With several weeks of social distancing under ours belts, you really do quite a bit of soul searching, because let’s be honest, you have the time. For my team at Staples, we have evolved as a team, as colleagues and as parents/partners in more ways than one. We have all read multiple articles that basically sum up “this too shall pass" and “you will come out stronger” and “this is the start of the new norm”.  All of those quotes are true but my biggest learning in the last few months is that you have to drive change. You have to get up every morning and 1.) put in the work and 2.) get to work.

 

Align on regular daily/weekly check ins.

  • If only for 15 minutes- require all cameras ON and no hiding!
  • Create a rhythm and accountability to be present at each meeting as well as an “as normal” schedule as possible

Show the work

  • There is something about seeing the quantity of work flow that leads to accomplishment. 
  • Our team choose to turbo charge Microsoft Project and quickly realized that we, a small scrappy team of 7, have over 12 weeks of solid heads down work to do. 
  • All the “gosh I wish I could just focus and get to…” “and if I only had time to analyze…” . These quotes are now taken as an opportunity to crush open to do lists.

Make everyone feel part of the team.

  • Help the “invisible" to be visible with tight and synthesized communication - allow everyone on the team to have a voice and contribute.
  • Share information in real time and be honest and transparent.
  • Engage the team to produce a video to show senior leaders what they have learned through this process.

Prioritize quick decision-making and clarity of work. 

  • Yes, continue to make the quick business decisions. This is a must.
  • Always “put your customer pants on” is a common phrase among our team. Your customers are #1 and are the only ones that matter. If you are not putting every decision you make through that lens, then you are missing the purpose of why you come to work.
  • By eliminating endless meetings and time-intensive tasks, people will inevitably start working on projects that improve their working lives and get rid of (or even automating) the most repetitive and vital tasks.

Take care of your employees.

  • Their mental health matters. 
  • Aside from the 1x1 and weekly meetings, take time to do interruptive and unexpected gestures that may just give one minute of a smile or could lead to an entire day of a skip in their step, if only to the kitchen to get lunch.
  • In whatever way possible, build goodwill and trust. Your team will stay and reward you later with even more dedication to your team's mission.

Celebrate the wins

  • In a time of uncertainty, you need to create a sense of accomplishment not only for yourself as a leader, but also a sense of accomplishment for your team. 
  • They need to understand and see what they are doing everyday matters and they are making progress. Celebrate these wins, even if small singles and not home runs.

Make your team useful & productive.

  • While the technology involved is a crucial need for remote working, the biggest challenge is that there was no preparation for this drastic shift to a digital way of working. “We are building the ship as it’s leaving the yard,” as I always say.
  • Ironically, enforced remote working actually improves working practice and makes each associate more productive. My team has said to me multiple times in the last week, “wow, I’m just crushing my to do list”. They feel more productive now than they did before.  
  • Why are we more productive than before? This is a bigger question that does not have one explanation, but I believe the answers will become more clear as the weeks progress, not only for my team but for many all over the world.

Estalish must-haves for each associate & team in regards to the calendar.

  • Not all meetings should be accepted - understand priorities and scrutinize invites/to-do lists.
  • Keep meetings as short as possible.
  • Block off windows of time for your "heads down work".
  • Set a proper work-life balance and “me time”.

Keep it interesting and unique.

  • Schedule 15 minute of just “water cooler” chat
  • Engage the team in more than just virtual happy hours -push their thinking into virtual book clubs and cooking class (if even you are the one teaching it!)
  • Take your next team meeting outside where everyone is outside walking or on their deck – get out and stretch the legs.
  • Show your area of work – whether a home office, your kitchen table or basement. We have seen it all. It helps you further connect with your team.
  • Introduce your pets or children. This usually gets a good laugh from the team. This again, continues to bring you closer without even realizing it..

Business as usual should be WIPED from your vocabulary

  • When you cannot do things as usual - it’s time to get creative and scrappy.
  • Times like this create new ways of thinking and doing, so go with that and let it open up new and inventive possibilities you can put in motion immediately. 
  • Erase the word “no” or “not even a chance” and replace it with “how can we” and “what if we”. 
  • Now is the time to thrive vs. retreat. Push the thinking and new ideas; the most innovative companies and teams will take the lead.
  • It’s amazing when you take the limitations off, what a team of innovative, creative folks can come up with.

To wrap up, plan for the new normal NOW. Keep an eye on the team, how they are coping with stress/change as well as what they are excelling at. Start building for the new normal BEFORE it arrives or at least have a point of view so you can keep refining you approach as a leader each day.

 

Good luck - we will ALL be better coming out of this.