As a leader, whether in business, in government or in a nonprofit, you have spent your whole life working in glass-and-concrete buildings, each day with a familiar rhythm and texture: The thrumming elevators whisking you between floors; the sanctum of your office shielding you from distractions; the bustle in the lobby; the aroma of the food court; the smile from a security guard, a receptionist or a co-worker.
Guess what: Your life not only has changed – it will be changed for far longer than you ever could have imagined, perhaps forever.
You still run the empire, but in the age of COVID-19 – and as the number of casualties mounts, the economy contracts and the crisis deepens – your responsibilities to your organization are much greater. Your employees are looking to you for reassurance and leadership.
But now you have to provide all of that from your home, and that puts you, literally and figuratively, in a very different position.
Are you prepared to do this for another six weeks, another 10 weeks – or longer?
Chances are that you already have a well-equipped home office, and you have many employees who also are accustomed to working from home part of the time or who do it full-time. Yet, even in our highly connected world, it turns out that social distancing – for a leader – is more challenging than you might have imagined. Despite its challenges, you still are responsible to your employees and your organization’s other stakeholders.
Here are some tips on leading your organization from home for the weeks or months or even longer that may be required in the age of COVID-19:
- Be realistic. The reality of COVID-19 has been difficult for most everyone to accept. No longer. Make sure your employees know that there will no quick fixes to ensure the organization’s continued success. Acknowledge that you are operating in unchartered territory, but that everything that can be done, will be done, although it might take far longer than anyone dreamed.
- Have a plan. You need a plan on how your organization will get through this, and you must be specific about how it will affect employees and all other stakeholders going forward. This obviously will be difficult, given the challenges across the global economy, but employees won’t follow you unless they believe you’ve developed a clear and credible path forward.
- Overcommunicate. Leading the charge when your people are at risk physically, financially and emotionally is not easy. Still, you have to do it, and that is why you need to overcommunicate. The messages should reinforce the mission and the values of the organization while providing updates on how it is responding to the crisis and implementing its new plan.
- Be creative. The communications should be a dialogue, not a monologue, and if you haven’t done so already, now is the time to implement new ways to communicate. These include Instagram and Facebook stories, webinars, all-hands on-deck conference calls, video memos, podcasts and even YouTube videos.
- Be visible. Just because you’ve been working from home for a couple of weeks doesn’t mean you become invisible. Face to face is always important – in fact, it’s more important now than ever – so investigate the use of video technology to maintain that personal connection.
- Be accessible. Be it through emails, video chats or whatever, you need to hear from your employees directly and respond to them accordingly. The size of your organization may limit your engagement, but these are not normal times.
- Be empathetic. Your home office is probably a lot more comfortable than those of your employees. Acknowledge that. State that, even though social distancing has created impositions on all of us, the sacrifices are not shared equally, and you – as a leader – have it much easier than most.
- Create opportunities for other people. You’re in a crisis, so use this time to expand your inner circle and broaden responsibilities. Right now, you need to rely on the talents of your entire organization and not just your top lieutenants. Find out who is ready to take that next step up.
- Be honest. A no-brainer, you would think, but you’d be surprised about how many leaders skirt the truth in moments of crisis. That can’t happen. In this environment, everything you do is under a microscope. If you ever lose your credibility, it’s gone for good.
- Establish a new normal at home. We’re back to where we started. After several weeks of social distancing, you now know that your home office will never be as efficient as your work office, but it has served your needs. But now it looks as if you will be working from home for much longer, and that is why you need to establish a routine, and it has to work for an indeterminate length of time.
In sum, you have to develop the same kind of rhythm you had before COVID-19.
Also know that how you lead in the next few weeks and months will be remembered forever, and yes, you still can do it, and do it effectively.
Constance “Connie” Hubbell is the president of The Hubbell Group, Inc., a strategic communications firm. On Twitter @hubbellgroup.