How to keep your company aligned during the COVID-19 pandemic while your whole team is working remotely
One by one, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many of the companies where I coach have decided to close their offices and ask all of their employees to work remotely.
As an executive coach who coaches CEOs of startups as well as Fortune 500 companies, I’ve often helped my clients think through a crisis and regularly work with them in maintaining alignment in a remote environment. Now as the world faces this pandemic, both of these topics are critical for everyone.
Right now it’s important for you as a leader to proactively keep everyone connected and on the same page and ensure that the business is moving forward as best it can in this new situation. The best way to do that is to carve out a daily meeting as a “virtual situation room.” Here’s how to do that.
Choose who should be in your situation room. If you have an established leadership team, those are probably the right people. Some of the CEOs I coach have sprawling leadership teams that extend into the double digits. If that’s the case, you probably have a subset you turn to for their judgment because they have the largest scope of responsibility. Keep this group to less than 10 if you possibly can.
Convene a mandatory call at the same time every day.Your goal is to keep everyone feeling connected and up to speed. You can do this by having a daily check in. You should ask everyone to prioritize this time and work other things around it. Having it at the same time and daily keeps it simple and makes it a ritual. During times of stress and anxiety, rituals serve a touchstone to calm anxiety and create community – both sorely needed right now.
Get personal. When you are trying to do team building remotely, some amount of personal disclosure is important. First of all, use video so everyone can see each other. Start the meeting with a simple check-in. Everyone should take 2 minutes to say how they’re doing or to share a personal story. It’s grounding and it’s important to maintain team spirit.
Situational updates. The next agenda item is to share any information you have about your team, your company, or the events unfolding in the outside world. The events related to the pandemic are unfolding rapidly. Pooling data you have gleaned will help everyone stay up to date.
Updates on your plan. Every leader should have a plan that they are working on with their employees. There may be plans which reflect business as usual. There are certainly plans around business continuity and pivots related to the crisis. All of these should be clear and documented in a centralized virtual drive.
Given the dynamic nature of this crisis, looking at the plans every day is a good practice even though they may not change much day to day. Everyone can weigh in with a simple system: green – on plan; yellow – off plan but with a way to get back on plan; red – off track with no way to get back on track.
This is not the time for trouble-shooting. Each leader should just give a brief explanation of problems and ask for help from the people who can give it. They should then connect after the meeting.
Further discussion. Is there anything else critical that you haven’t covered? Talk about it here.
Close. Once again, use ritual to create community. Leaders also have to convey hope. End this meeting the same way each time with an inspirational quote or a specific phrase that resonates with your whole team, like “we got this” or “keep going and keep learning.” This might take a little courage, but try it.
Post-meeting. Ask your war room team to leave 30 minutes after the meeting free. You may have uncovered a specific problem to solve or talk through. If the entire team leaves the next 30 minutes free, they can all use that time to connect with each other immediately and efficiently. Having that block of time set aside is also important in case the meeting goes over.
Cascade information to others immediately. After that hour, it’s critical for your leaders to pull their key team members together and communicate with them. Their meetings can have a similar format and the daily cadence should be the same. That prevents anyone feeling like they don’t know what’s going on. When people are all working remotely, especially during a crisis, it’s essential that people feel like they are in the know and that they are not surprised. There’s enough uncertainty around; as a leader your job is to create clarity where you can.
Debrief and adapt. How is this meeting working? Things are in flux right now, and your business and personal situation may change. Adapt this meeting to be the most useful for you.
Use these steps to create your situation room as you adapt your business and your leadership style to the new normal.