When Times are Uncertain Start with Communication

We consider ourselves lucky. For our team, the effects of COVID-19 have meant multiple weeks under stay-at-home orders and remote working. Professionally, this is a significant disruption, but the consequences could be much, much worse.

To date, it’s been five weeks since we’ve been told to stay at home. Fortunately, we developed a communication plan ahead of time for remote working. That head start helped us quickly adjust to the new workflows once we were out of the office, allowing us to promptly move from thinking reactively to moving strategically. 

Our communication plan has 3 key elements:

#1: Daily touchpoints: This is our cornerstone. Every day we meet at a scheduled time, booked weeks in advance. An appointment gives everyone something to look forward to and to schedule around. Occasionally someone can’t make it, but no matter what, the meeting always happens. This is a sacred commitment to our team, and if I’m absolutely unable to be there, a team member takes the lead for me. 

#2: Vary the method:  These daily meetings are never routine. Each day has a different purpose and uses a different medium. The tone must match the platform of the meeting. 

  • Mondays, we use a video conference platform for an on-camera group experience. This meeting sets the agenda for the week. It’s structured with everyone presenting 3 or 4 goals for the week to put on a virtual “whiteboard.” Together we identify opportunities to collaborate and share ideas on common challenges. It is an e-version of our weekly standing meeting.  
  • Tuesdays and Thursdays are group chat on Teams. Here we check-in with each other in a less formal way. We share progress and the wins so far, but leave some space for a meme or a joke. This is wildly unstructured and is as much about being there for each other than anything else. 
  • Wednesdays are short one-on-one video chats with each team member. Here we address specific challenges and see how everyone’s holding up. A lot of good can happen in these meetings. 
  • Fridays bookend the week with another group video conference where we focus all about wins. How did you do on your goals? What about the long term projects on your radar? It brings closure to the week. 

#3: Align goals: Everyone’s workflow and projects are wholly disrupted—and that’s okay right now. Help your team focus on what they can control by guiding them toward projects that really make a difference. When team members from different disciplines focus on a common goal, they bring with them their unique perspectives and skills. They also tear down silos, strengthen relationships, and ultimately create better results and develop mutual respect.

The purpose here is to go beyond transactional communication, just as you would if you were still in the office. Yes, you need to deliver assignments and assessments. Nevertheless, you can also check-in and be available, just as you would at the coffee maker in the break room or with a random “pop-in” at someone’s desk. That impromptu connection is one of the things we miss most during remote work. 

Having a smart communication plan won’t fix everything. However, it will go a long way to make sure your team stays focused on what’s essential while growing stronger in a highly uncertain time.

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