by Angela Peacock, CEO of global diversity and inclusion training consultancy PDT Global


The threat posed by the coronavirus is forcing a lot of business leaders to face their fears about managing change in their organisations. Despite the technology for live virtual meetings being around for at least a decade, until now many leaders have avoided putting remote working into practice. They’ve stuck to flying people around the world for team meetings and making sure they can physically see them.

The coronavirus is proving a tipping point – business leaders are finally waking up to the real world and recognising that the technology exists to replace face-to-face activities with live virtual meetings. It’s proving a huge learning curve – they often don’t realise the technology exists to see everybody’s face at the same time, for example, or that there are things like virtual breakout rooms where you can put colleagues in a huddle to come up with ideas. They just haven’t used this technology until now – and it’s taken the coronavirus to throw a spotlight on what is possible and how they need to adapt.

And make no mistake, adapt is what business leaders and their employees are having to do right now. It’s vital if companies of all shapes and sizes are to not only survive but also thrive in the current challenging environment. Having half the population working from home is something that nobody saw coming – and of course it’s not easy to manage. But it can be done – and done well, it can reap rich rewards. Empowering and trusting staff to work remotely will take employee relations to a different level, for example – ending once and for all the ‘shirking from home’ mindset and bringing some much-needed work-life balance.

But where do you start when it comes to transforming your organisation virtually overnight into a dispersed collection of virtual teams? What are the secrets of success – and what pitfalls do you need to avoid?

  1. Get everyone to turn on their cameras and use all the technology available to you to actually see the other human beings. Use Skype or Teams to see all of you as a group, if possible. If you don’t have the technology to do that, get people to send you a photograph of themselves and every time you have any virtual meeting put up the whole team’s photographs.
  1. Get innovative about driving relationships more deeply. Consider things like sharing photos of pets, baking and showing off cakes to the rest of the team or sharing funny stories.
  1. Painting your team vision for sprint periods is really important at this time. Bring your virtual group together and acknowledge that we are all under pressure and there is fear around – and then set out goals for the next two months, particularly ones that will drive team cohesion.
  1. A good way to keep remote teams together is by running regular virtual team-building events. If you can’t afford to do this, make sure your teams have set times when they come together to just talk about their team, how it’s operating, how it’s communicating, what’s working and what’s not – not just the work you are doing. The people you are working with are not automatons – they are real humans and, when you are sitting on your own in your kitchen working endlessly, you can sometimes forget that.
  1. Feedback at this challenging time is important. You are asking people to work very differently from how they have worked before and most of them will not know what it’s like to spend hours alone and be able to self-resource. So give them feedback on how they are doing – and do it in good time and accurately. If, at the end of two months of remote working, you suddenly get feedback that there were four things you could have put right at the beginning that would have made everyone’s lives easier, it will be hard not to get really fed up and despondent.
  1. Consider the mental health of each member of your team and check in with them regularly. People who were resilient before – when they were coming into work and able to have contact, sharing in the doughnut parties, etc – may well see their mental health issues increase when they are isolated, so be sure to check in with them as often as possible. Also check whether they need anything for their working environment – think about whether giving them a headset might help to stop some of the erroneous noise they’re subjected to, for example, and whether their working space has enough light. All these things show that you care and make everyone feel included.
  1. In times like this, honesty is incredibly important. When people are frightened and possibly worried about their jobs, being really clear as to how the organisation is handling the crisis and remote teams is important. If you lose trust when you are working remotely, it can be the beginning of an incredibly toxic set of events. Covering up is one of the greatest enemies of trust.
  1. As far as possible, do what you say you are going to do. Keeping commitments always increases trust but, when you are working remotely, if you don’t keep a commitment it is even more frustrating than when you are in the workplace and someone can just pop in and talk to you. Be clear about timescales – and realistic about them too.
  1. Don’t forget sending someone home with a five-year-old laptop that doesn’t work or have the connectivity required is bound to cause frustration both for you and your team member. Technology is key.

The coronavirus is forcing us into a brave new world where nothing will ever be the same again. True leaders will embrace the opportunity to change – and ensure their businesses rise to the challenge and emerge stronger than ever.