I generally try to stay away from writing about current events or using cultural references in my posts in an effort to make them more evergreen. There are examples where I break my own rule, but generally that’s my approach.

I’m writing this post today for all the people who find themselves with their physical businesses “closed” who are working hard from home to keep them running. What’s there to do when the physical locations are closed? Are you getting a lot of reading done? I was asked this question once again this week.

Even though I’m not a healthcare worker, teacher, or first responder, I and others I know, have worked countless hours, days and weeks to start up and run our mission essential functions in this worldwide emergency.

Not Watching Netflix

Here are some of the ways we’re spending our time these days.

Making Decisions that affect service, staff, and the future of the organization based on information that changes daily and sometimes hourly.

A non-profit leader I spoke with laid off staff and cut her own pay within hours of needing to close her office. In her case, she had little to no reserves to fall back on.

Standing up a workforce remotely to carry out essential functions.

A commercial properties risk manager tells about handling new challenges with staff who need to enter potentially at risk locations. Handling very real fears and new safety issues with additional people offsite and others onsite is a new dynamic.

Communicating with staff who are wondering what they’re supposed to do if they aren’t considered essential.

In our organization, most of us aren’t familiar with the term “mission essential” which is the language of our Continuity of Operations Plan (COOP). Getting out communication that is clear about who is needed – for what and why – takes an extraordinary amount of time and finesse.

Onboarding and Training new staff.

A training manager for a pharmacy benefit management company tells about the challenges of onboarding all new hires remotely instead of being able to travel and do at least some training in person.

Communicating with customers about what services are available.

I observed many businesses – like restaurants and libraries – pivoting from “we’re closed” to “we’re still providing service.” Making sure people know we’re open and informing them how to use our service in a new way is critical for the survival of our organization long-term.

Fending off heightened cyberattacks.

One CEO I spoke with had taken great care with the settings on a purchased online tool she had used successfully for years only to have her meet-up hacked at the last minute.

Figuring out how to stand up an Incident Command Structure (ICS) and coordinate with the local Emergency Operations Center (EOC).

Reading the daily situation reports from our local EOC and local health departments takes extreme concentration to find out what new challenges and opportunities are at play.

Communicating with partner agencies so they know we’re here and can help.

One impressive example in this crisis is Frontline Foods which acted quickly to get donations and feed health care workers in San Francisco. It’s a long game. When I’m in tune with partners I can get a sense of when to reach out – someone who was there first might need someone to pass the baton to when resources or energy in the first leg wanes.

Being in conversation with other leaders in our industries.

Email listservs and weekly calls with others in similar situations, even if they have different conditions, takes time and is hugely beneficial. It helps to know that others struggle with similar issues or to hear solutions they’ve found that work.

Not on Vacation

Each one of the items I’ve listed above takes hours and energy. We’re working in sometimes unfamiliar roles in an unfamiliar structure with unfamiliar tools and sometimes with fluctuating information about safe practices. Even the workforce fluctuates more than usual when staff become unavailable to work for a slew of new reasons.

The role of leadership is to set the pace and tone during a crisis. When I feel like I’m sprinting a marathon of undetermined length or someone on the team says they feel like they are out of breath – not because they’re sick but because they’re overwhelmed – it’s time for me to assess workload and priorities. In my case, I’m so grateful we have a COOP and team members who have experience with community crisis situations.

Ways to Connect While #WFH:

Each of us is feeling the effects of new working from home realities from our own personality type. While I enjoy solitude – which is a relative term when I’m in online meetings all day – others I know have talked about feeling disconnected or like their home is a jail.

Week One, I was grateful I could turn off the camera on my laptop. Week Two I started hearing how others were being affected by being apart. Understanding this difference helped motivate me to start dressing up a bit so I could turn on my video feed. People could see me smile now, and I could welcome them into my home. Week Three, I knew we needed some fun, so we cancelled a couple of meetings and had a spontaneous online coffee break.

Some other ideas I’ve heard that I’m going to experiment with to bridge the gap when we are physically distanced include things like drop in hours where I just turn on my video feed and invite people to stop by and chat – same as we would if we were in person. Virtual happy hour on Friday? Online Pictionary? Town Hall Sing Along? Daily video updates?

While I’m exhausted by this strange new world, I’m also invigorated by the creativity and innovation that is emerging across all fields. I know we’ll come out of this with an entirely new mindset when it comes to providing our service, leading our teams, and running our organizations.

Here’s to looking forward to that day.

Not in my PJ’s

Below are more work from home realities. I’m sure others have their own examples to add.

Keeping our buildings safe.

Working with vendors who were in the middle of projects or who need to be paid to keep their doors open for when we reopen.

Figuring out how to take deliveries, pay bills, approve payroll, order supplies remotely.

Adding capacity to our online offerings.

Dealing with network slowdowns as everyone gets online at once.

Managing our relationships with colleagues without the benefit of body language when everyone is stressed to the max.

Leading new teams in new roles.

Calming people down.

Taking care of staff.

Trying to take care of ourselves and each other.

Recommended Reading:

While I’ve generally been to busy to read articles about how to work from home, here’s one that has some good tips from Bloomberg News. How to Work from Home. March 15, 2020.