As we enter our second month of shelter in place in Minnesota following the order that took effect on Friday, March 27 to stay at home by Governor Walz, I am certain that we’ll get through this latest challenge in the Covid19 situation but there may be significant business casualties in the wake of it. While some of the casualties are those that you would expect given the extreme nature of the economy, I am concerned with the intangible and lingering effects of poor decision-making by individuals not considering the long-term effects on their reputation. What these leaders need to remember is that people work for people, not companies. Leadership needs to step up to take the actions necessary to ensure the safety of employees as well as customers. By considering both of these constituents as critical, business owners will adjust their decisions to produce better outcomes for all.
In the past few weeks since the U.S. has been reacting to the Covid19 virus concerns, I have witnessed incredible acts of kindness as well as horrific stories of employee intimidation. Since I cannot bring myself to believe that there is any intentional ill-will, the latter is most alarming. The real damage for these actions comes in the future and may never be tied to these recent actions and decisions. One example of these negative actions is a business owner that threatened his employees that if they were to travel to a designated “higher-risk” state (and recognize that the difference is only slightly different in this instance), they would be immediately terminated. I am certain that the underlying reason for the employer’s actions is out of concern for the safety of their employees. However, without understanding the specific situations that cause employees to travel to another state, and having a conversation with them of the exceptional personal circumstance that perhaps requires them to care for a remote family member. We are fooling ourselves into believing that one size, or in this case, one policy fits all. I’m all about consistency but realize that in these extreme conditions, we need to think beyond policy and apply logic and reasoning. Consider what makes sense and how can we do the right thing and preserve safety for many without destroying a valued relationship with a key contributor. There are options to this dilemma.
Another leader told a well-respected and valued employee that if they were to fly home (and thus, away from all of his family members), he would be on a two-week mandatory work-from-home situation instead of discussing the option of remote work from the location where his family was residing so that they could all be together and he would not have to risk the air travel at all. When the employee went back with a counter proposal to work remotely, they reached an agreement for the employee to remain actively employed in a full remote situation. The irony in both cases, the employees’ roles were totally aligned to remote work regardless of the geography. Both employees in these instances were high-performing contributors to the business for several years. My recommendation is to not put your team members in a position to have to choose between family and work; instead, collaborate to find solutions that meet the needs of both, they are plenty of creative options out there.
Having facilitated the implementation of remote and flexible work options for many Fortune 100 corporations, I’m all too aware that these work options are unsettling for some leaders. The leaders that I witness who openly discuss their apprehensions with employees and still proceed to determine viable solutions are the ones that are most respected. I have even experienced situations where the remote or flexible options were not successful and had to be scaled back for some due to the employee or the role not being well-suited for these alternative work options and yet, the team appreciated the manager for trying. In a majority of situations, there are a variety of options available to those willing to be creative and open to change. I can’t help but think about the leader of a nation-wide organization who implemented alternative work arrangements as a reaction to limited office and parking space at one of their largest offices. When they moved into office space that was better suited to the size and dynamics of the business, they continued the alternative work arrangements because it was working and delivered a phenomenal recruitment and retention tool for key talent. I am certain that leaders such as this one who, despite her reservations for alternative work options, forged ahead to be curious and investigate the opportunity, will be those sought by selective and talented employees when they are in the job market.
By being a leader open to different and emerging business models, we’ll not only get through this current situation but will thrive in it. We need to use this as an opportunity to investigate alternatives and look at the potential. I am certain that our remote experiences today will forever change the dynamics of businesses going forward. Think of what you could save in real estate costs with virtual teams! Furthermore, with these systems in place, you’d never be concerned about severe weather or office power outages creating a barrier for customer access. I worked with one executive that extended his work day by 50% to accommodate an expanded global operation and did not increase operating costs at all. There’s huge value to be gained in remote and flexible work alternatives! The most significant, yet least recognized advantage, is the intangible benefit that will be gained by working with your team members to identify creative solutions to getting their best work done in different settings. Consider this: how will you respond when a candidate that you need to recruit for a new product launch asks you “how did you lead and treat employees during the Covid19 situation?”. What will your response be to this question? Think about it now so that you can live your answer in advance of it being asked. Employees that are high in demand, are selective about the kind of company that they want to work with and for. Be the leader that employees want to work for and lead from a point of strength and kindness; it will not be forgotten. I’m happy to help you design flexible work arrangements or employee programs to drive engagement that work for your team members; I guarantee it will build exponential value in both the long and short term!