ARTICLE

REMOTE CONNECTION: LEADING THROUGH THE NEW NORMAL

By James McPartland

I thought we would start off this article a bit differently… Just for a little fun, and because we could all use a laugh right about now, let’s hear from my team on the topic of “working from home”. Enjoy!

In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity.

-Sun-Tzu

Well, here we have all been in the midst of a season that has caught us all by surprise and simultaneously impacts every single person on the planet. As far as "disruptors" to the global workforce goes, COVID-19 is a doozy—a massive event of rapid change. We are being challenged with a unique set of circumstances:

The opportunity lies before us, to rise to unprecedented heights and carve out a new path, different from the one we traveled before the pandemic. As leaders, there is potential for this moment to be our finest hour, and a time to harness our personal gifts for maximum impact.

To Lead Others, We Must Lead Ourselves First

When oxygen masks are deployed in an airplane, we are instructed to put them on ourselves first before we help others. It’s the same as team leaders-- we must manage ourselves well before we can offer any valuable guidance to those around us. Our teams rely on us, and now is the time to strive to be better than we have ever been before.

While we may not all be in the same boat, we’re definitely caught up in the same storm— and if for any reason we can’t deliver on promises made from before the pandemic, it is a perfect time to reach out and touch base with others to do what we can do.

We can practice leading ourselves by creating our workplace at home with intention. We are responsible for creating our processes and environment that work the best for us so we can offer the best to our teams. One size does not fit all—how we organize our work-at-home process is as distinct as our personalities. Our process is directly related to how successful we are at delivering on promises.

Using a positive mindset is helpful here: how often do we get the chance to custom design our working area and process?

  • Establish boundaries – You may find yourself working from home harder than you’ve ever worked onsite. Establish regular hours, define your working space, and take scheduled breaks.

  • Set up a routine – Establish a routine and stick with it. This will help build a sense of normalcy and also help with your workflow.

  • Get out of the house – We are human beings. Breathe the fresh air, feel the sunlight, and get some exercise if you can. 

  • Communicate, communicate, communicate – Your clients and teams will appreciate you checking in during turbulent times. What promises can still be delivered or renegotiated? Consciously ramp up communications with both your internal and external teams.

Think of your new work-at-home reality as a process of on-boarding to a new work environment. As any musician or athlete will tell you, improving your performance at this new way of living will take regular, intentional practice.

Then you must practice toward it.  (You can learn about the rest of my PRACTICE model here.). These are methods I’ve used since long before the quarantine, but now more than ever, I find them particularly relevant.

While we are all doggedly pursuing our goals during an unprecedented adjustment, it's also important to remember our humanity. We must keep our humanness and let that part of ourselves connect with others on our teams, too.

It's a global pandemic—fear and anxiety are normal and OK. People are scared right now, and literally in a tight space. Your team may need to talk and "empty the closet of their mind" before they can cram more information in there.

On this topic, a recent interview was held with Tsedal Neeley, a professor at Harvard Business school, by the Harvard Business Review. Neeley discussed the realities of anxiety from people that are newly working from home during the pandemic: “So it's important to help people, to coach people, to provide resources on how to do it well…is this a matter of people just don't know how to do this and there's a gap there that we need to fill, or is this because of isolation and dealing with world events?...I would be prepared to connect people to employee resource groups to help people get through whatever struggles they may be going through that's beyond the adjustment to working from home."

Be more open to accepting to the humanity of your team. What if, during video-conferencing, your team member's toddler wanders into the frame? What if the dog won't stop barking? What if other people are walking around in the background? We can accept this is a rare situation, relax formalities, and open our hearts.

Offer long-term hope—it serves us best to focus on what we can do, not on what we can’t do. What’s possible? What are we capable of? Offering possibilities and encouragement is a way of instilling hope in the team—and ourselves, too.

Working remotely requires structure and systems.  So, let’s give a shout out to forget the state-of-the-art online tools that help us streamline both work process and human connection, bringing us together. For that, my team has collected a compiled a shortlist of software that they use to help run our business

Seriously - we’re all going to be okay

Keep your head and heart about you, and let this time remind you that your gifts are meant to be shared, now more than ever.

Together, we can only grow stronger.

How do we adapt to this new way of doing life and business while our country only slowly begins to reopen and work as we once knew it is likely not going back to “normal” anytime soon?

First off, let’s all take a deep breath. We are being asked to rise to an occasion, to simultaneously become better at what we do amidst a background of chaos. We can handle this— not with a perspective of “business as usual” but by adapting to our “new normal” and choosing to see this a “be better” moment.

And we will!

 

We can practice being better by leading ourselves first, having empathy for those we work with, using the best tools ever built for working remotely, utilizing best practices from other work-from-home trailblazers, and most of all—retaining our sense of humor!

So, where do we start?  With the inside game: our mindset.

Mastering Our Mindsets in Challenging Circumstances

On its face, being quarantined while entire countries have been shut down has seemed like a massive setback. Our challenge is to look at what we may have seen as a setback and radically reframe it.

How is this “setback” an opportunity? How has being confined to one space actually given us freedom? How can we strengthen our professional relationships, despite this new reality? What’s really important?

Perspective is key. Mindset is everything. How can everything that is happening be seen as an opportunity? Out of our intentional mindset will come intentional habits.

Create Work-At-Home Habits With Integrity

Much has been written about the best ways to work from home. Here are a few of my favorite best practices:

Practice Your Process Like an Athlete

As we model leadership for our teams, we need to organize our approach to our work at home. I have a "practice makes perfect" approach to my process—it's not glamorous, but it is timeless and proven to work. First, it's essential to write down what your goals are and keep them where you can see them.

Be Empathetic: Encourage Being “Real” and Human

Now, more than ever, empathy is an invaluable skill that is in high demand from those in charge. Be sure to acknowledge any fears or distracting thoughts from your team. Listen to them. Sometimes the challenging part for your team is being isolated and reacting to events.

Use the Best Work-From-Home Tools Available

If you’re new to working remotely, or looking for software to make it easier, here is a great some great tools to consider and tips for an efficient experience. For shared work documents, you’ll need a central place to store everything.

Everyone should be using some sort of cloud-based or shared software. No one should be storing documents locally on their home computers. We recommend Evernote to store small documents, notes and even web clippings or ideas gathered from research.  Evernote features a unique “visual search” option, enabling you to look for documents based on the media or keywords they contain. What Evernote is not good for however, is storing large files (over 250 MB).  For that, get a cloud-based repository such as Dropbox is or Sync, which is our team’s favorite (since you can send a file to client or ask them to upload a document without their needing to open an account of their own… which we think is brilliant.)

As it comes to meetings, schedule them far in advance, and hold them at a time that is the quietest part of your day.  Have an agenda and someone appointed to drive the meeting (if not yourself), with another designated person taking notes.  Our team prefers to use Zoom teleconferencing software. A few of our colleagues with larger teams prefer Microsoft Teams (which is currently offering a 6-month free trial.)

Be crystal clear with your team around expectations.  We have found the most helpful tool do achieve this is to use a shared, cloud-based project management platform. This keeps all relevant communication in the same place on task and project level.  My team raves about Asana.  A few of our clients swear by Slack, which is ideal for larger teams, and if you have a smaller team that is highly production-oriented, Trello is a great option, which uses a visual interface similar to the Japanese method of kanban.

When our team needs a visual aspect to communicate, we like to create short videos for internal communication or to embed content. 

ScreenCastify is a great FREE tool that is terrific for recording videos under five minutes—this can sometimes be much quicker and easier than scheduling a call.  And for distributing content to your clients in a more formal, branded fashion, we recommend Dubb, which enables you to create, stream, and track the performance and open-rates of your videos.

Because more and more people are working from home than ever before, we expect this list to evolve.   For other questions and tips on how to efficiently work remotely, feel free to get in touch with our team.  We’re happy to share what we’ve learned along the way.

Keep Laughing, We’re Going to Be OK

Before I speak, I have something important to say.” 

-Grouch Marx

“How can you be laughing at a time like this?”  Well, with all the uncertainty and the heightened stakes of the moment, we could all use a little comic relief. Here are some of my favorite random observations from my team on dealing with quarantine.

Ergonomics are important! So, “Make sure you have a comfortable chair, preferably one with wheels. It’s where you’re going to be spending all your time.”

Speaking of making yourself comfortable, remember only the top half of you is visible during video calls. “For video calls, I wear business appropriate attire on top, pajamas on the bottom. Outside of a nationally published article, who’s gonna know?”

When you work from home, every day is bring-you-kid-to-work day!  If your kid busts in on your video meeting, just smile and ask your client to hold. We’re way past pretending the home life can’t intrude!

Actually, it’s better if you hear it directly from my team in this awesome video they compiled… just for a little fun, because we all could use a laugh right about now.

Speaking of kids wandering in, we re-found this classic video that’s more appropriate today than ever – a kid walking in on BBC News interview:

Also speaking of kids…

As the days pass into the quarantine, formality may also go downhill.

We’ve curated a scientific pie chart of the productivity of Zoom meetings.

Don’t forget to respect your younger workers. They won’t be young for long.

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