As organizations around the globe confront the challenges presented by the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, even the most seasoned talent leaders find themselves in uncharted territory. We’re creating a mini-series with our experts here at PeopleScout about the issues that are most pressing during this uncertain time.
PeopleScout Client Portfolio Leader Chris Gould shared his insights on working remote and leading remote teams from his home in Dallas, TX.
Chris has over 20 years of experience in RPO, global talent acquisition leadership and consulting. He has proven success driving talent strategies and operations; building and developing global, diverse teams; and working with business leaders developing cost and availability strategies in mature and emerging markets. Prior to PeopleScout, Chris was formally the Global Head of Talent Acquisition for Black & Veatch and the Aon Corporation and held senior leadership roles with Accenture, Hewitt Associates, and Aon Hewitt. His global teams have been responsible for permanent and contingent hires in over 100 countries. He is a requested speaker on topics related to global talent acquisition, leadership, social networking, and human resources.
Can you talk a little about your experience leading teams from home?
For most of my career, I’ve been leading teams that have worked virtually within the United States as well as globally, and that has really forced me to think about how to communicate and keep a team engaged. How do you go above and beyond to ensure that everyone feels connected? The reality is we may not see each other, other than maybe once a year, if that, so I try to implement virtual interactions, virtual parties and virtual get togethers to celebrate what everybody is doing. I also pay special attention to communication, since any news being shared will usually be received by someone by themselves, as opposed to in a group setting where people can easily discuss.
What advice do you have for people who are transitioning to working from home for the first time?
The first thing, and I had to learn this as well, is to have a routine that you stick to. If you’re used to working in an office, generally you have a morning routine, right? You get up, maybe you take a shower, you have breakfast, you may watch the news. Whatever you do, I think it’s important to continue to do so while working from home. And while you may not dress in the same clothes as you would if you were going into the office, make it a point to get out of your pajamas and intentionally move from your bed into your home office. For me, that’s a big thing.
I also think having a quiet space that is yours to as much of a degree as you can make it is important. And it may take some changing around and some experimenting. You might be in front of a window in certain times of the day, and when the light comes in you can’t see your computer screen, so you have to move. It may get too cold or too hot. You may hear the neighbors mowing the grass, or you may have other distractions come up. Experiment and find what works best for you.
Finally, try to limit distractions. However, you’re going to need to get up and stretch and take a break throughout the day. Maybe take a walk outside or do something away from your computer to break up the monotony and make sure you’re not confined to that same space all day long.
Some people are now leading virtual teams for the first time. How can those leaders keep their teams engaged?
I think the first thing is to realize and understand that everyone is going through a tremendous amount of change right now, and that can lead to a lot of stress. There’s a lot of things that team members were not expecting to do, they may not be set up to do and they may not have wanted to do. So, from a leadership perspective, support employees by imparting as much of your knowledge of the situation as can and help employees connect with other people who may have more experience working from home to help with the transition.
Also, when you have conference calls or you’re talking to teams, understand that life is going to happen, and unplanned situations are going to occur. Continue to send positive messages to your team that you are there to support them, and let them know if they do have concerns or issues or other things that come up that you will be there to help them solve those and enable them to be successful.
What strategies do you advise for people as we shift from this initial shock of a change to working from home to what could become sustained isolation?
As when any change happens, there’s going to be that initial newness that you’re working through and there may be some excitement as you try to figure out your new normal. Obviously, there’s going to be stress with that too. But then things are going to start to normalize again. Whatever that new normal may look like for you as this shift continues for weeks or even longer, I think it continues to be important to focus on communication, relationships and connections. Depending on what your situation is, if you’re home by yourself, for example, be sure to really be thoughtful about reaching out to people, talking to them on the phone, hosting video calls or whatever tools you use to continue to foster those connections.
Reach out to people at work who you generally spend a lot of time with during the day and check in on them – ask how things are going and how you can support them. And get creative! Get together with your team or colleagues virtually and talk about books you’ve read or shows you’ve watched and experiment communicating in ways that you haven’t had to in the past. These ways of connecting are going to be necessary to keep yourself in a good place both mentally and physically during the unprecedented times we’re in today.
The other piece of advice I have is to set some guidelines on when you’re working and when you’re not working. It’s very easy, and I have found this myself, that when all you have to do is walk across the hall and into your office, you could be working all day and all night long. It’s not as easy to turn off because you’re not physically leaving an office. So, set some timeframes and some guidelines around when you’ll stop your day as you would have done in the office. I think this is important to finding your new normal, understanding what your routine looks like and setting boundaries.
Is there anything you’d like to add on the topic of working and leading teams from home?
I think the overarching message that I want to convey is there’s so much going on right now and so many stresses that have been added to people’s lives. You need to take care of yourself and look for ways to rejuvenate and reinvigorate your day so you can be in a better position to help others. If you’re not taking care of yourself, it’s very difficult to take care of other people — and we all need that right now, especially as leaders.
This situation is going to test you in ways that you probably have never been tested before, so your ability to show up, to show grace, compassion, understanding and creativity to alleviate some of the stress and continue to find enjoyment in these times is going to be very difficult. It’s going to be next to impossible if you’re not taking care of yourself. That would be my biggest advice. There are different ways to practice self-care, and you know which ways work best for yourself. Don’t forget to take time to step back and breathe as you’re maneuvering through these times.
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