Seven Tips For Remote Crisis Management

People are skyping, screen-sharing and emailing from their home offices. We have turned our sofas, kitchens and children's rooms into workstations – and replaced the watercooler talk with short walks, diaper change and homework help. It's tough enough to manage your workday and a “corona-stuck” family – so how do you lead an entire organization remotely?

Since we’re stuck anyway …

The Corona epidemic has forced us to lead geographically dispersed employees who work from home. We are using new technology across the board. We do not know how long this state of emergency will last, but in the meantime, we choose to look at the new opportunities it offers us.

We will learn a lot – and although the principles of good leadership are the same as before, this may add new dimensions to the leadership profession.

We do not believe, nor do we hope that everything will be «remote» in the future, but we may get a better mix. We already see that pollution in cities is going down because people are commuting less. It is good for the environment, and it frees up time for the individual.

Now it is vital to make the most of the situation and to make ourselves and the entire organization competent to use the technological opportunities. In this article, we share seven tips we hope can give you some ideas on how to effectively manage your employees – from a distance.

Also read: Be prepared! Risk thinking in the time of the Corona

1. Keep calm, be systematic and show some empathy

As leaders in a state of emergency, we must think and act calmly and methodically. Then we make better decisions, and we are seen as confident by our employees. At the same time, we must be aware that many employees are isolated, without the social intercourse they are used to, with disturbances other than they are accustomed to, and with thoughts and feelings characterized by an uncertain future. How we communicate is, therefore just as important as what we communicate. Thinking with our heads while speaking from the heart can be enough for employees to keep up the courage and continue to be inspired and productive. People react differently in crises, and as leaders, we must acknowledge each one. It is difficult to convey emotions through the written word, so maybe you should write fewer emails and take more phones calls and do more skype meetings than before.

2. Inform often

Many are already affected by the corona crisis, and many others will be. Your employees are exposed daily to all kinds of experts in the media who occasionally make conflicting predictions, all seemingly based on facts. Nevertheless, you, the management team and the board are responsible for the situation in your business. Don’t let the news media own that narrative, as it provides the basis for baseless speculation. Take ownership of that story yourself by frequently informing employees about what has happened, what is happening and what the horizon looks like from your perspective. Maybe you should have an open virtual channel every Friday after lunch where you are available? Or a weekly Monday meeting where people can ask questions? Daily or multiple daily virtual meetings for your managers will also produce confident leaders, which in turn creates a confident organization. This structure in and of itself provides security.

Also read: Leadership in times of crisis: Think calmly, act methodically

3. Make sure everyone has the necessary equipment

It may seem obvious, but not for those who are not used to working from home for extended periods. Ensure that everyone has access to important work documents and that everyone has the necessary IT equipment (that actually works) – and that they have the skills to use it effectively. Test microphone and webcam before important online customer meetings. Is the laptop screen too small for long workdays? Does anyone need two screens? Maybe you should invest in portable monitors for those working with many documents at once. Not everyone has a separate room for the home office but shares the living room with their children, their dog or their spouse – very likely a combination of these. Some noise-cancelling headphones can give them work peace and the feeling of being in their own bubble – ensuring productivity is maintained.

4. Create a virtual meeting place

We are social beings. We need a break from work, a good laugh and an outlet for frustration or joy. The daily lunch or coffee break used to be the venue for this – but it can be recreated virtually. Now, as people do not have to spend time getting to work, there is more time in the morning for a casual 10-15 minute pep talk over Teams, Zoom or Skype. Give some praise or recognition, go through today's tasks, share a fun story, and give your employees some human warmth in a time of uncertainty. Provide a space where you can continue the dialogue throughout the day through a forum such as Slack, Yammer, a closed Facebook group or Teams. Join each other for lunch over Skype. Another significant effect is recreating the spontaneous meetings where a "hello" at the coffee machine becomes a conversation where new ideas arise, which is an essential part of the ecosystem of an innovative company.

5. Set ground rules for virtual meetings

Video conferencing is the norm when you participate in meetings from a home office. As a form of communication, it is more demanding than a physical meeting, so set clear ground rules. Turn on the web camera, so you see each other unless you lack the appropriate bandwidth. Put the microphone on “mute” when not talking or when your dog is barking in the background. Talk one at a time – and if you want to interrupt, use the chat. No one should multitask but focus on the meeting. Avoid long monologues. Be brief. Teams have a feature that makes your background unclear if you want to hide the mess or people coming and going. If the video and audio are lagging, leave the video on and call each other over the phone, or turn off your webcam so the others can hear you.

6. Follow up your employees personally

An unexpected text message from the boss with a few appreciative words can be an adrenaline rush in a lonely workday – or just a funny video or good article you've read. Small gestures that show you care and see them. Just don't overdo it.

7. Facilitate predictability

Predictability creates security, which is sorely needed in times of crisis. Create a plan with the aim of having a good situation after the crisis, which can be continuously adjusted for the short term. Be clear on roles and responsibilities. Schedule all virtual joint meetings and 1: 1 meetings in advance. Assign tasks continually, make regular follow-up calls, so you reduce the need for employees to work ad-hoc.

Lastly, be patient. This crisis may take time. But oh how much we will learn about ourselves and each other in the process. In 2017, we laughed at Professor Robert Kelly, who, on live television on BBC, had his home office invaded by his two young children. Now we can all relate to him:

Trond Skarsem Pedersen is Head of Talent & Development at Olympiatoppen. He has held several leadership positions, such as General Secretary and National Head Coach & Sports Director of the Norwegian Track & Field Federation, HR Director at SAS – Scandinavian Airlines, HR Director Nordic & Baltic Countries at Sanofi. He also has extensive experience from management consulting. Trond was educated at Norwegian School of Sport Sciences and BI Norwegian Business School.

Vegard Rooth is CEO of Interimleder, the leading Norwegian provider of interim executive management services. He has completed a number of interim management assignments and has held temporary positions as CEO or other management roles for companies such as Abax, Advania, TeamUp Automasjon AS, VRS, Swisslog, ICA, Scanmar, Altia, Veolia and Nordic Aero. He was a central driving force in the establishment of the elite sports college Wang Toppidrett, and has also worked in sports through Olympiatoppen and Golden 4 (now Diamond League). He was educated at the Oslo School of Management, holds a Master of Management from the Norwegian Business School BI and has additional qualifications from Stanford University and University of Oxford.