by Crystal Smith
Within a matter of weeks many of us have been forced to manage our teams in this new virtual world because of the COVID 19 pandemic. In just three short weeks I have witnessed teams overcome the challenges extremely well. I have also witnessed teams crumble at the core. There are many leaders in my field that I follow on social media platforms who I admire and respect. Their ability to transform and pivot their organizations ranged from phenomenal and timely, to inefficient and too late. In my first week working in this virtual environment, I had a team member who resigned, a team member who needed accommodations because they were unable to perform in the work-from-home environment, and I introduced team members to two new platforms that allowed us to stay connected. What are the biggest takeaways thus far from this forced work from home environment?
- Leaders are the same people in the virtual world that they are in the brick and mortar world. In other words, we cannot expect people who were poor communicators, not engaged with their teams and unapproachable, to all of a sudden become amazing at all of these skills because we are now working virtually. These areas of deficiency will actually become more evident in this new world because the curtain has been pulled back and there is no office door where they can close and hide. The lesson – leaders, like all employees, should be evaluated and have 360 assessments from their teams in order to identify their areas of strengths and areas of improvement regularly. If these things are not done, when any other disaster or emergency takes place, these inefficiencies will be more challenging to overcome for the leader and for the team.
- Leaders don’t have to duplicate what was done when we were in buildings and offices. In other words, just because we met every Tuesday and Thursday at a designated time, doesn’t mean we have to do the same in a virtual environment. Quite honestly, many of my face to face meetings were not productive. In this new world we can re-evaluate what meetings are important and what can be sent in an email. So many of my meetings have been cancelled in this new virtual world and people are beginning to realize that not everything is “urgent”. We can also introduce new meeting platforms that allow us to meet using technology (Zoom, Skype for Business, Microsoft 365 Team, etc.). The lesson – we can use this tragedy as an opportunity to re-imagine the way we lead and do our work that is productive for our teams, our customers and our personal lives.
- Leaders may want to limit the “reply all” emails and ask team members to send a message to the leader first to determine if it is “reply all” worthy. I realized within two days that some people confused this “out of sight” experience as an opportunity to lead the ship that already had a captain – that captain was me. The request to the team to send all “reply all” messages to me first allowed messaging to be streamlined. During chaos and confusion, emails are often coming from everywhere, and it is easy to have messages become lost in translation. The lesson – it is important to control some of the messaging during times of uncertainty.
- Leaders should identify tools/apps that are useful to help teams stay engaged and stay connected. The tool that was most helpful for me in the beginning and continues to be useful, is Slido.com. It allows me to establish a platform for questions to be asked and I can answer as the moderator. Everyone can see the questions and responses. This limits the constant back and forth emails and provides a place for team members to go for quick questions that need to be answered. It also allows me to create polls that became fun activities. I created word clouds with simple questions like “How would you describe your first week working virtually in ONE word”. It was truly a learning process to gauge how the team was doing that first week in a visual word cloud. I also used a platform called FlipGrid that allowed team members to create quick 2 minute videos and respond with fun and engaging videos. We were able to laugh and connect in ways that were similar to visiting our offices throughout the day. The lesson – people still need to see people and connect beyond meetings and emails.
The quote on my office door says “leadership is a verb”. This is true whether in a building or in this new virtual world of work where many of us currently live.
Crystal Smith is a lifelong educator who currently serves as an administrator at a community college on the east coast. Crystal is a graduate of both Hampton University and The College of William and Mary, where she received her bachelors and master’s degree in Sociology. Her area of expertise is in the fields of family and gender studies and research and development.
Crystal started her career in human resources and worked with several Fortune 500 companies, including Lockheed Martin and Arthur Anderson Consulting. This work led her to consider education and teaching as a possible career goal. After an amazing career teaching in the K-12 system for five years, she decided to pursue a career in higher education. Crystal has been a higher education professional for over 17 years and this work led her to start her own consulting firm that specializes in leadership development, strategic planning and branding development.