How To...

March 30, 2020

Email

This file photo, taken on Dec 03, 2019, shows five platforms over the Johan Sverdrup oil field in the North Sea some 140km west from the town of Stavanger, Norway. Despite the coronavirus pandemic that is devastating the world economy and oil demand, crude oil production continues at full steam, particularly in Saudi Arabia and the United States, pushing storage capacity to its limits.—AFP
This file photo, taken on Dec 03, 2019, shows five platforms over the Johan Sverdrup oil field in the North Sea some 140km west from the town of Stavanger, Norway. Despite the coronavirus pandemic that is devastating the world economy and oil demand, crude oil production continues at full steam, particularly in Saudi Arabia and the United States, pushing storage capacity to its limits.—AFP

Are you and your team ready to work from home?

A crisis, like Covid-19, can impact how, when and where you and your employees work. That’s why it’s important to be sure everyone on your team is prepared to work from home — perhaps on a moment’s notice. Map out which jobs and tasks can and can’t be done, even partially, without a physical presence in the office. Then do a thorough audit of the technology that your company uses for remote work. Make sure your employees are comfortable using the various hardware and software. Quickly train people and give them opportunities to practice. You’ll also need a clear communications protocol that should include: everyone’s contact information; which communication channels you’ll use — email, instant messaging, Slack, etc; how employees are expected to respond to customers; and how and when teams will coordinate and meet. While putting these steps in place, it’s also smart to identify ways to measure how effective remote work is for your team. Once the crisis is over, this data will allow you to reflect on what worked, what didn’t and why.

(This tip is adapted from “What’s Your Company’s Emergency Remote-Work Plan?” by Cali Williams Yost.)

How to encourage participation during virtual meetings

It’s hard to get people to pay attention in meetings when everyone’s in the same room — let alone if they’re all calling in from home. How can you get people to actually participate in a virtual meeting? The key is to create structured opportunities for attendees to engage. Do something in the first 60 seconds to help participants experience the problem you want them to solve. For example, you might share statistics or anecdotes that dramatise the topic. Then assign people to groups of two or three and give them a very limited time frame to take on a highly structured and brief task. Be sure to give them a medium with which to communicate, like a Slack channel. If you’re on a virtual meeting platform that allows for breakout groups, use them liberally. Then ask the teams to report back. Never go longer than five to 10 minutes without giving the group another problem to solve. The key is to set and sustain an expectation of meaningful involvement. Otherwise, your participants will retreat into an observer role, and you’ll have to work extra hard to bring them back.

(This tip is adapted from “How to Get People to Actually Participate in Virtual Meetings,” by Justin Hale and Joseph Grenny.)

How to succeed when your predecessor was a star

Starting any job, whether it’s an internal promotion or at a new organisation, can feel a bit nerve-wracking. It’s that much more daunting if you know that you’re taking over for someone who was highly respected and successful. But don’t try to take on your predecessor’s personality or leadership style. Being unapologetically yourself will earn respect and help pre-empt any comparisons. Also, understand and manage important relationships. This requires knowing not only who people are (and not just the ones with the senior titles) but also what they care most about, what they each expect from you and what concerns they might have. And seek feedback. And, of course, go in with the right attitude. Filling big shoes may make you question your own capabilities and whether you have what it takes to meet the standard set by your predecessor.

(This tip is adapted from “How to Succeed When You Have Big Shoes to Fill,” by Rebecca Zucker.)

Reassure your team during uncertainty

When the news is scary and the future is uncertain, many employees will look to managers for reassurance — even though you might not have the answers yourself. You can help by first finding your own sense of focus. Before you start communicating, take a minute to pause and breathe. Then put yourself in your audience’s shoes. What are their concerns, questions or interests? What do they need an immediate answer to? You might use language such as, “I know many of you may be thinking…” The quicker you can address what’s on their minds, the more likely you’ll be able to calm them down. Seek out credible sources of information, and read fully before distilling it into clear, concise language. You can confidently express doubt or uncertainty, while still maintaining authority. You might say, “reports are still coming in, but what we understand so far is…” Communicate frequently, even if you don’t have news to report, so that people know you are actively following the issue.

(This tip is adapted from “How to Reassure Your Team When the News Is Scary,” by Allison Shapira.)

Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, March 30th, 2020