As SARS-CoV2 continues to take the whole, wide world by surprise, important questions are being raised that require thoughtful, people-focused answers. My clients are business leaders asking how to plan now to respond to a diverse set of needs into a new future. This post will hopefully help illustrate my point-of-view on answers to these questions. In short, if you haven’t begun planning for the future of work, it’s not too late to get started.
If you’re building a remote working culture for the first time, keep in mind it’s not just working-from-home. It’s also coupled to working remote in a pandemic where many people are under more stress than usual. It’s easy to overlook the behavioral ecomonics of this, which is why it’s important to plan across three interconnected components of your organization: who, what, and where.
Critical choices like these matter and how you introduce them to your team matters more, especially during a time like this. How you introduce these recommendations will determine the outcome.
- Show up — lead by example: How leaders act in a crisis leaves a lasting mark on an organization’s culture. Silence or complacency transmit incompetence and uncertainty. Proactively transmitting a strong voice, point-of-view, and modelling behavior as things unfold is paramount. Even in regular time your team look to you for direction and confidence. This need is amplified when things get dicey like now. Remember to think of the future as well. If there is disruption, there will also be recovery.
- Do you have a plan for the whole team? Don’t forget that your team is not just your employees. It’s easy to overlook contractors, partners, and vendors. Identify all critical contributors to your business and ensure they’re included in plans to keep your entire workforce safe.
- Do you have a communication strategy that’s accessible: Your team is waiting for clear, accurate, and authoritative info. Make peace with transparency because concealing risk almost always creates more. Outline communication plans with your stakeholders so they know what to expect, what their role is, and what their limitations are.
- Are you educating your team on the latest intel? Caring for your team is your number one priority. Strengthen safety and self-protection guidelines, and build their resilience awareness. Consult health providers about evidence-based supports for prevention of infection and identify the most at-risk teammates and help prepare alternative work arrangements as needed.
- Have you established team support procedures? Consider dedicated channels (in Slack, Teams, Ring Central, etc) for your team’s inquiries. They need a voice and a channel to quickly transmit what’s happening with them and their families, etc. Consider hosting teleconferences with experts to facilitate Q and A with your team to help everyone stay aware and safe – and feeling valued. Vet information from credible sources such as the World Health Organization to inform new policies and procedures.
- Are you prepared for site re-activation? Establish a communications plan for how you’ll communicate with your team, including contractors, vendors, and partners. Have a clear set of repeatable steps for how to initiate closures and how to quickly adapt operations. More importantly, finalize your checklist to determine when teammates can return to work once these scenarios have passed.
- Do you have clear protocols and obligations for teammates who are at risk? Your team needs to know they must self-report cases of high-risk travel or contact with high-risk people. Teammates may be reluctant to do this, tho, due to potential loss of income. While incentives can work well, there may be a need for clarity around consequences for anyone at risk that chooses not to report. Establish guidelines for when teammates who get sick are clear to return to work.
- Have you reviewed your policies? Review policies and procedures, including paid sick-leave programs, work-from-home (draft and introduce it if you don’t have one), statutory leave, and other criteria for medical leaves of absence, including what criteria should be temporarily changed sooner rather than later. Find a balance between abuse and keeping your team healthy and safe.
- Are you prepared for increased absenteeism? Absenteeism is already increasing as health- screening protocols are enforced and teammates remain at home. School closures, travel restrictions, and personal concerns are only amplifying this. Prepare for an increased number of work refusals and how you plan to manage those scenarios.
- Establish a Resilience Team: First, choose and assemble a cross-functional team. You need this if you don’t have it. For starters, to develop your coordinated response efforts and plans. The current situation is a prompt to make sure your policies, procedures, and plans are up to date and fit-for-purpose. Daily stand-ups of this cross-functional team when appropriate help guide your team where to focus their efforts for your team, clients, vendors, and partners. This pandemic will pass, but you’ll need the Resilience Team to re-activate in the future for other situations.
- Confirm critical roles and backup plans: Second, prepare temporary succession plans for key positions and critical roles in your organization. As things progress, there’s an increased risk that key people may be temporarily unavailable due to quarantine or illness. In the event of illness, your team needs clear alternatives and sanctioned directives. Decide on short and long-term plans for operating the organization, including scenario planning, decision-making responsibilities, and escalation paths for unplanned and urgent incidents that would disrupt operations.
- Evaluate the work your organization does and how it might adapt: What work requires your team to be on-site? Face-to-face meetings have already transformed into teleconferences using a combination of remote access practices. It’s critical to ensure your policies, safeguards, and training are in place to support your new organization. For work that cannot be done remotely, evaluate what safeguards can be put in place.
- Understand what work can be prioritized – even if it’s completely different: Help your team understand where to focus on the most important tasks and empower them to be creative in how they deliver non-essential work in ways that minimize unnecessary exposure to preventable risk. Make time to listen to your teammates so they’re empowered to speak up ahead of putting anyone at risk for any reason, especially if it’s avoidable.
- Is your primary office location prepared for containment and contamination? Organizations should ensure the safety of working environments by thoroughly cleaning and disinfecting workplaces. If/when someone on your team is suspected of being infected with COVID-19, a clear process needs to be in place for handling that situation to prevent any liability: how are you going to notify and remove that employee from the office? What are the steps to ensure proper treatment of the office? The Occupational Safety and Health Organization (OSHA) in the US says that COVID-19 is a recordable illness and requires that the appropriate paperwork be filed, whether the employee was infected during travel for business or just at a company site.
- Have you updated travel and meeting protocols? For organizations with frequent travel needs, especially to international destinations, assessing the impact of the epidemic on travel is necessary as travel has been linked to transmission. Review your travel policies and be prepared to track and communicate these. Have a plan in place to address the possibility of a teammate potentially being stranded away from their home locations as travel restrictions are considered or enacted and the degree to which you discourage personal domestic and/or international travel.
- Have you reviewed your social media policy and guidelines? Is your social media policy properly defined for a crisis like this? Make sure it provides clear guidelines for how your team can and cannot talk about impacts of COVID-19 on your operational resilience and employee health and safety. Provide employees with an internal channel via Slack or Teams, for example, where they can report what they’re seeing and feeling to ensure direct communication as much as possible as an alternative to social media.
- Have you considered the sources of ‘news’ and information we all have access to in our personal lives and also in the workplace? Misinformation has already created larger challenges for response to this pandemic. Business leaders must be the source of accurate, timely, and appropriate information for their teams. Consider creating your own news channel on a collaboration platform (Slack, Teams, etc), appropriately vetted and curated for your culture and industry.
We’ve been here before and we’ll get through this. With the right leadership decisions, adversity creates opportunities to succeed in spite of it.