By Patrick Miller
Overnight, you’ve gone from hallway conversations and in-person collaboration to a constant stream of disorganized texts, emails, Zoom calls, FaceTimes, and Slack chats. It used to be one or two people remote calling in. Now it’s everyone. On top of this, everyone’s business is changing and almost everyone is afraid.
So: the moment when we managers are struggling to create new communication structures is also precisely the moment when clear communication and management is more crucial than ever. Here are ten things our team has learned (on the fly) to make the most out of working from home:
1. Video chat is king.
I asked a Gen-X friend to FaceTime, and she called me “such a millennial.” Fair. But I pressed back: facial expressions and body language are a huge part of communication. Why settle for low-bandwidth interaction (texts being the worst, and phone calls second worst) when we can get high-bandwidth communication on video so easily?
2. Settle conflicts on a video chat.
Everyone is anxious. The blame game is easy. Forwarding missed emails and “gotcha” screenshots of texts don’t help anyone. If there is a conflict, get your team members on video to sort it out.
3. Ruthlessly limit text and email.
This might sound counter-intuitive, but I’m stealing it (and points 5 and 6) from someone who’s been leading online teams for a long time: Carey Nieuwhof. Our default communications are text and email. But there are two big problems with these. First, they are disorganized. We can’t remember where we talked about which project when. Second, they are utterly distracting. Most studies say that after reading a text or email it takes 6-20 minutes to regain focus on the task at hand. If you’re relying on text and email, you’re probably getting nothing but text and email done right now.
How do you limit text and email?
4. Institute focus hours…
On our team, we set aside two hours every day—from 9 to 11 a.m.—as a no text and no email zone. This is time solely dedicated to finishing demanding mental tasks. Pick a 1.5 to 2-hour focus time for your whole team.
5. …create a daily huddle meeting…
Schedule a 15 to 30 minute daily meeting where you can collaborate and problem solve. Encourage your team to keep a running list of questions, rather than texting or emailing whenever a need arises. Then bring the list up at the huddle. You may have to schedule individual one-to-one meetings with key players on your team in addition to this group time.
6. …and use an organized chat tool like Slack or Microsoft Teams.
The beauty of these programs is that they allow you to organize your conversations by project. Tell you team that when they have questions that can’t wait until the next huddle, put it on Slack. If it’s urgent, text. If it’s urgent and complicated, do a video call. Emails should exist largely to communicate with external people and teams.
7. Have one big meeting per week, and know specific goals BEFORE you walk in.
I hate meetings. So doing a daily huddle is a bit like scheduling a daily time in hell—especially because I don’t always know the goal of meetings before walking in. That should never be the case on longer weekly meetings. Not only should you have an itinerary, but you should be able to answer this question: “What tangibly needs to be accomplished by the end of this meeting?” or “If we do not do x, then this meeting was a failure.”
8. Remember to comfort and lead.
People need their managers to stay steady and unafraid in uncertain times. Even if you’re terrified, fight to be a non-anxious presence. Part of that is just good, old-fashioned leadership: you were hired for a purpose. Keep the mission in your sights. Delegate. Give direction. Interestingly, clear direction can be one of the most comforting ways to help in times of confusion—it feels nice when we know what we’re doing, even when everything around us is up in the air.
9. Take the blame.
Your team is going to miscommunicate in the coming weeks. They will drop important balls. Leaders take the blame unless it can always come back to gross negligence. Leaders say, “I’m sorry, I will do better next time.” And then behind closed doors, they help their staff correct the problem and move on.
Some people will call this calloused. I don’t care. Laughter really is medicine. Make light of your own shortcomings and the bizarreness of our current situation. Of course, there are wrong times to make jokes, but don’t miss the right times. (Personally, I like to change my zoom background to a beach to lighten the mood).
I’m sure the list could go on. If you have any great advice, shoot me an email and we might add it in. Looking for resources on how rest and recover when work feels overwhelming? Check out the link below for more.