Leadership in a Virtual Workplace

Sep 15, 2020Business & Life

Leadership is defined, often in retrospect, by how we respond when things go badly awry.  We cannot be certain how the COVID-19 pandemic resolves, but we can be certain that our leadership will be defined not by the technological resources we used to address the challenge, but the poise and presence with which we used them.

Be empathetic.

Your team has new constraints and distractions working from home, on-site or in the field, yet customer expectations of them may be unchanged.  Make sure your staff has the tools, training and security to perform their jobs virtually and meet those customer expectations.  Consider how the pandemic is personally impacting each of your team leaders and encourage them to do the same with their direct reports.  Communicate clearly how the pandemic has affected your workplace, make sure your team understands what you’re doing to mitigate health and safety risks and your expectation of them in the effort.

Give your team guidance.

With the proliferation of cell phones, laptops, tablets, internet access and teleconferencing software, your staff is well equipped to communicate, meet and provide some services remotely.  That said, ensure that your staff has the training to use those tools effectively and maintain security of your trade and customer information.  Involve your IT team to ensure that the devices, software, home networks and internet access providers in use meet standards of protection for sensitive information and guide your remote workers on protocols to maintain security compliance.  Finally, involve your HR leadership to remind staff members that your policies and practices still apply in the virtual workplace.

Consider how the pandemic has impacted each of your customers.

Are they open or closed?  Deemed essential or non-essential?  Businesses that are shuttered might be resentful that they’ve been deemed non-essential and their livelihoods placed in jeopardy.  Others that continue to operate may be doing so with frustrating constraints on their operations.  Others may have newfound value in the pandemic world and resentful that they’re working and at-risk.  It’s important to think about how the pandemic may be affecting them and factor that into your contact.  Customers with whom you empathize today will remember your concern when it’s time to renew relationships.  The ones with whom you didn’t will be looking for alternatives.

Communicate with other company leaders or regulatory bodies about the impact, your response and best practices you can share.

Think about how staff and customers behavior patterns are being recalibrated.  Consider other ways to do business or how the crisis has changed longstanding practices.  And while you might not be looking to profit from the COVID-19 disruption, plaintiff lawyers certainly are.  Insist that staff adhere to any health mandates and assume that six months from now that your policies and practices during the crisis may come under scrutiny.

Communicate with your team leaders and customers with authority, candor and again, empathy.

If you’re not maintaining a presence on-site, set a weekly teleconference to update your team on your ongoing activities and expectations.  The pandemic is a ready excuse for delays, blown deadlines, inconsistent work product and services but insist on performance to company or brand standards.  Accept that the virtual world may be more casual—a pet or child wandering into a Zoom meeting—but insist that virtual meetings be timely, productive and with limited distractions.  Unanticipated obstacles make cause project delays and require patience but demand that setbacks be communicated to staff and customers with honesty and candor.

The COVID-19 pandemic has created new challenges to business norms and exposed flaws in leadership at all levels.  In a world with more critics than doers, you can be sure that your leadership through crisis will suffer the harsh fluorescent light of retrospection.  Maintain poise and discipline, insist on performance to standards and communicate with empathy and your leadership will hold up to the scrutiny.