Today, we find ourselves in a strange and disruptive time, with new routines for work life and home life. We’ve had to quickly adapt in many ways. From using new tools for daily work, communication, and collaboration, to balancing family and work priorities; we need to be very flexible.
Like you, many of us have personally had to adjust to this new normal of working fully remote, but most importantly keeping our fast-growing company moving while adapting to the needs of our customers (current and new), employees, and partners.
Whether it is coping with self-isolation, managing multiple video calls over Zoom, or trying to solve complex challenges around supporting and communicating with our customers and partners, my focus has been on internalizing the change, listening a lot, and keeping lines of communication open and frequent amongst the team.
This shift was a little disorienting at first, I admit, but as Stephen Hawking once said, “Intelligence is the ability to adapt and change.” I’ve found this period to be enlightening as we’ve had to learn how to adapt and reset our priorities, all while keeping a positive attitude.
I’ve seen our team come together and support each other. We’ve been communicating and collaborating more. Ideas are flowing and our team is happy and thriving in their new work-from-home environments. We’ve been able to leverage existing tools and resources, including Slack, Zoom, and G-Suite, more widely and deeply, and have discovered new tools and put in new processes to make us more efficient.
I’ve learned a lot about myself as well as the team, received valuable feedback from our employees and customers, and continue to be inspired by our peers in the industry.
For other leaders out there facing similar challenges, I wanted to share a few ideas about how to set yourself up for success now, and more importantly, into the future:
Build stable yet flexible business processes.
In an ideal case, the perfectionist in me would want every element of the company to go through detailed planning before execution. However, in circumstances like these, you don’t have the luxury of time and in many cases decisions have to be made in real-time. This can present a new set of challenges for you and your team.
Therefore, it’s important to establish a stable backbone of well-thought out business processes from the start that are flexible enough to adapt quickly to new challenges and opportunities. You want to establish and refine those over time to incorporate new tools and resources, and adapt to the needs of your growing company and team, so changes like those of today don’t become too jarring or disruptive.
Some of these key processes include:
Human Resources policies and procedures – Remote work support, temporary housing and transportation, performance management, new employee onboarding and training, and organization change support.
Communications and collaboration – Keep employees connected and motivated through online and cloud-based tools for video conferencing, shared documents, team and project collaboration, and a streamlined way to provide feedback and raise concerns.
Customer support – Put infrastructure in place to transition support to the work-from-home environment and leverage social media and other earned channels as a way to communicate and problem-solve with customers. Establish a tone and voice during this time of crisis, prepare answers to many commonly asked questions, train on them and communicate those widely. Create blog content and webinars to educate and inform, and establish new goals for response times for inquiries across all channels.
The shift to a complete work-from-home set up was sudden, yet the change wasn’t too jarring for our team. As a principle, we’ve always encouraged a work culture rooted in flexibility, standard operating procedures and documentation. Telecommute options have always been available to our team and we’ve invested in collaboration tools such as Slack, Zoom, Google Docs and Trello, among others. Everything hasn’t been seamless, and we are learning and gathering feedback everyday, but putting in the work ahead of time will pay dividends in the future.
Accountability (and trust) is everything.
Can you trust your team to conduct themselves responsibly when working remotely? Are they capable of doing their jobs without you having to (virtually) look over their shoulders? That answer should be a long resounding ‘YES!’ and the onus lies on both leadership and your employees to make it happen.
According to the Workplace Accountability Study, “improving the ability to hold others accountable in an effective way” ranks high in the leadership development needs for 91% of respondents. To make this a true reality , it is important to:
Assign employees a remote work ‘buddy’, who can be contacted whenever employees face any obstacle at work or are in need of motivation. This is especially essential since telecommuters can’t just hop over to their manager’s or coworkers’ workstation for an immediate resolution to their problem or ask for advice.
Identify the cause of low employee accountability. If lack of trust between employee and manager is leading to poor behavioral skills or inability to use collaboration tools, then be proactive in delivering online training modules and ensure understanding.
OKRs-based approach to management. OKRs (Objective and Key Results) is a results-oriented management approach based on setting goals quarterly but tracking them weekly, with complete transparency. Weekly follow-ups for tracking progress and roadblocks helps keep everyone on track and ask for support as needed. OKRs are measurable and help keep everyone aligned.
New tools for collaboration. Introduction of new tools for collaboration, along with proper training is more important than ever. Companies should not only launch new tools but also train their employees on them and check for competency. By offering proactive training, you provide employees the skills and confidence to make the best out of these tools.
With the right support, training and goal-setting processes, it is possible to build an environment of mutual trust.
Evolve to work differently.
Today’s challenges affect all businesses, but they also provide companies and leaders with a valuable opportunity to re-examine the relationship with their employees. Leaders should listen to feedback and make changes to ensure a supportive and productive work environment that gives everyone a chance to succeed and grow.
Here are a few things we’ve done at Signeasy to support our employees:
Well-structured routines and processes. When I first started working from home, there were distractions galore. To make sense of the overwhelming list of tasks, I began to slot mission-critical jobs for the first part of the day (when I’m fresh and raring to go) and schedule tactical chores and administrative tasks for the afternoon. By prioritizing, I am able to manage both sets of tasks effectively. This approach has also allowed my leadership team to align our goals and processes accordingly, so everyone is in sync with what priorities take precedent each day or week and all hands are on deck.
Regular video-conferencing calls. As a general practice, we have always held weekly meetings with our teams, frequently via Zoom as we have key team members in India, Mexico, and the US. While working from home, I now encourage all the managers to host daily video meetings or stand-ups that their team members are encouraged to participate in. This ensures that everyone has the latest updates and a list of tasks and goals to leave with. These conversations are also a great way to keep employees motivated, talk through and brainstorm new ideas, and alleviate symptoms of cabin fever.
Going paperless to minimize contact. Not only does it mean complete digitization of your files but this approach also ensures that important agreements and documents can be securely signed or sent out for signature online, anytime and anywhere, and from any device. This means no need to locate printers or for paper to exchange hands.
Respond to changes with agility. To give your business process redesign the best chance of success, it’s also important to establish a culture that embraces risk, innovation and a learning mindset. This approach gives managers and employees alike the confidence that one misstep will not be looked down upon, but instead will be used as an opportunity to learn and grow as a team.
We are responding to these shifts by making some quick changes such as reducing our OKR-based planning cycle to bi-monthly/monthly (from quarterly), focussing on platform performance to meet the 250% spike in demand (in the last 4 weeks), and offering free upgrades and discounts to NGOs and companies in the education and healthcare sector.
Deliver individualized attention.
The great Bill Marriott once said, “Take good care of your employees, and they’ll take good care of your customers, and the customers will come back.”
As leaders, we know higher employee engagement equals happy employees, and that happy employees are more invested in the company’s success, do their best work, and take care of customers.
To achieve a higher level of engagement, and thus happiness, leaders must focus on how to tailor their communication and support programs to the individual. Employees in different departments, for example, have different policies and procedures, skill sets, goals (both team and individual), access to technology and tools, and opportunities for growth.
At Signeasy, we focus on the individual, mapping each employee’s individual journey, including their department, role, level, skillset, and future growth potential, with the proper support systems, training programs, and feedback loops to give them the best chance of success at the company. This also provides managers with a clear plan to both coach and evaluate their teams, to keep everyone on track and moving forward to be their most productive, and happy, selves.
Over the past few months, we’ve conducted surveys to ask employees what elements of remote work are working for them and which are not, and are making adjustments and adding support as necessary. We are keeping an eye on individual productivity and collaboration, and looking for patterns or trends to help us improve the overall work-from-home experience including providing our employees with added tools, resources, and the right support to be successful.
In the face of a ‘large-scale’ crisis, people end up burdened by a sense of disorientation and strong emotional disturbance. A Centre for Creative Leadership whitepaper points towards the need for ‘empathy at the workplace’ to improve employees’ performance, in such times.
Simply put, let your employees know that you are in their corner during these tough times. Be patient with them, and most importantly…listen!
Leaders need to place the health and safety, physical and mental, of their employees first. Listen to what they say, and understand that every individual’s life situation is different.
Early on during this crisis, we asked our employees and contractors for feedback, and identified a few key areas of support that were needed:
Some of our employees and contractors staying in shared accommodations have been offered to stay in a serviced apartment or equivalent space at the company’s expense to maintain the social distancing required for health and safety.
Employees can receive a stipend to invest in the tools, gear, and services needed to create a comfortable and productive at-home working environment.
We also covered travel costs to and from the employees’ hometowns, if they choose to stay close to their families and take care of them to have a relaxed and stress-free environment.
Since these are stressful times, we try to encourage activities online that lighten up the mood. In working remotely, employees may start to miss the in-person interactions and the bonding with their teammates. We use our collaboration tools to create a feeling of togetherness. Our HR team has been posting fun and thought provoking questions on Slack such as “what are you grateful for today”, “show us your work-from home set up”, what was your weekend like,” and so on. It’s helped us stay connected on a personal level.
Through these five areas of focus, our global team across four countries continues to work as a unified unit and deliver a best-in-class product while supporting the needs of our employees, customers, and stakeholders during these uncertain times.
Leaders today face the difficult challenge of trying to keep their businesses moving forward while at the same time making adjustments and changes to support their employees and customers.
Establishing trust, being transparent, practicing empathy, and over-communicating are paramount to maintaining a healthy work environment and keeping people motivated.
Establishing new and more flexible processes and procedures, as well as refining existing ones, will set your company up to become more efficient and also adapt to future shifts in how we work, new crises that arise, and an ever-changing landscape.
When faced with a crisis, don’t miss the opportunity to calmly see the whole picture and lead with vision, empathy and conviction.