Let me start by saying this: Like most of us who share a C-suite title, we believe we are good leaders. Over 25 years of practice, I have learned a lot about leadership and I have also made my share of mistakes. But, the challenges we are collectively facing—in keeping ourselves, our families, our communities and our businesses safe—has proven to be my largest test yet.
When we all look back at 2020, I think we will discover that COVID-19 provided a tremendous learning opportunity for leaders across the globe, not just for contact centers and customer service companies, but for all of us. But, for right now, I think it is also important to share what we are learning along the way.
Make Technology Your Friend, But Humanize Experiences
One of the first things we did at Calabrio in response to COVID-19 was to enact a remote work policy for our 650+ employees, as most of you did. As a global technology-driven organization, we immediately looked for ways to use technology to empower our employees. In doing this, I had to change my leadership mindset. Typically, we use technology to maintain professional connectivity, access and collaboration. What I have seen the past few weeks is that this is not nearly enough. Not right now.
Our employees are working in uncertain times and they need more than just tools to do their jobs. They need to feel connected as human beings.
While many of our teams work remotely and travel, we have acted like a typical office-based operation with a strong sense of employee-community. In fact, we built our new headquarters in Minneapolis specifically with on-site community in mind.
So, what do we do now? How do we maintain that same close connection with team members working from home? And how do we help our customers do the same for their employees?
As leaders, it is our job to create these connection points and make sure employees understand how to engage with, motivate and activate them. As I thought about how we are maintaining our highly human-connected environment, here are a few of the things that worked for us. Maybe they can be helpful to other leaders, too.
Create New Connection Points
We immediately rolled out new connection points for our global employees using our collaboration tool to tell their work-from-home stories. We are using this dedicated channel to create a virtual community hub—one where employees can feel free to connect with others to discuss challenges of working from home, creative shared-space solutions, videoconferencing etiquette, and all other experiences in between.
Simultaneously, we created a work-from-home best practices channel, where those more seasoned at remote working could offer advice to employees new to the arrangement and reassure them that they are not alone. This added level of emotional and mental support is alleviating stress and enabling employees to focus on helping our customers, rather than feeling like they must figure out a whole new working environment on their own.
In the past, I don’t know that it would have dawned on me to create these channels for the remote workers, but we are living in a new (albeit hopefully temporary) normal. When offices, schools, restaurants, and entertainment venues are shut down and off limits, employees are bound to have non-work questions, want ideas or even just need an outlet to vent. This type of communal sharing of experiences is so important right now and leaders need to embrace the idea of using corporate tools to create space for these needs. We cannot and should not wait for employees to figure it out on their own.
Offer Unique Outlets for Stress and Anxiety
In Minneapolis and many of the locations where we have offices and employees, we are just starting to creep into spring. It has been a long winter, so to move straight into an environment of social distancing and staying indoors is difficult. This is especially true for employees that live alone and rely on their daily work routines for human interaction.
One of the ways we are combating “cabin fever” is by encouraging employees to stay active during their days. We normally encourage people to get up and walk around the office, take a stroll, and other typical activities employees can squeeze in during the course of a normal day. We are taking that further now.
For example, we have rolled out live yoga sessions that anyone can join from home. Teams are scheduling virtual coffee breaks that create a sense of normalcy that you would typically get by meeting up with co-workers at the office coffee counter or the shop around the corner. Cross-company virtual happy hours are also popping up—a way to celebrate a job well done in the face of uncertainty. I have promised to buy the first virtual round.
Refocus Employee Purpose & Rethink Customer Collaboration
The difficulty of knowing how to prioritize goals and tasks in a shaken working landscape can cause unease and stress for employees—we do not want this for our teams. With Calabrio software’s potential to help customers through these unprecedented challenges in customer service and remote working, we have embraced the chance to regroup and help our teams focus on what matters right now: Supporting those customers.
As a company, we have prioritized the need to “surround our customers” and rethink how we offer support. We have asked, “What do customers need now?” and “How do we provide this support in a pure digital capacity?” It has been amazing to lead a team that is thinking beyond the norm for ways we can stand by our customers through times of challenge and change.
In just a few days, teams set up webinars on work-from-home best practices, remote training and implementation workshops, dedicated forums in our Success Center for customers to discuss shared experiences and tips, a product hotline and free consultation for customers wishing to stretch their product usage to match the COVID-19 climate. This proactive digital support has not only been well received by our customer community but offered many employees a sense of direction in unclear times. To emphasize how much our customers needed this, we had over 1,000 customers sign up in just four days and the question-filled webinar went on for two hours—a full hour longer than scheduled.
As leaders, we like to think we are the ones with ideas—that we can work outside the box. But in truth, we can easily get stuck in the routine of daily management. COVID-19 is pushing us out of that zone. It is demanding that we look at new ways to work and to engage with the people that are most important to our success—our employees.
I suggest that all leaders take a minute to think about what you might be missing in your own organizations, and pull together people that you might not typically group together. Brainstorm. Ask your teams what they need and what customers need. Think about what might work in your own organization and go for it. Now is not the time to stay the course. Join me and let’s test our leadership limits to lay a new path through uncharted territory.
Edited by Erik Linask