As COVID-19 has prompted an unprecedented number of companies and government agencies worldwide to suddenly shift to a remote-work model, uncertainties abound. Though nearly a quarter of the American workforce already worked remotely, this change is a major adjustment for many organizations’ leaders and employees alike. While external stressors about the pandemic’s spread and the effects it can have on health, family and friends, jobs and travel are likely weighing on workers’ minds, it’s important as an executive to be a bit vulnerable, while keeping the company’s bottom line, security and culture moving as closely to normal as possible. You’re only human, and in a time of crisis, people will likely appreciate being reminded of that.
Finding the Right Mindset
As leaders, we may feel powerless over the pandemic and how the markets are reacting, but we are not hopeless, and we are not helpless. Lately, the serenity prayer often plays in my head:
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”
You can’t control what’s happening in the world, but you can control what you do as a leader. It’s essential to tackle the business/technical concerns and the human element behind them all. For me, the items we are focused on are: health and safety of employees; delivering on promises to customers; and protecting the business.
The Human Element
There is no denying that anxieties and fears are magnified for your employees as well. There is an emotional intensity that is higher than any situation many of us have faced in our lifetimes. Remind them to take breaks throughout the day to run out to get supplies, pause to take care of the kids, talk to a loved one and to remember to sign off at a reasonable hour. We need to find a balance and establish a new normal between work and our personal lives. All of the external stressors caused by the pandemic can make it hard to pull ourselves from our desks, thankful for the distraction, but it’s important now more than ever to encourage your employees to take that time.
It also doesn’t hurt to remind your staff that we’re all in the same boat, and if a child yells or runs in the background of the video call or a cat walks across the screen, there’s no need to be embarrassed. It’s a sign of us all coping with being professionals, parents and daycare providers all at the same time.
As a CEO especially, regular communication to your entire company to emphasize these points, share any healthcare-related updates and provide reassurance on the success and status of the business can help ease worry.
In addition to making sure teams still feel connected and are looking out for themselves, there are collaboration and technical considerations that should be emphasized as well.
I am no stranger to remote work models. Over my career, I’ve had the benefit of working in senior roles before I took over as CEO for WhiteHat. In these positions, I had to run teams with distributed leadership across the U.S., stretching from coast to coast, and globally. This gave me a strong foundation and training on how to stay connected to my team and how to keep leadership talking regularly through video calls, chat groups, etc.
The difference in today’s climate is that it is being forced upon us all. My current company has a distributed leadership team. Fifty percent of the leaders are in San Jose, Calif., and the other half work remotely. We have had no choice but to adopt a 100 percent work-from-home model at this time, like most companies. We’re finding that the biggest thing for both our leadership team and our employees to adjust to is the massive change in culture literally overnight.
Being able to walk down the hall and have face-to-face conversations can be a breath of fresh air on a busy work day--and now we have to adjust to alternatives and adopt a virtual mindset. It’s essential to keep your executive team talking regularly and on the same page, so thinking does not become isolated, and encouraging teams company-wide to do the same can help ease the stress of being separated.
Microsoft Teams, Slack, Zoom, Google Hangouts and more are all incredibly useful tools to adopt--and use frequently--during the remote work transition. It’s important for everyone in the company to over-communicate and keep the same meeting cadence as they had before...and probably even better to increase it in the coming weeks, to make up for the lack of conversations in person. You can always scale back if needed. After all, it’s better to be too in touch than to lose touch across a company.
Keeping the Business Running Smoothly and Securely
The work-from-home transition is more difficult for those companies that are living the hybrid business model, with some of their applications inside their own locations while other applications run in the cloud. The most comfortable with the switch are those companies that have been digital-natives from the start. These are the ones that started as predominantly remote and distributed workforces and certainly started with all of their systems and applications being cloud-based. In either situation, it’s likely employees will have access, connectivity and general IT questions, so ensure your support staff is fully equipped with common questions and answers and enough manpower to keep up where possible.
It’s also important to note that many companies’ physical locations have been swiftly closed, and it’s more critical than ever for their online businesses to thrive. Websites and applications are no longer just helping to fuel businesses’ success--many are solely relying on them. Therefore, ensuring these applications are up and running and secure is essential. Imagine the company that also lost its ability to transact in the digital world due to a breach that happened during the pandemic and scared online customers away. There’s likely no coming back from that.
Companies may be scrambling to add new or enhanced digital business capabilities in the form of modified applications, new applications and new websites to bring as much of their business online as fast as possible. So now more than ever before, I implore you to place security as a key measure of software quality as you build that new digital capability--and ensure it is woven throughout your current applications too. Don’t let hackers take advantage of the chaos. Security measures can help keep the company’s digital doors ‘open for business.’
While it’s important to ensure application security for the company itself, leaders should also offer security advice to individuals so they can remain protected in their home offices. Leaders should remind employees to only utilize websites using SSL certificates (https://) and to be hyper vigilant in identifying phishing emails. Cybercriminals will absolutely try and take advantage of the fact that people aren’t in the office and talking/checking with one another if emails are legitimate. Remind your staff to look for spelling errors, hover over links to see if they’re going where they claim, thoroughly examine the sender address and call the company ‘supposedly sending the email’ to confirm if it’s real or not before clicking/engaging.
Ask for Help
Though we covered many key topics in this post, there are countless more that will apply to companies in various industries, countries and stages of remote work, and you can always reach out for advice. Lean on fellow executives to talk through struggles and get input on ideas. Though the world may feel out of control right now, you can control yourself and your company. We’re all in this together.