As much as the world feels like an apocalyptic movie that stars Tom Cruise at the moment, there are many positive things that are happening right now. For starters, I am getting better at checking in with friends and hearing about how they are weathering the storm. In other words, I am mastering speed dial.
One friend, Michael Levin, a Baby Boomer and someone who I enjoy bouncing business ideas off of, brought up a few interesting ideas that I thought were worth sharing. To give some context, both of us are small business owners, consultants, and have a combined 30 years of experience in managing and leading (him more than me of course). He was a successful Fortune 50 sales director and founded 4 companies in Silicon Valley.
As you would have probably guessed, as small business owners, each of us has been immensely impacted on what has taken place. However, not just in the financial sense. For instance, he had to skip out on a prepaid timeshare trip to Hawaii with his wife, while on the other hand, I planned a surprise getaway to Disney World with my girlfriend for early April, however, little did we know that Disney World was going to lay off over 40,000 employees making our trip an impossibility. Even with the difficulties at hand, Michael and I had a conversation that remained more positive and future focused on what is on the horizon in business.
If you are a Millennial like myself, you might find this useful to hear what Baby Boomers are thinking in a time of crisis. On the other hand, if you are older than a Millennial, this might be an interesting perspective on what is happening in leading a remote workforce. Here are a few sentences from our conversation in early April 2020.
Getting the Ball Rolling
(Jeff): Have you seen anything similar to this in your day, or is this just out of this world?
(Michael): As someone who has been around a while (an older baby boomer), I certainly don’t recall a time like we’re going through today. With all of the challenges, I think it’s important for us to look at the positives that can come from this as it’s so easy to get caught up in all of the negative.
(Jeff): What sort of things have you seen to be more positive now that you wished people would do more of?
(Michael): One thing I’ve noticed personally is a lot more families walking our neighborhood both for exercise and bonding. I also notice in some ways people treating each other because little things don’t seem to bother them anymore..
(Jeff): I very much agree with you here. Often we take our relationships for granted, but the strangest thing happened when the coronavirus hit,- I started receiving random calls from friends and family checking in if I was okay. Never had this happened, but it reminded me of the community I was never aware of.
(Michael): A simple one I’ve noticed is when I drive, drivers who usually cut us off now may just let us go. We all have different stories about what we’re going through and a little act of kindness to another is something I believe many of us think about doing for each other during these times.
(Jeff): Anything you see in the news that is different? For me, I had to take a break from it. Now, I only check it once a week because it feels like the world is burning when I read the news.
(Michael): One thing that warmed my heart was a story in Yahoo News by Kayla Jardine about people adopting and fostering more shelter dogs. What a great win both for pets in shelters and for us as we expand our family.
(Jeff): That is crazy that you say that. As you probably guessed all the gyms where I live all closed. I was able to talk the business owner into letting a friend and I rent the equipment for the week. Well, I had some cash in hand to pay him, but he took the cash and put it into a dog shelter. It’s fascinating how animals are playing more of a critical role in our lives now.
(Michael): As someone who primarily conducts corporate workshops and gives keynotes, what was a busy schedule no longer is. My wife and I added a member to our family in the past year, our feisty 5-pound toy poodle, Riley. As a puppy, getting her to cuddle is not always the easiest. But in the morning, she will crawl under the covers with us and snuggle.
With my normal schedule, that snuggle time often gets cut short. Now, what I find myself enjoying is just relaxing in the morning and appreciating that time with her while watching the hummingbirds on the feeder.
(Jeff): To be honest, I am not a poodle fan, but that is great how Riley is helping out. Is there anything you do for getting centered during these crazy times?
(Michael): A realization for me is I want to find a way to take that time, to smell the roses, when things return to some sort of normalcy. I think this is a great time for each of us to reflect on what we’re learning and experiencing that we may be able to take with us and appreciate from this incredibly difficult time.
Professional: Keeping Employees Engaged and Productive While Working Remotely
(Jeff): With all of the chaos that is happening right now, do you see anything positive that will happen in future business? I know you give a lot of talks on this subject, but I am interested to hear how your perspective has changed with the current pandemic.
(Michael): One of the positives I believe that can come out of this time is we get to test out some new ideas and processes that we may not normally consider. While working remotely is hardly new, never before has this many people in the US worked remotely simultaneously.
This gives us a chance to find out how effective our businesses could be even during these dark economic times. We may end up choosing, while to certainly be physically in the same place more often than we are now, that we don’t need to be in the same place as much as we have. We get to learn more about what that balance could be as our staff knows and understands our current work situation isn’t permanent.
(Jeff): Yeah, but I can hear Dow Jones rolling over in his grave thinking that most of the workforce is working remote right now. Do you see any future benefit if companies will make these changes?
(Michael): There are obvious significant benefits, from less time for our employees spent commuting, increasing possible productivity time, potentially less interruptions and, from a social responsibility standpoint, less pollution.
(Jeff): True, but as someone who has managed remote teams for over half a decade, making sure that employees stay productive is difficult. Do you have any insights or ideas on how to improve remote employee productivity?
(Michael): I had a client reach out to me during this time and asked if we could brainstorm about how to keep their people engaged, productive and connected. We discussed several ideas.
Their team needed to understand how to be productive at home. I recently wrote a blog with what are my 5 Keys to staying productive. It’s not easy when you have a wife and a dog in the house fighting for your attention.
Team Building the Same Way
Another big thing is that these remote companies are doing is weekly virtual lunch-and-learns to give people a chance to connect and learn about both business and personal growth topics.
Take Advantage and Increase Cross Functional Communication
They looked at key initiatives and challenges that lent themselves to cross-functional teams working together to either solve those challenges or work on the key initiatives. This helped create productive cross-functional communication and kept teams engaged as opposed to each just working on their own projects.
(Jeff): Super helpful, I will check that article out. Do you think that companies will continue to let their employees work remotely as much as they are now? Personally, I think companies will continue a similar amount because it’s very easy to give an employee new flexibility, but it’s much harder for employers to take away privileges. What is your take?
(Michael): When things return to a greater degree of normalcy, they’ll be able to evaluate during this time if they can increase remote work and by how much. They’ll also get a chance to learn together how to maximize the effectiveness of remote work and keep their teams connected, productive, and engaged.
Building a Better Future
Our conversation continued for another 30 minutes before we both had to run off. To summarize, there will be a lot of different things happening in the world, but the best part is that it will be better. No, I don’t think handshakes and hugs are going away and neither does Michael. However we are being thrown into a new digital working environment where working remotely is not a crazy idea anyone. It’s a definitive possibility and is quickly becoming a reality because we, as a workforce are learning to evolve.