Six weeks ago may as well have been six years ago. It’ll certainly feel that way once we’re all allowed to go back to work in a physical office. Will trees have sprouted from the tile floors? Cubicle walls lined with vines? It stands to reason that office work may never be the same in a social-distancing world.
As the pandemic stretches on, businesses large and small have come to fully realize and appreciate the need and ability to work remotely. The connections we maintain in isolation are crucial to keeping companies (and spirits) afloat during this challenging time, and thankfully the necessary technology is in place to support tens of millions of remote workers.
Even though these times are incredibly taxing, this moment can help strengthen teams and provide as-of-yet unexplored options for the team to collaborate and set themselves up for success.
Making Remote Work Work
Crisis can create a surprising amount of clarity, and we certainly received some clarity quickly around remote work. At Vari, we have a team of 18 leaders on an emergency committee, so we felt prepared to troubleshoot any issues as they arose. I didn’t anticipate all the positives, though. This situation has forced me to overcommunicate to the team, and it’s forced us to lean into our company values. If we open our minds to the opportunity at hand, we all have a chance to not only survive but to emerge smarter and stronger.
We all need to reinvent lines of business — and ways of conducting business — to come out on the other side intact. Take onboarding new employees as an example: We recently brought on a group of new workers virtually, and it was a new test to the culture. I sent everyone a Vari coffee cup because we’re used to colliding in the coffee bar. I think it will help the culture in the long run and ultimately make us a stronger company.
As all business leaders know (or realize too late), flexibility and the ability to adapt quickly are crucial to survival, even without the added pressure of a global pandemic. The leadership advice of Patrick Lencioni resonates with me these days — particularly his thoughts around being “exceedingly human” in communicating with teams during tough times. Empathy means more than answers when uncertainty reigns. Overcommunicating with team members requires you to be persistent and creative. We will get through this, and constant reminders are helpful. We can survive this shock to the system; every other generation before us has (World War II, 9/11, etc.). We just need to pull together.
Preparing for a New Normal
Everything will be different, but some things will be better than before — events like family dinners, Zoom meetings, and watching kids learn online. These have been the silver linings throughout this unprecedented event. Best of all, company cultures and relationships with customers will improve. Don’t lose sight of that.
So the most pressing question for the immediate future is: How do we make remote work successful without being stressful? In addition to overcommunicating with your teams — daily emails, scheduled check-ins, weekly companywide meetings — we can do a few other things to overcome the challenges associated with long-term remote work while simultaneously preparing to return to the office:
1. Rethink what motivates people
The days all start blending together during self-quarantine, so variety is important. To keep teams engaged and motivated, dream up some interesting ways to build camaraderie and break up the monotony. My team uses GooseChase, which is a scavenger hunt app that gives you missions every day (like snapping a picture of yourself doing air guitar or your dog eating food) that accumulate points.
It sounds so simple, but suddenly we’ve got 150 people bonding over this exercise. It’s a way to just smile and have a good time with each other. It’s been an incredible engagement tool, and countless others are available to experiment with. Play around with some options and give it a go. Once you can be in the same space again, don’t abandon the events that give employees joy. Bake it into the culture for the long haul.
2. Pull back the curtain
Transparency is refreshing, especially now. All businesses are struggling, but being honest and transparent about the good and the bad is important. Your team has fears and anxieties about work and home life, so share yours to find common denominators and build deeper connections. Your most valuable resource is your people, and those people have tremendous ideas. Tap into them.
Transparency and open dialogue will help your business pivot, if necessary. Consider the new revenue streams for some companies (e.g., bandanna makers). Snowboarding companies like Burton are in an advantageous spot right now because they can produce much-needed protective gear like face masks. How do you rethink your business? When the internet came, the companies that elevated thrived. Companies that can embrace this situation will thrive, too. Open dialogue helps the answers fall into place.
3. Take full advantage of video
So many of our essential work-related actions and activities have required new thought during the coronavirus lockdown. Hiring new workers comes to mind. Rethink onboarding and how to strengthen your culture through the current circumstances. Vari has had two onboardings since the outbreak. The first one was six people, and we let them come into our headquarters with social distancing enforced. The second group we brought on virtually, sending each employee a welcome kit and helping them get up-to-speed via Zoom meetings.
We are holding all of our team meetings over Zoom, too, as well as using Microsoft Teams, and it’s given us an unexpected benefit. Video conferencing can serve as an equalizer, leveling the playing field with our remote employees and those based at our headquarters. Despite privacy concerns, Zoom is having a major moment thanks to the coronavirus. Daily users exploded since the pandemic hit, from about 10 million in December 2019 to more than 200 million now. Plenty of video-streaming services are out there, so find the right fit and continue connecting in new ways.
4. Turn processes on their heads
Perhaps the biggest policy wake-up call has been in regard to healthcare — what you provide and what you prioritize, internally and externally. Company-provided insurance with mental-health coverage and general PTO is part of that equation; Microsoft is but one example of a company that’s expanded its paid-leave programs to assist working parents who’ve been impacted by school closures.
The physical space you manage is the other half of the formula. It’s worth exploring taking temperatures at the door to ensure everyone’s safety, installing (more) hand-sanitizing machines, limiting the number of people who can be in an elevator, and adding partitions to soft seating areas to encourage social distancing. Nothing should be off the table when it comes to the health and safety of your workforce.
It’s a strange time, but this too shall pass. As you work to keep your business open, don’t forget to spend some time thinking about what comes next. With the right approach, you can improve work-from-home efficiency as well as your workplace efficiency — whenever that day might come.
If your company wants help rethinking its office setup in the aftermath of COVID-19 to better protect your employees, download my company’s Vari Lookbook today and find the inspiration to breathe new life into your workspace.