As COVID-19, the coronavirus, continues to spread, businesses are rapidly moving to work-from-home arrangements. And while the number of people working from home has increased more than 150% over the past 15 years, this sudden short-term shift comes with a unique set of challenges above and beyond simply packing up your laptop and bringing it home. Here on the LexisNexis® CounselLink® team, we have a number of people in sales and services who have always been home-based, but we now suddenly have a much larger population (including customer support, marketing, and software development) that have been thrust into it.
There are numerous resources online providing guidance on work-from-home arrangements. Simple things like making sure to maintain set schedules and patterns or being intentional about taking time for transitions (your “commute” to your desk, lunch breaks, etc.). But this is not that simple: In many places, schools and daycares are closed, so children are home or are looking to start some form of virtual homeschool. Not all work is well-suited for a work-from-home setup, and frankly, not all people have a home environment that is conducive to effective work. As leaders, we need to think holistically about the needs of our team members as they struggle to stay focused with constant distractions.
First and foremost is the need to stay connected. When shifting to a work-from-home arrangement, there is a risk that members of your team may become isolated, particularly if they are some of your more extroverted people. While working in an office forces many interactions—whether through recurring in-person meetings or just trips to the coffee machine—it’s possible to go for hours without human interaction while working from home. Managers need to check in more frequently and consistently with their team and let them know more directly that they’re appreciated and that the work they’re doing is valuable. As a manager, you may not make a point to call your direct reports out of the blue, but in a remote environment where incidental interactions don’t just happen, you often have to be more intentional at seeking out opportunities to interact.
At CounselLink, we’ve shifted nearly all of our meetings to video conferencing, but we also set the expectation that it’s okay to not always be at your best, and that it’s understood that kids, spouses, or pets may make their way into the frame at various points during the day. All of these little informal interactions help us all to understand that we’re in this together and everyone is going through some level of adjustment.
Next is the need to stay flexible. There are unprecedented distractions in everyone’s lives today. The media and federal and state governments are communicating constantly (and often inconsistently), which can raise the anxiety of your team. You may have staff directly impacted by the virus or struggling with loved ones who are sick or at high risk. Many professional workers are fortunate enough to have jobs that allow them to transition to a work-from-home environment, but they may have a spouse or significant other who is more directly impacted—either because they are continuing to work outside the home or because they’ve lost their jobs or had their work significantly reduced. Your own team may even be concerned about their future as they watch the stock market or see how your business is affected. And those with children are now dealing with school closures and distance learning. Put all of those things together under a single roof, and it becomes a powder keg of emotions. Acknowledging that struggle and recognizing that distractions exist is important. Set an example and set expectations that distractions will occur. Be flexible with work hours and communications. Encouraging your team to take time for themselves and make their health and their families a priority will help them to be more focused and effective in their work time as well (and it’s the right thing to do!).
Finally, it’s important to stay focused. Particularly when working in teams, there is a certain momentum that comes from colocation and shared work. Teams who work together regularly hold each other accountable, but when they are remote, it’s critical to revisit how you drive accountability and focus to the team. Instead of longer-term goals and checkpoints, consider breaking work and deliverables into shorter periods—a week or less—to help keep the teams focused and demonstrate success to help drive positive attitudes and momentum. Clarity of goals and timing allows for the team to self-manage and schedule the work around their distractions, and shorter-term deliverables mean there are more opportunities to celebrate success.
The world of work is changing in 2020, and the change is of a type that nobody saw coming. The good news is, we’re all grappling with these changes together. By being mindful of the human impact on our people, and working to stay connected, stay flexible, and stay focused, we can make it through together.
For more related articles, visit our COVID-19 Resource Center.
Aaron Pierce is the Vice President and General Manager of the CounselLink business. With over 20 years of technology leadership experience, and over 10 years in the legal software space, Aaron is passionate about helping legal professionals achieve greater outcomes through data-driven decisions. This role is Aaron’s second with the CounselLink business, having led the account management team from 2008 — 2011. Prior to re-joining CounselLink in 2016, Aaron worked in several strategy and product management roles within LexisNexis, including eDiscovery and insurance. Prior to LexisNexis, Aaron spent 12 years guiding an Internet technology company in California from start-up to maturity.