All around the world, businesses are either shutting down or embracing remote work. The health, safety, and business implications are all super stressful. On top of that, teams that normally go to the office must now figure out how to work from home.
At times like this, it's important to revisit your communication architecture. A clear communication architecture prevents lots of flailing by spelling out the method and frequency by which information flows between people, teams, and systems in your organization.
You need a communication architecture that works well for an all-remote business team facing a major crisis. The tips below draw from the wisdom of the remote work community, the emergency response community, and employee engagement experts. Consider adopting these as you work through the next several weeks and beyond.
1. Map out how you'll use technology.
You probably already have a workstream application like Slack or Microsoft Teams. If you don't, get one. Now, set up channels dedicated to announcements, requests for help, and your business's other urgent topics. This gives everyone a place to share and find the latest information so they don't have to resort to back-channel email or the rumor mill to stay current.
Then, make sure your team has access to high-quality video conferencing for your remote meetings. Don't phone this in. Conference calls are the least effective way to meet and will only add stress to an already stressful situation. This isn't just my opinion; several research studies and all prominent virtual meeting experts will tell you the same thing.
Good news on this one: if you've been reluctant to try video before, now's the time. Most of the top providers extended free services to help those impacted by the virus.
Finally, acquire what you're missing. For example, there are applications that make it easy to post sticky notes to virtual whiteboards online. If you're used to collaborating in a physical room, you can find tools that help you translate your process to the virtual world.
2. Provide basic training.
Your team's in-person collaboration skills won't directly translate to an online environment. If you ignore the learning curve, you'll all be frustrated and waste a lot of precious time.
To avoid that, take the time to make sure team members know how to use your selected technology and how to interact effectively in a remote environment.
For example, remote work pros typically establish basic rules for video meetings such as:
Your team may benefit from professional training in remote meeting facilitation, remote team leadership, or specific technologies, all of which you can easily find online. But to begin with, simply starting your meetings 10 to 15 minutes early to go over the basics will make a huge difference.
3. Run frequent all-hands and action review meetings to adapt your strategy through times of crisis.
When facing massive uncertainty, business leaders can learn from the examples set by those who deal with emergencies for a living.
You'll want to meet with your entire group more frequently than normal. Your all-hands meeting quickly and efficiently makes sure everyone has the latest information. It's also the right time to truthfully answer the questions you can answer and enlist your group's help with problems as they arise.
Consider the Operations and Intelligence brief established by General McCrystal during the Iraq war as an example. This daily video conference is credited with breaking down silos and enabling the rapid coordination required for multiple parties to successfully adapt their strategy on the fly. I've spoken to several people who were in those meetings, and they claim it made all the difference.
You'll also want to run more action reviews, a short meeting used by problem-solving teams. Firefighters, emergency room staff, and first responders everywhere run action reviews frequently until they find a strategy that works.
In your business, teams dealing with radical business changes should run these once or more per day. In these meetings, the team gathers to ask:
- What happened?
- So what do we think about that?
- Now, what are we going to try next?
Action reviews drive rapid learning and experimentation, which is exactly what you need when you're all trying to quickly figure out a new way of working.
4. Run weekly one-on-ones and virtual coffee dates to limit the impact of social isolation.
Finally, recognize that any sudden change creates stress. Your team may be worried about the health and safety of their loved ones, their job security, and how they're supposed to keep working when the news is so overwhelming. Those unexpectedly transitioned to remote work may be feeling isolated, stir crazy, and lonely.
A weekly one-on-one is a best practice at any time because it injects a frequent dose of care into your working relationships. Experiments at big companies like Cisco have shown that when these one-on-one meetings stay focused on the employee's needs, engagement, job satisfaction, and employee retention go up.
In times of stress, we all need more frequent care, and a weekly one-on-one is a great way to give it.
You can also host regular virtual coffee dates. These online sessions pair up two random employees to spend time connecting. Remote teams use these to break down silos and invite serendipity in good times. You can also use them now to keep people connected and supported.
You may be inspired to try these tips as you deal with the impact of Covid-19 across your company, and that's great. But don't stop there. These meeting strategies can make your team more adaptable, more resilient, and stronger in the face of any complex situation - including good ones!
Now let's hope we're all struggling to adapt to too much good news soon.