We're now almost two weeks into this, the strangest of times in our lives.
Those of us lucky enough to still have a job are most likely working from home. I take my hat off to the healthcare, retail, transport and supply chain workers that are making this bizarre experience as safe as possible.
Those in the travel industry, who are working tirelessly to get Irish citizens home safely from far-flung places, deserve a nod too. I also extend my sympathy to the hundreds of thousands temporarily let go from their places of work.
Today, I'd like to focus on those that are still working.
We already know how important it is to keep our teams engaged during normal times. Engagement is not just a new fad for the 2020s, as it has been with us under different names for a very long time.
But before GURTAGE (gargantuan and unprecedented reaction to a global event), unemployment in Ireland was close to zero. Consequently, recruitment and retention of good talent was a major challenge in almost all industries.
Now in this new normal, engagement needs to escalate to an even higher level. Although we're getting fantastic leadership from our government, with levels of honesty and information that is appropriate, we are all still very anxious about the future. Public health is the primary concern. But provided we all abide by the new rules of social distancing and so on, we will see light at the end of the tunnel. This crisis won't last forever.
For some, the thinking has probably already moved on to the clean-up after this, especially regarding the economy. I expect that will become clearer as the stock market, the banks, the leading economists and other influencers start to make sense of it all.
In the meantime, if you have teams of people working from home, you need to think and act differently.
I can't quite call it 'business as usual' but the beating heart of your business needs to keep pumping, in as much as that is possible. You need to be ready to hit the ground running, when the time allows.
I have met a number of progressive companies in recent times that are ahead of the curve on this concept of home-working, and they have learned to handle it really well. For those of you newer to the phenomenon, here are some tips to help you along.
Tips for maintaining engagement and momentum
1. Set objectives: When your team is all around you in the same office, you can see if people are arriving and leaving on time. You can see if they are working or loafing about and you can go and chat to them any time you like to check on progress.
Well of course you can't do that today, so you have to think differently. This will be a test of your leadership skills and your ability to flex your style for different situations.
Rather than be concerned about the hours they work and other 'inputs', give some consideration to the 'outputs' that they can deliver. In other words, focus on what results they can deliver for you.
To help you get used to it, set some short-term objectives without micro-managing.
2. Communicate: With distance and technology, you are now challenged and enabled with new ways to communicate.
Let's assume that each member of your team is at home with either a laptop and/or a telephone. Set up regular video or conference calls with all of the team in attendance. Agree a time that suits the majority, being respectful of kids' home-school schedules.
As our Taoiseach did in his address on St Patrick's Day, give honest updates to your team. Make sure you allow for the communication to be two-way.
The first couple of calls might well be a bit strained, but you'll learn as you go along. Just this week, I facilitated a GoToMeeting conference video call with participants from across Europe. Everyone got a chance to ask questions and contribute.
3. Manage the tone: In these difficult times, we're hearing a lot of doom and gloom on various news channels. It doesn't have to be like that all the time.
Be sure to have an upbeat tone in your voice and be careful of your choice of words. While you have to be authentic, you can also give hope.
You will encounter glitches as you and your teams learn to deal with this new normal, but with patience and good spirits, you will get there.
If appropriate, consider appointing one member of the team to bring some joviality to the situation.
Perhaps you could consider having a competition that involves the silliest home videos, or a quiz. It's just something that keeps the team bonded for the time being.
The Last Word
We are being challenged emotionally, economically and practically in this crisis.
While we're all in it together, it might not feel like that to everyone when working remotely. When this is all over, your leadership during the crisis will be remembered.