Let’s face it, video calls are exhausting. But there are a few things you can do to conserve your time and energy. Start by avoiding multitasking. It may be tempting to try to get other work done while you’re listening in, but switching between tasks can cost you as much as 40% of your productivity. Next, cut down on distractions. Close your browser tabs, put your phone away, and stay present. You can take short breaks during longer calls by minimizing the video, or just looking away from your computer now and then. You can also take a step back and ask yourself whether you even need a video meeting. Check your calendar to see if there are any conversations that you could have over Slack or email instead. And finally, don’t feel obligated to make every conversation a video call. Especially when you’re talking to people outside your organization, a phone call is probably just fine. Taking these steps may feel hard at first, but they will help prevent you from feeling drained at the end of another workday.
Onboarding a new manager always requires planning ahead. But bringing on a new leader when you’re all working remotely mandates even more thought and care. First, be crystal clear about expectations. Your new hire needs to quickly figure out how to create value in their role, so they’ll need to know what’s expected of them. Since they won’t be learning informally from those around them, schedule briefings on critical issues related to their role. Assign them a virtual onboarding buddy, who can orient them to the business, facilitate connections with colleagues, help them navigate processes and systems, and provide insight on how things are done at your organization. And consider bringing in a coach. Given that you, your team, and your new leader’s team are likely dealing with the stresses of responding to the pandemic, a transition coach can be extra helpful, particularly if it’s someone who understands the organization and the company culture.
When you’re in a virtual meeting, it’s easy to find your mind drifting away — especially if it’s your fifth one of the day. To make sure you’re as engaged as possible, take a few moments beforehand to understand the meeting’s purpose and what value you can add. What is the most critical information you have, and what do you want to contribute? Jot down these points. If you don’t have a critical role to play, identify exactly what you hope to learn from the call. Coming prepared with specific questions will prime you to listen more carefully. If you speak during the meeting, acknowledge previous statements so people feel heard, but don’t spend a lot of time rehashing earlier points. Add something new to move the conversation forward. And don’t worry if you do zone out: Gently notice what distracted you, and return your attention to the call. If you missed something, don’t be afraid to ask a clarifying question.
Versatility is a key leadership trait. Managers must have the capacity to read and respond to change with a wide repertoire of skills and behaviors. So how can you actually build this ability? Start by soliciting feedback from trusted colleagues. Ask a simple question like, “What should I start doing, stop doing, or continue doing to be a more effective teammate?” You might also take a more systematic approach and complete a personality assessment to gauge your strengths and weaknesses. Follow up by asking colleagues if they agree with the results. Finally, learn some new habits from people you respect. Set up a meeting with a colleague who has different strengths than you to pick their brain. Your goal is to learn to see things from their perspective, so come with an open mind. You might even ask what they are reading, how they learn, or what their day-to-day routine is. Try to adopt some elements from their approach — it just might make you a more flexible worker and versatile leader.
Employees often rely on informal conversations with their boss to stay up to date on important decisions and information. If your team is newly remote, you can recreate these opportunities by setting up virtual office hours. This might be an hour each day during which you invite your team members to join you on a video conference so you can address small questions or concerns. When one person joins, you can lock the meeting and have others wait in an online waiting room — the virtual version of shutting the office door. (Of course, for more in-depth conversations, ask people to schedule a meeting.) Carving out dedicated time to deal with the daily flurry of small issues will help your team feel seen and heard, even from afar.
When stress levels are high, meetings can get tense or unproductive. To help your team move into a more relaxed and cooperative headspace, consider starting with a few minutes of mindfulness. Even small amounts of meditation have been shown to reduce anxiety, increase our ability to think creatively, and help us see from other perspectives. This may be a new experience for some team members, who might find it a little uncomfortable. Acknowledge this at the outset and encourage everyone to just do their best to be fully present. Then lead them through a basic mindfulness exercise: Ask them to simply focus on their breath for one minute. Tell them that it’s no big deal if they get distracted; all they have to do is relax and redirect their attention to their breathing. Many first-timers will be surprised at how difficult this can be, so assure them that it’s okay if they’re struggling to stay focused. Most people feel more calm and present after this short exercise, meaning your meeting will likely become more thoughtful and productive for everyone.
As businesses begin to reopen, they’re setting new rules around health and safety. But it will take some time for these new rules to feel normal. Leaders can take a few steps to help their teams adapt. First, encourage returning employees to not only follow, but help enforce the rules. Ask them to politely call out any violations of the new safety practices, and to remind the offender of proper protocol — even if it’s the boss. Next, remind your team that the best response to a reminder is a simple “thank you,” followed by compliance. Finally, hold a boot camp where people can practice the new behaviors. This can be as short as 30 minutes or as long as a few hours, depending on your company’s particular policies. Make the moral case for changing behavior by clearly communicating the life-and-death risks of noncompliance. And give people the opportunity to go through the motions, so they can begin to develop these new habits. Establishing new norms is difficult, but clear and committed leadership will help make it happen.
If you’re a business leader in the U.S., no matter your ethnic or political identity, you have an opportunity to speak up and take meaningful action against racism right now. Of course, no one leader’s language can fix the deep-seated, systemic racial injustice in America. But the right words can be a salve for the widespread pain that so many are experiencing — and it can set the conditions for an action-oriented culture. If you are a leader who is not Black, don’t approach statements or conversations about racism with a defensive mindset, don’t make sweeping generalizations about people’s feelings, words, or actions, and, crucially, don’t rely on your Black and brown colleagues to educate you on the news or social justice initiatives. Acknowledge what you don’t know, commit to listening and learning, and pledge to use your position of power to effect change. Do the research to understand current events, using data from reliable sources. Give your Black and brown employees the space to be angry, afraid, disenchanted, or even disengaged from work. Seek out support and reading materials from your human resources team or office of diversity and inclusion. Create space for continued reflection, discussion, and vulnerability by making it clear that you care and are available. Finally, take meaningful action: Make a strong public statement, donate to Black-owned businesses and social justice causes in your community, form a committee on racial justice and reform — there are countless ways to help build a better future. Find a few that align with your organization, and make a commitment to them. Racism isn’t just Black people’s problem, and inaction is a tacit endorsement of the status quo.
We are all dealing with unprecedented — and seemingly endless — uncertainty right now. While you may not have as much clarity as you’d like, you can avoid feeling disoriented by developing your “uncertainty capability” and reframing your outlook on the unknown. Some common reframes include:
- Learning. Ask yourself what you can learn from the situation rather than automatically viewing it as a setback.
- Games. Remember that you win some and lose some.
- Gratitude. Recognize what you already have and are thankful for.
- Randomness. A lot of life is random. What happens to you isn’t always your doing.
Without a clear end to the pandemic in sight, it’s important that we develop and sustain a healthy relationship with the things we can’t know and can’t control. These shifts in how you think about uncertainty will help you build resilience and a positive outlook.
Strong professional writing is an essential skill for anyone who wants to get ahead. One of the best ways to improve your writing is to focus on what the reader needs to know, rather than on what you want to say. Make it easier for them by placing the most important information first. Respect their time by keeping your communications brief. Are your sentences four lines long? Cut them down. Always write for an intelligent novice — a smart reader, who isn’t necessarily an expert on whatever topic you’re writing about. To do that, avoid acronyms and jargon: You don’t want your reader to lose focus by having to step away to look something up. They might not come back. Putting yourself in your reader’s shoes will ensure that they better understand — and maybe even look forward to — your writing.
While you may not all be in the same room, your virtual meeting can still be engaging and interactive. One big advantage is that a virtual setting can lower the bar for participation, so you have an opportunity to glean thoughts and insights from people who ordinarily might not speak up in person. You might use a polling function as a warm-up for discussion and an early opportunity to engage people. You can also encourage attendees to use the chat function, so they can comment in real time. Invite them to participate in the discussion, rather than just talking at them. For example, you might say: “Anita just wrote a great point — and it seems Juan had a similar thought. Do either of you want to go into a bit more detail?” If your chosen platform offers virtual break-out rooms, use them liberally. You might divide people into smaller groups to discuss ideas amongst themselves. You can join these rooms yourself if you wish, the same way you’d roam around the room during a live meeting. Finally, when you’re ready, you can bring everyone back to the larger group with a click of the mouse. You have the tools to recreate the vibrancy of an in-person meeting, so take advantage of them virtually.
As strange as it may seem, the current crisis may be a great time to hire top talent. There are an unprecedented number of people looking for work. If your company has the resources to hire, set up a task force to source potential candidates who may now be looking for work or open to a change. Ask your colleagues whether there are any vendors, advisors, clients, or previous job candidates that they’ve been keeping an eye on, then check in with those people to gauge their current job status. Interview and check references virtually with the same rigor you would in person. Once you’re convinced that you have the opportunity to bring in someone who’s a good fit, learn what motivates them. It’s not always pay — sometimes people are looking for a flexible arrangement or a high level of purpose or autonomy. Arrange to have your candidate speak to senior leaders who can share their vision for the organization and describe the value they hope to build with the new hire. Investing in talent now will help you lay the groundwork for future growth.
Losing your job can be incredibly painful, but it’s in your best interest to handle the difficult situation as gracefully as possible. So do your best to keep negative emotions in check. You want your colleagues to remember your generosity and integrity, so they can be your advocates and support network as you figure out what’s next. Identify the people whom you want to tell directly — mentors, former bosses, friends, clients — and thank them for their support. Sharing the news personally demonstrates how much you value the relationship. Next, develop a plan with your boss to pass along your work, knowledge, and relationships to other colleagues — who will likely remember that you set them up for success. Finally, write a short goodbye note to your team emphasizing what you’re proud of and grateful for. Keep it brief and share your contact information. While it may be hard to mask your frustration, ultimately, your goal is to make the most of this challenging situation to ensure you’ll have a cohort of allies who will be happy to support and advocate for you as you navigate your next steps.
It can be really daunting when you get assigned a direct report who’s related to a top executive at your company. In theory, your team member’s relationships shouldn’t affect how you work together — but in reality, you need to navigate the situation carefully to avoid perceptions that you’re favoring the employee or being unduly harsh to prove you’re not biased. Start by being as open as you can with your direct report about any concerns you might have, and invite them to do the same. They might be experiencing their own problems, such as team members who walk on eggshells or want favors from them. Building this trust will help you develop an authentic relationship. Next, be sure that you use objective performance measures and clearly communicate how you will assess success. This clarity will benefit everyone on the team. And finally, keep in mind that others, from your boss to your team members, may want to tell you how to work with this person based on their own self-interest. While you should listen to their feedback with respect and openness, you don’t necessarily need their approval. Following these strategies will help you become an effective, confident boss while successfully navigating a politically sensitive situation.
There isn’t a uniform leadership style that works for everyone all the time. You may need to adjust your style based on the people you’re managing, the context in which you’re leading, or the external pressures you’re under. Some situations call for a more directive style, while others call for a more open-ended approach. Sometimes you need to stick to the plan, while at other times it’s best to adapt on the fly. To navigate this, develop a portfolio of micro-behaviors that you can employ depending on the situation at hand. Start by understanding your natural tendencies. What’s your default leadership style? What’s your comfort zone? If you’re not sure, get feedback from others. Then learn, adjust, and practice. Formal coaching can help — whether it’s by another person or even an AI coaching bot. Finally, work on your emotional intelligence and contextual awareness skills. This can be tricky, but if you’re wondering which style is right for a given moment, trust the people around you to give you feedback. Developing the dexterity to move between different leadership styles is extremely challenging, but it can be achieved, with focused efforts.
When you feel anxious about losing things that are dear to you, your mind may imagine the worst. To calm yourself, return to the present. Start simple. Name five things in the room: There’s a computer, a chair, a picture of the dog, an old rug, and a coffee mug. Breathe. Realize that in the present moment, this room is your reality. In this moment, you’re OK. Use your senses, think about how these objects feel. The desk is hard. Feel the breath come into your nose. The goal is to find balance in your thoughts. If you feel a negative image taking shape, make yourself think of a positive one. Let go of what you can’t control. And be compassionate and patient with yourself and others. Being generous in your thinking can help brush aside some of your negative thoughts.
When our daily routines are geared toward barreling through a to-do list, it can be hard to set the right conditions for creativity. Fortunately, there is a time-tested approach — that’s also quite simple — for generating creative ideas. First, gather raw materials in your area of interest. This could mean anything from articles you’ve been meaning to read to the browser tabs you’ve left open on your computer. Then, spend time digesting the material — and looking for connections. Fill in small index card with notes, as if you’re trying to solve a puzzle. Shuffle between the physical cards looking for patterns and themes. Then — and this is the most important part — do nothing. Find a way to disengage your mind to allow unconscious processing, whether that’s by taking a walk, listening to music, watching a movie, or even taking a shower. This may not feel like tangible work, but clearing some headspace will make room for the ideas to come.
With more of us meeting our colleagues by phone or videoconference than ever before, it’s important that everyone feels connected and included. If you’re leading a meeting, start by setting ground rules. Ask everyone to turn off the notifications on their phones and to resist the temptation to multitask. Rather than going straight to your agenda items, spend the first five to seven minutes of the meeting checking in with people. Ask everyone, “How are you all doing?,” and make sure everyone has an opportunity to answer. Start with whomever is the newest or most junior, or the person who usually speaks the least. And you should open up as well, so that you’re modeling the behavior. When you’re wrapping up the meeting, follow up with an email or instant message to ensure that people have heard you and that they’re OK with the outcome. You should have multiple touchpoints through various media to continue the trail of conversation.
With more and more employees working remotely, leaders need to set clear guidelines around how to communicate sensitive company information. Remind employees to use even more care than they would if they were in the office. Make clear that personal email should not be used for any company business, and that employees need to keep track of what they are printing at home. If a printed document would be subject to shredding in the office, take care to do the same from home — or refrain from printing it in the first place. And of course, ask your employees to use company-issued devices when working; using personal devices creates problems around document preservation and increases risk. Finally, be sure you have up-to-date emergency contacts for all employees — a cell phone number or another way to contact them outside of company systems. This way, should your company fall victim to a cyber attack, you’ll be able to communicate with everyone. Taking these steps will help ensure your team’s security while it adjusts to the virtual work environment.
When teams are working remotely and stress levels are high, it’s all too easy to miscommunicate. Even well-intentioned messages can be misconstrued. So how do you avoid sending a Slack message or email that could be interpreted as passive-aggressive? One option is to use an emoji, which can go a long way in signaling tone, meaning, and emotion. But be careful — too many emojis could undermine your professionalism. Consider your audience before sending a slew of smileys. As a rule of thumb, try sticking to one emoji per message — unless it’s the very first time you’re communicating with someone, in which case, you might leave them out altogether. Also, be sure to spend a few minutes proofreading your message for typos, which are a not-so-subtle signal that you were in a rush or heightened emotional state when you hit send. Finally, read your message aloud to ensure that it’s clear and conveys the right tone. You don’t want to make a colleague unnecessarily anxious by saying, “Let’s talk,” when you mean something more like, “These are good suggestions, let’s discuss how to work them into the draft.” Putting a little more thought into the tone of your digital communication will make you the kind of colleague people look forward to working with.