and it brings a personal feel.
Some of our team members have children (aka parallel full-time roles). Flexibility and autonomy have helped them thrive. We recognised that we are more susceptible to burnout while working remotely. Balancing work with time-out calls, Friday fun sessions and encouraging employees to take leaves regularly has helped restore balance and productivity.
2. Leverage new ways of collaboration and communication
Early into the lockdown, we thought we could continue delivering as earlier, without interruption, thanks to everything being on the cloud.
However, certain practical challenges began emerging as days went by. We were doing too many calls or drafting longer emails and sending incessant instant messages for getting work done. It sapped our energy. Now, we use collaboration tools and voice messages.
It’s more emotive, clear, warm and spontaneous. Also, features like annotations and whiteboards have helped bring clarity and ensure everyone is on the same page.
3. Approach talent without boundaries
As we settled in with working from home, we took our talent hunt global. It gave us a wider pool of talent to choose from. We were no longer constrained by our initial preference for writers and designers in the areas near to the office.
Finding it easier to reach the right talent, we made our first two content and design hires in the second month of the lockdown. Hiring employees from different geographies has enabled us to ramp up the team like never before.
4. Work doubly hard on culture and character
Working from home requires a different mindset. Being used to the traditional office culture, many people don’t have the right frame of mind to work remotely. It takes time, discipline, and dedication to develop that.
Case in point, some of our most-efficient employees in office were not as efficient remotely.
Had everyone been working in one place, it would have been a lot easier to instill culture and mould character. It took double the effort to bolster the right culture and character in a remote environment, especially when we had new hires joining in.
5. Make mistakes but keep trying and experimenting
For hiring writers, when in office, we had writing tests without Internet access. For recruiting designers too, we had in-office assignments to test the visualisation skills we needed. Now, we couldn’t do any of that. We modified our tests to suit the remote environment.
Now, we don’t just look for the core skills, but employees with experience working independently or remotely. We have matured to more evolved ways of hiring and onboarding new employees to a remote workplace.
6. Plan well for when things go wrong
What about those times when things go wrong, despite all the planning? You can just walk up to a colleague’s desk in an office and address the issue quickly.
With a remote team working in different time zones, that’s not always possible.
Often, work needs to be actioned urgently. It can be frustrating that a team member is in a different time zone and won’t be available for hours. It pays to plan well, have back up resources and prepare well in advance.
Designating time for regular cross-training on key responsibilities helps.
7. Set time aside to reflect and learn
Often, in the hurly-burly of things, we don’t stop, pause and reflect.
It is a critical step to ensure CAPA is taken at the right time.
Few things that made me pause and reflect:
- we were in office, were we productive only because we were working elbow-to-elbow?
- What is missing from that environment, and how can it be balanced?
- Had it not been for COVID-19, would customers be open to working with a fully remote company?
Would we trust employees to permanently work from home? We may not find time for reflection often, but it's important, for it can open up new perspectives.
Zahara is the Co-founder & COO of Rite KnowledgeLabs. She has over 17 years of experience working with several multinational organizations for diverse digital stakeholder communication and thought-leadership content needs.