For many companies, the coronavirus pandemic hasn’t only impacted how and where work is being done, it has also put into focus what a company can demand of its employees and what its rights and responsibilities are when it comes to safeguarding employees. 

The legal questions during the coronavirus pandemic (and beyond) are many, and the answers are far from uniform. For multi-national, multi-jurisdictional companies, cultural norms and the laws of individual countries may differ greatly and even be completely at odds. In the US, the laws and pandemic responses that companies are required to abide by may vary from state to state. Simply put — there is no universal Covid-response guidebook to follow.

These factors combined with the rapidly-changing conditions and information regarding Covid response have meant that companies have been challenged to address employee health and safety, maintain their businesses, and comply with legal requirements.  

Privacy Rights vs. Collective Health and Safety

One of the overarching legal issues relates to the pinch point of an individual’s privacy rights vs the collective health and safety of employees. Companies are balancing protecting the rights of individuals who don’t want to share their information with the fact that having more personal health information is key to fighting the spread of coronavirus. Understanding privacy law questions and implementing appropriate Covid responses have become imperative in protecting the health and safety of a company’s employees. 

Monica Winghart is a lawyer who has worked on these issues for the better part of the pandemic as a member of a Covid-response team for a multinational company based in the US, with a large number of employees in Europe and Asia. 

Regional Differences

As a multinational company, one of the biggest challenges has been designing and implementing Covid responses that adapt to individual countries’ cultural norms, comply with privacy and labor laws, and respond to regulatory agency requirements specific to the pandemic. The strategies used to protect employee health and safety have varied from region to region and have spanned everything from paper questionnaires to mobile phone applications, temperature scanners and sanitization stations, to interfaces with governmental agencies, and employee self-reporting. 

The differences in regulations and response have meant that in some regions, companies have been required to share their employee information with various governmental agencies, while elsewhere, the simple act of taking someone’s temperature using a handheld scanner is seen as too intrusive.  

In Europe, for example, where privacy and labor laws are strong and where individuals tend to not voluntarily share their personal information, Monica says her company struggled with how to keep their employees safe while operating within the legal frameworks and the cultural norms that guide them. Ultimately, the company decided to close many of its operations and implement remote work situations wherever possible. This tactic was not necessarily ideal from a business standpoint as an “essential” services company, but with conflicting laws and regulatory instructions, as well as a lack of real-time health information on its workforce, the company opted to put the health and safety of its employees first.

In Asia, laws and cultural norms have had a different impact than in Europe and elsewhere. The actions from federal governments instructing individuals and companies to share personal information have generally been stronger. Because people are culturally more predisposed to listen to and trust authorities, the response has been one of compliance. In addition, the culture surrounding sharing personal data is more open, which has made tracking and mitigating outbreaks easier. As an example, Monica points out that in Asia the company saw around a 96% adoption rate of governmental health sharing apps by its employees, whereas in Europe the same rate was less than 30%.  

The Practical Effects of Differing Cultures and Laws are Stark

The practical effects of how the differences in culture and legal frameworks have played out are stark. In Asia, Monica’s company is required not only to have employees report their temperature on a daily basis, but they may also ask questions such as where the employee has been, who they have seen, if they have been potentially exposed, and if they have been feeling sick or have a temperature.

In much of Europe, the company has not been allowed to ask these types of questions as that would constitute a violation of privacy and other laws. However, as death rates spiked, the policy shifted a bit and a few countries made exceptions to loosen their laws and regulations. 

For example, in some European countries, the company can now ask workers to voluntarily answer questions about health status, do thermal scans, and implement other measures to promote social distancing. Still, they struggle with many European labor laws as they are not designed to accommodate “work from home” or “stay home when sick or exposed” policies. Likewise, the laws also largely prevent the company from taking other actions against non-participatory or non-compliant employees. 

In the US, Covid responses and what companies can or must do differ widely from state to state. For example, some states have required masks, supported sharing test and vaccination results, and aggressively closed workplaces, while others haven’t. But, says Monica, “because there aren’t as many cohesive privacy laws in place in the US, and the labor laws are generally not as restrictive as those in Europe, we have had greater freedom in how we protect our workforce.” She continues: “We can require our employees to wear masks, socially distance, work from home, and take their temperature, for example. For those employees who do not wish to comply and where no work accommodations can be made, such as work from home, suspension or termination of employment may ultimately be an option. This sort of latitude could not happen in many of the European countries, or others, in which we operate.”

The Next Stage of Covid Response

At this point in time, with a greater understanding of how to minimize the spread of Covid-19, and vaccines becoming available, the next stage of the response is looming. It is clear that there are still legal, cultural, and ethical considerations in determining how to move forward. One of the biggest questions concerns vaccination policies. Another impactful issue for companies with a global footprint is how duty of care packages will be shaped by the pandemic.

When it comes to requiring vaccinations, Monica believes there is legal ground for doing so but points out that there are details to work out in how to implement such a policy and that will need to occur on a jurisdiction-by-jurisdiction basis. Not everyone can safely take a vaccine, for example — companies will have to resolve what exceptions are acceptable, and what actions they can take within a given country’s legal framework for those who do not wish to comply for other reasons than those deemed legitimate.

The question of how duty of care will change is not as clear yet. Monica says: “It’s a topic that is discussed frequently, but it’s probably prudent to take intermediary measures for now and wait to put anything firm in place as there are still many moving parts.”

Looking back, it’s easy to see that the pandemic caught most companies off guard — few, if any, had the preparedness to respond to an aggressive and fast-spreading virus like the coronavirus. Monica says: “There was little in place in terms of plans, infrastructure, or procedures to quickly mobilize a team and make decisions anchored in any kind of base knowledge. However, we have worked hard and now have a solid pandemic response plan for quicker action and decision-making.”

Some of the mitigation strategies implemented by the company Monica works for include a symptom checker app, offering Covid-19 tests on-site, PPE at the entrance of all buildings, as well as informational mailers. At the beginning of the pandemic, there was a total travel ban but, as Monica points out, “that is not feasible in the long term for a company with a global footprint”. Instead, they have worked deliberately to minimize travel and utilize video and virtual channels as much as possible to avoid all but the most essential trips.

The coronavirus pandemic is perhaps still producing more questions than answers, and trying to forge a clear path forward is not easy at this point in time. Monica’s reflection on what this year has been like working on a Covid-response team takes root in the knowledge that people’s lives are at stake: “This has been a very humanizing experience because, across the globe, the question ultimately has boiled down to how our decisions impact the health, safety, and lives of the people we work with every day.”

By: Felicia Shermis

As we enter the new year in much the same fashion that we exited 2020 — with surging coronavirus cases, and extended lockdowns in many parts of the world — it is clear that a return to work as “normal” is still far off for many of us. As our altered state of being and working drags on, one of the big questions is how to keep employees healthy, motivated, and engaged going forward. The Moodbeam wristband, highlighted in the news lately as a simple tool for employers to check on the happiness of remote workers, serves as just one example of how employee well-being has become one of the dominant topics of discussion surrounding work.

And it’s not so strange that this is happening now. The strategies used to navigate work at the beginning of the pandemic are not going to be as effective almost a year in, with Zoom fatigue setting in, and the effects of social isolation manifesting, along with the grim realities of the pandemic in terms of lives and livelihoods lost.

A recent study by Spring Health shows that 76% of American employees are burned out. With that in mind, it’s safe to say that it’s not going to be enough to simply gather data about how employees are feeling — practical measures will also have to be put in place. Our new way of living has to be matched with a new way of working.

The “ABCD” of Human Motivation

A recent Harvard Business School article looks at our current situation from the perspective of four basic emotional human needs. The four needs, also called the “ABCD” of human motivation, are:

  • Acquire — obtain scarce goods, including intangibles such as social status
  • Bond — form connections with individuals and groups
  • Comprehend — satisfy our curiosity and master the world around us
  • Defend — protect against external threats and promote justice

The authors of the article, Boris Groysberg and Robin Abrahams, argue that keeping employees motivated and productive under our current circumstances will require managing based on the recognition that the four drives, which are fundamental to human psychology, have not changed — what has changed is how they are being fulfilled.

Satisfying the need to Bond, for example, means fostering mutual reliance and friendship among coworkers — how do you do that effectively and naturally when team members are working from home and there are no watercooler moments, no shared lunches, or brief informal meetings in the hallway to solve an issue on the fly? Managers will have to think of creative bonding experiences to meet the need, and Groysberg and Abrahams suggest things such as online talent shows, recipe contests, or a game night, adding that: “These might even be ways for team members to show new skills or facets of their personality.”

To the point of bonding, at Globiana, for example, we recently started a program where one employee takes about 15 minutes at the end of our weekly round-up meeting and share about themselves — there are no rules for what to share, and no guidelines for how to do it. The point is to let people learn about more than what is visible in the purely professional sense. The hope is that by doing this, not only will we feel more bonded and engaged, but also find new points of connection between people. An added positive effect of this kind of sharing is the possibility of unexpected and creative collaborations as we learn new things about each other.

As a matter of fact, Groysberg and Abrahams talk about how remote work has in some ways had a leveling effect on organizations. Now that our physical boundaries of designated office space are no longer visible, people become more approachable, which means that this could be a good time for cross-team collaborations, assignment rotations, and peer mentoring.

Combating Zoom Fatigue

There is no way to get around the topic of Zoom fatigue when discussing how to manage employee well-being in the era of remote work. Much has been written about the subject and there are good reasons why. For those who have been working from home, video calls have become a staple of the workday. And while being able to meet online in some ways has been what has allowed companies and employees to keep working, as time has gone on, video calls have also had a draining effect on an individual level. For many, it’s the sheer number of meetings and the fact that not only are we conducting work this way but also, to some extent, our social lives.  

A recent Harvard Business Review article outlines simple steps to take to minimize the negative effects of video conferencing, such as avoiding multitasking and building in breaks. The simple act of asking participants in a meeting to use plain backgrounds in order to reduce onscreen stimuli can make a big difference in combating mental fatigue linked to video meetings. And, as Groysberg and Abrahams point out in their article, while many meetings have to be live, not everything has to take place in the moment. They suggest relying on asynchronous communication as well, such as a slack channel, for example.

Redefining the Concepts of Achievement and Recognition 

Managing in the pandemic era doesn’t only mean recognizing that needs have to be met differently, it also means that some of the ways in which we measure progress and success will have to change. Groysberg and Abrahams talk about how during the pandemic, you need to acknowledge not only the obvious wins a person or a group accomplishes but the regular business-as-usual activities too. Those things that just require focus and staying on track that we normally don’t pay attention to but that now constitute achievements in themselves, considering the obstacles many of us face during a workday at home, such as lack of private space, children who need help with school assignments, etc.

Coaching as a Tool to Increase Engagement

One of the strategies Globiana is trying out to increase employee engagement and motivation is to offer professional coaching to its employees. Coaching is a known tool for many c-suite executives who want to further their careers, sharpen managing skills, or break through in a new setting. 

However, coaching can be an effective way to help employees at all levels sort through what their goals are, what the hindrances to achieving them are, and how to take the steps necessary to accomplish them. For employees who are struggling with motivation, or who are weary and overwhelmed by the current work situation, coaching can serve as a needed boost.

Company Culture as an Asset

Erica Pandey of Axios has said that “culture” is a company’s “strongest asset”, and right now, with our severely altered state of work, company cultures everywhere are being tested. When looking at how to go forward from here, a good place to start might be to identify what the core values of the company are and how they can be met in the current climate. Because, while many of the difficulties of remote work are universal, the implementation and execution of support strategies will look different at different companies, as needs and resources vary.

But by being mindful of the effects of the pandemic in areas such as communication, achievement, reward, and personal development, it is possible to build a strong workforce — one that will not only thrive in the moment but one that is also ready for post-pandemic worklife — whatever that looks like.

By: Felicia Shermis

Sources:

https://thriveglobal.com/stories/arianna-huffington-employee-well-being-leadership-crisis/?utm_source=Newsletter_General&utm_medium=Thrive

https://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/keep-covid-weary-employees-engaged-and-motivated

https://hbr.org/2020/04/how-to-combat-zoom-fatigue

Having to improvise during the holidays is nothing new to the expat population. Most know what it’s like to have to hunt for favorite foods and come up with creative substitutes if need be. They are used to having to modify holiday traditions or create new ones altogether to fit their circumstances and surroundings. And perhaps most importantly, those who live abroad know what it feels like to be separated from friends and family during a time when so much revolves around being with loved ones. And while none of it is easy, most expats will say that you just learn to make the best of it.

This year, the whole planet is in a state of having to “make the best of it”. And pretty much everything has called for improvisation and modification — the coronavirus pandemic has made sure of that! Facing one of the most tradition-bound times of the year under these pandemic-circumstances has thrown many of us for an extra loop in this already turbulent year.

As Kate Murphy writes about in her NYT article “Pandemic-Proof Your Habits”, there are biological explanations for why routines and habits are so important for our well-being. And while we may be naturally predisposed to not like change, Murphy also points out that there are simple steps we can take to mitigate some of the feelings of stress and discomfort. She says:

“When there are discrepancies between expectations and reality, all kinds of distress signals go off in the brain. It doesn’t matter if it’s a holiday ritual or more mundane habit like how you tie your shoes; if you can’t do it the way you normally do it, you’re biologically engineered to get upset. This in part explains people’s grief and longing for the routines that were the background melodies of their lives before the pandemic — and also their sense of unease as we enter a holiday season unlike any other. The good news is that much of what we miss about our routines and customs, and what makes them beneficial to us as a species, has more to do with their comforting regularity than the actual behaviors. The key to coping during this, or any, time of upheaval is to quickly establish new routines so that, even if the world is uncertain, there are still things you can count on.”

So, in the spirit of creating new routines, I asked my coworkers at Globiana, who are spread out across the globe, for their best tips on how to cope this holiday season. While I got a wide array of answers, everyone seemed to agree that decorating with lights — and lots of them — is a surefire pick-me-up! Here is what else was shared:

Monica: We usually have a “robust” game of gift swapping followed by a massive paper ball fight. This year, since none of us can travel home, we’re doing a virtual White Elephant swap.

Marlies: We will be setting up a 10ft Christmas tree, and use fresh pine throughout the house so that we can really “smell” the season. Lots of candles and baking cookies are a must, as well as zooming with family and friends overseas.

Elena: We are missing our beloved “Soup and Song” evening this year for the first time in the last decade. But the spirit is alive and demands a creative approach — we will have a socially distanced evening around a big bonfire in our ranch meadow with hot wine and cookies, and maybe some caroling with our neighbors. And for sure, we’ll go all out on decorations. What can lift the spirit better than Christmas lights?

Camilla: We actually changed our traditions regarding preparations last year from having everything ready the day before Christmas to working on them together on Christmas eve (when we celebrate). This makes it a bit more chaotic and less formal, but it really fits the need right now. On top of that, we will choose the family game for the year, and we are leaning towards having a virtual White Elephant gift swap. Could be a fun addition for all those extended family members who are not used to a more ”lonely” Christmas celebration, the way we as expats are, after having lived abroad for many years.

Desiree: One of our Christmas traditions is to go see a “Cirque du Soleil” performance the day after Christmas — the show has been in our area the last few years. This is my Christmas present to my family. This year, all shows are canceled of course, so, what to do? I figured we’ll have our own “circus” — I ordered rollerblades for all of us and maybe we can come up with our own choreography in the backyard, or just a fun skate along the creek trail. And yes, knee pads, elbow and wrist protectors are included! 

Trixi: We switched to a virtual wish box a few years ago when the kids moved out — we have a shared google drive where everyone can deposit their Christmas wish and then a trusted friend will randomly assign the giver to the recipient via email. A tradition missed is the family Christmas trip — either to the snow or the beach, neither of which is possible right now. I think of this as taking it back to the old times, generations ago when travel was a luxury of the super-wealthy only. So, we will stay and enjoy a slow time at home. Lastly, don’t forget about all the fun games you can play on zoom — we did a lot of that in the spring when we were in the initial lockdown. The upside is that you can play and hang out with friends across the country and the world — we got used to sipping morning coffee while our family in Europe was having an evening drink!

The saying “necessity is the mother of invention” comes to my mind when reflecting on what this year has brought to the table — we have been forced to come up with alternative ways of doing things in most areas of our lives, big and small, personal and professional, and in society at large. When I try to make sense of life right now, which I admit is hard to do, I keep landing on the opportunities for building better habits, not just as individuals but as a society. If we can do that, then surely something has also been gained amidst all that has been lost this year. And that is a comforting thought this holiday season. Here is to a better 2021, and beyond!

By: Felicia Shermis

Sources:

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/28/sunday-review/pandemic-habits-routine-brain.html?searchResultPosition=1

Globally, it’s estimated that some 2.7 billion people, or more than 4 out of 5 workers, have been affected by restrictions and lockdown orders caused by the coronavirus pandemic. While large parts of Europe and the United States are imposing new shut down-orders because of rapidly rising cases of Covid-19, Asia Pacific has largely managed to avoid a second wave and is moving forward with the recovery and reopening of society.

The situation in Asia Pacific offers a good opportunity to assess what a sustained recovery process might look like, and what some of the issues and bright spots are that are likely to impact how we move forward in the rest of the world, with regards to cross-border collaboration and global mobility.

The Three Stages of Crisis Response

A Deloitte study on Covid-19 and the resilience of global mobility in Asia Pacific looks at the process from the point of view of a typical crisis response, which plays out in three stages:

  • Respond
  • Recover
  • Thrive

 In Asia Pacific, companies are moving out of the crisis-response stage and into the recovery phase, and with that comes a renewed look at the return of cross-border mobility.

The study notes that the transition from the response phase to the recovery phase is not linear and will have setbacks followed by progress. Progress will vary between regions and industries. What is clear is that there is a whole set of logistical challenges to overcome when going from crisis response mode to recovery mode, and beyond.

The Challenges

From a mobility perspective, the Deloitte study concludes that the main practical challenges once the workforce is back to work, include how to manage travel restrictions and immigration requirements, as well as how to take care of stranded employees.

In addition, companies are likely to place an even sharper focus on purpose, cost, and ROI of each assignment. As is often the case when talking about cross-border assignments, duty of care and employee well-being programs, are being studied in order to better understand what is needed going forward.

The recovery phase has also brought a discussion around how to handle policies that have to do with privacy concerns such as the disclosure of personal information by employees to employers for purposes of contact tracing, for example.

Globiana’s COO, Steffen Henkel, echoes the Deloitte study when he points out some of the logistical problems companies are grappling with. He notes that the difficulties start at a very basic level, with transfer days being postponed because of travel concerns and visa restrictions, for example. “What is perhaps the most frustrating is that there is no real pattern for who is let into a country. Sometimes, it appears to have more to do with the position the employee holds than set visa rules. Companies may have more leverage than they believe in these cases.”

Steffen can tell that many clients are in a state of uncertainty regarding cross-border assignments but at the same time, he has noticed that there appears to be a difference between the turmoil many feel and perceive and what is actually happening on the ground. He says: “When I talk to clients, it’s clear that people are still being sent abroad. And at Globiana for example, we have large projects in both Malaysia and South Korea where we are holding cross-cultural trainings and are providing relocation support. The scale is smaller, and our delivery format has been different. But the need for support is still strong, which is an indicator that cross-cultural collaboration continues to be an important part of business development.”

Technology-Enabled Virtual Work — The New Measuring Stick

To some degree, many of the issues that have surfaced in the recovery phase can be measured against the emergence of virtual work and virtual cross-border collaboration as the replacement for in-person work and cross-border mobility. The technology aspect can’t be ignored when looking at what global mobility/global collaboration will look like in a post-pandemic world.

Many companies have pivoted to virtual work and virtual cross-border collaboration, and as technology keeps improving, and organizations build better structures for collaborating virtually, it’s reasonable to assume that this form of employment will become a more permanent arrangement for a greater part of the population — the question is to what degree? One survey quoted by the Deloitte study found that 74% of CFOs are considering moving previous on-site employees to remote work post-pandemic.

Another trend that is emerging is the introduction of flexible cross-border arrangements where employees are able to “work on a team abroad” without physically having to be in the country, as well as blended assignments where there is a mix of face-to-face and remote work.

In general, workforce mobility strategy is likely to become more purpose-driven, as not only are the needs being measured against the possibility of the work being done remotely but also because the overall desire by employees to take on international assignments may not be as great in the future.

The Future

When looking to the future, Steffen sees that the pandemic, as hard and disruptive as it has been and still is, also offers opportunities for growth and innovation. He mentions the cross-cultural trainings as an example of that.

The adjustment from in-person to virtual trainings was difficult and many rejected the idea at first. But, says Steffen, by seeking and analyzing customer feedback, and by being willing to try new technology and delivery formats, Globiana ended up developing better, more flexible programs, that not only serve as a bridge in difficult times, but that can actually be seen as an overall improvement in product offering. “We learned that we can do more virtually than we thought and that gives us tremendous flexibility in the future when we can combine the two formats — virtual and in-person — freely.”

And when speaking of providing intercultural support, Steffen notes that one of the surprising things to come out of these past few months is that clients are not questioning the need for this kind of service, even in the face of uncertainty and hardship. There appears to be a basic need that remains intact and that says something about the importance of cross-border collaboration.

What About the Thrive Stage?

We don’t know yet what the Thrive stage will look like, but the Deloitte study points out that global mobility teams will have to rethink and redesign their global mobility models to be more agile in a more uncertain future. They write: “It will be important to identify and capture lessons learned to identify organisational improvement opportunities. Often, many lessons learnt are forgotten in the aftermath of a crisis because all energies are devoted to recover operations as soon as possible.”

Sir Winston Churchill said at the end of WW II: “Never let a good crisis go to waste”. With the pandemic upending life as we know it, and with much still unknown, at least one thing seems clear — it has forced us to think hard about how we do business. Aiming for meaningful change in the Thrive phase, such as technology improvement, greater scrutiny on the need for physical relocation, more cross-border/intercultural collaboration enabled by technology, etc., can help serve us all for a long time to come.

By: Felicia Shermis

Sources

Deloitte study:

https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/cn/Documents/tax/deloitte-cn-tax-the-resilience-of-global-mobility-in-asia-pacific-en-200611.pdf

With World Mental Health Day coming up on October 10, it’s important to recognize that mental health is an ongoing global issue impacting all facets of society — some 350 million people worldwide suffer from depression alone. The World Economic Forum reported in 2018 that mental health disorders are on the rise in every country in the world and could cost the global economy up to $16 trillion between 2010 and 2030 if there is no action taken.

As a society, we tend to think of mental health problems as a sign of personal weakness, or something that only happens to others. And with that as our basic mindset, it’s no wonder many are hesitant to admit they are feeling mentally unwell or that they won’t seek help for their condition. It’s no wonder that the discussion surrounding mental health is halting, and that there is a stigma attached.

It’s well known that the expat population is particularly reluctant to acknowledge mental health issues. Part of the reason is that the employees who are sent abroad are typically those considered highly skilled, as well as high-functioning. Many are in leadership positions. Admitting mental health issues under those premises is difficult.

Yet, relocating abroad and working in a cross-cultural environment is known to be very mentally taxing. Not only are you leaving behind your traditional support network of friends and family, but you are also facing a whole new set of societal and work-related rules and norms. As a result, many end up feeling lonely and isolated which takes a toll on mental health.

A study published in 2018 by IJHP (International Journal of Health & Productivity) concluded that expats are 50% more likely to develop anxiety and depression compared to US domestic workers. Inevitably, these are issues that impact performance at work, and may even lead to early termination of an international assignment.

Data shows that workers with depression miss the equivalent of 27 workdays per year, and the cost of a failed, or early termination-assignment can be as much as $500 000. The cost of sub-par performance because of mental health issues can be measured not just in money, but in lesser outcomes and missed future business opportunities.

The figures for the potential impact of mental health disorders are daunting, but there are effective mitigation strategies that can be put in place. On a corporate level, building support programs, and actively promoting them, is crucial in supporting mental health. In addition, building a company culture that is accepting of showing vulnerabilities is a powerful way of championing mental health.

For the expat population specifically, cross-cultural training is an important piece to being able to settle well, and by extension performing well — in life and at work. Support packages for intercultural training can consist of various components such as online programs, in-person training, and coaching, all in combination with access to healthcare (including mental healthcare).

Equally important is making sure that the employee knows what kind of support is available and how to leverage the resources when needed. It’s not uncommon for this kind of information to get lost in the general hustle and bustle of onboarding/relocating, so, it’s crucial to

  • have a plan for how to communicate what resources are available, and
  • making sure the employee knows where and how to access the resources.

Perhaps the best tool of all in fighting mental health issues is one that is available to all of us — to talk openly about struggles and to recognize that mental health, like physical health, is a part of the human condition. Removing the stigma is in itself an act that can lead to better mental health outcomes.

By: Felicia Shermis 

When asked what will happen to globalization in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic, there are two things that most global experts seem to agree on — globalization is here to stay and it will look different going forward. These sentiments stem from an outlook that goes beyond current dismal travel data, and economic downturns, and are rooted in a strong belief that we are an interconnected world that is irreversibly global in nature. 

The Simple Argument for Globalization

The simplified core argument for globalization is that without global collaboration and exchange, we lose the engine that drives innovation and forward movement, which industry and organizations of all kinds, as well as societies across the globe, rely on not just to flourish but to function on basic levels. 

The argument for why globalization will change is even simpler — it has to in order to survive. As a matter of fact, while it may seem like globalization has more or less died in recent months, what it has actually done is changed.

Collaboration is still going on across borders. Countries are exchanging goods, services, and information, albeit in different capacities and ways compared to pre-pandemic days. People may not travel physically for business meetings right now, but we are still holding them virtually. Companies may not be sending employees to conventions across the globe, but many are attending online events because we know that the information exchange is critical, the view from the other side invaluable. We are a globally-minded world that has had to push the pause button on some of the more overt expressions of that globalism. 

Stark Data to Suggest Troubled Times

There is, of course, data that shows that some of these overt markers are struggling right now. The most obvious — the number of international airline passengers — is in steep decline. Once the year is over, the decline is thought to be somewhere between 44-80% according to the Harvard Business Review (HBR). (For some perspective consider this — even if international airline passengers fall by two-thirds, there would still be more people flying abroad now than there were in 2003, according to HBR.) In addition, HBR is forecasting a 13-32% decline in merchandise trade and a 30-40% reduction in foreign direct investment. 

But, as stark as these numbers are, there is also an acknowledgment that these are extreme circumstances that won’t last forever. The question is what globalization will look like coming out on the other end, and perhaps more importantly, what companies, organizations, and countries can do now to impact and shape how we go forward?

Globalization Has Been Questioned Since the Great Recession

When discussing the future of globalization at this moment in time, it’s important to remember that globalization as a concept started to be questioned well before the coronavirus pandemic closed down borders, disrupted trade, and put planes on the ground. Protectionist attitudes have been building in various parts of the world since the great recession, and the international business environment has been gradually destabilizing — the US and China trade war is just one example of this trend.

In addition, it’s clear that the pandemic has given a platform to those who are interested in building strong nation-states and aligning economies along regional lines, as opposed to working for international openness and movement of goods and services. In Covid-19, the nationalist voices that argue for closed borders and limited exchange have something concrete to put forth as evidence of the dangers of globalization. 

In a Global World, We Need Global Solutions

On the other end of that spectrum is the recognition that the fighting of the pandemic itself requires collaboration across borders. In an article on Time.com Arjun Appadurai argues that the recent crisis has shown that neither science nor technology can succeed without globalization. 

Arjun writes: “The best virologists, epidemiologists and public health experts are constantly in touch with one another across national boundaries. Drug companies rely on globally conducted trials and scientific talent drawn from a global pool. Emergency equipment is sent from various countries to one another. Although there is still a competitive race to find the best tests, equipment, vaccines and cures, the globalized model of corporate collaboration in the big pharma corporate world is sure to continue. And nation states that treat the pandemic as a zero-sum game, to be won or lost, are sure to fail.”

The worry about the economic damage, and its lasting effects, is real. Not knowing when international flows will start growing again is the type of uncertainty that no business likes. However, business leaders have some agency in shaping how we go forward. HBR writes: “Global business leaders can go beyond just watching disease trends and economic data — they can help tilt the balance from negative to positive feedback loops by contributing to health, growth, and international cooperation.” 

Looking at it from a business perspective, there is a case to be made that the pandemic itself is providing strong business and export opportunities. Think of e-commerce, for example, or the remote work experience, both have flourished during Covid-19, and both have lots to offer globally for those who can perfect their offerings in their fields of business and expertise. 

The Expectations of Business Leaders Have Changed

Another force that has emerged as a player in impacting the future of globalization is public opinion. The awareness in society of the forces that shape our existence is growing and customers and employees alike are to a greater extent expecting corporate leaders to take a stand on issues that arise. This means that companies who want to thrive in the post-pandemic business landscape will have to look at the bigger picture and take into account the driving forces of globalization — not just on a business level, but on a societal level, as well as a human level.

It’s undeniable that globalization has taken a hit and that the international movement of goods, people, and services have been disrupted because of the coronavirus pandemic. But whether globalization will survive or not, in the end, will have more to do with how we approach two opposing world views —  protectionism vs. globalization — these two worldviews will likely continue to be debated long past Covid-19 has passed. 

By: Felicia Shermis

Sources: 

HBR

Washington Post

Foreign Policy

World Bank

Time

In normal times, we think of resilience as a personal challenge — when one faces a crisis, such as job loss or illness. These events are hard and can bring out a new resilient self once the person has navigated them. I recently discussed with a coaching client how their past resilience experiences have made them stronger, and thus they are able to face the next challenge with more confidence. As a metaphor, anyone can sail a ship in calm waters but steering through a storm requires resilience, and while we do not hope for future storms, they are easier to face knowing you have done it in the past.

What’s different during COVID-19 is that we are all facing a resilience challenge at the same time — as a family, as an organization, as a country, as a world. The need for leadership is heightened, and leaders often cannot find respite from a challenging workday. If you are working out of a bedroom closet, or hear your toddler romp on the other side of the wall, all barriers between work and family have come down.

Gallup is doing a great job of providing data on the workplace during COVID-19.

What does resilience look like?

One of my mentors compared it to flying a plane — once you take off you have to land again, there is no choice. If you encounter turbulence or engine trouble, you cannot roll up in a ball on the cabin floor and hope for a miracle. Let’s apply this metaphor to your workday: do you catch yourself feeling lost and wishing for all of this to be over, let’s just close our eyes and wake up post-COVID? Our world has been changed forever, and when we look at climate change, there will be no going back to the fast-paced lives pre 2020.

Watch this five-minute video by Simon Sinek, reminding us that pandemics and new normals have happened before.

In talking to clients, they have come up with some amazing strategies to build up their resilience, and while coaching is always confidential, I can share some general ideas:

  • Increase your downtime to come back fully charged — eat lunch with the kids, work out, walk in the woods, meditate, or just look at the world through your pet’s eyes for ten minutes.
  • Self-care is not selfish, self-care is essential to be your best for the people you care about — your family, your team, the mission of your company.
  • Acknowledge what has changed for the better during COVID-19 — no commute, no airplane middle seat, seeing your kids throughout the day. Many people have moved to places they could not live before because of an in-office policy. These are important learnings to hold on to.
  • Flattening of corporate hierarchies — in order to get stuff done remotely, it’s all hands on deck and much more focus on outcomes over organizational charts.
  • Increased hiring of talent regardless of where they live. The tech giants, for example, have made a complete turnaround on work from home after seeing how smoothly remote work is going.

What seems to be the biggest missing item is the water cooler moment — that informal chat in the hallway or a quick coffee together. These events cannot be replaced by scheduling yet another online meeting — however, people have come up with great ideas for how to continue to make those informal connections — drop a text or a slack message, asking the person how their day is going and whether you can be of help; organize your outreach — make time on your calendar, this is part of your job.

Lastly, be kind to yourself. One of my favorite readings is the FDR biography by Doris Kearns Goodwin “No Ordinary Times”. When the world faced the prospect of WWII, FDR goes on an extended weekend stay to his country home. He understands there is no quick fix to the situation, and he needs all his resilience to lead the US and ultimately the world to peace. Incidentally, he had plenty of time to build his own resilience by overcoming polio and struggling to accept his new normal.

By: Trixi Menhardt
Head of Coaching Services at Globiana

In the age of the coronavirus pandemic, business travel has come to a near standstill. While virtual meetings can serve as a good substitute in the short run, it’s widely recognized that face-to-face meetings, whether to collaborate, strike a deal, or to educate, are crucial to the success of a company in the long run. An Oxford Economics study found that each dollar invested in business travel can result in as much as $12.50 in revenue. This is one of the reasons business leaders believe that business travel will resume once conditions allow (although most also believe reaching pre-pandemic levels will take a long time) — meeting in person is simply too important to the growth and success of a company. 

As important as business travel is, it will undoubtedly be different going forward. The criteria for who goes and what warrants a trip will change, and perhaps more importantly, the protocols and safeguards that have previously been in place to inform and protect travelers, will have to be refined. Having a comprehensive duty of care-program has always been an integral part of keeping globally mobile employees safe — it will become even more so in the future. 

Factors for deciding the extent and frequency of business travel typically include such things as cost, capacity, and perceived value. These now have to be evaluated with traveler safety and well-being in mind.

Now Is the Time to Look Over Travel Policies

Traditionally, corporate travel policies have mostly included provisos for spending and reimbursement, and what preferred providers to use for travel and accommodation. To meet the needs of business travelers in the future, these policies will have to address a host of additional issues pertaining to traveler communication and safety. 

Because business travel is not likely to resume in any meaningful way for many months — a recent survey by the Global Business Traveler Association (GBTA) shows that about 40% of their members believe that international business travel won’t resume for another six to eight months — this is an ideal time to evaluate and build policies. 

For many companies, the first thing to do when updating travel policies will be to develop a protocol for determining what travel is considered essential, and what expenses are reasonable to absorb. For example, are the costs of having an employee quarantining at a hotel for two weeks feasible? This is also a good opportunity to get the input of employees, to find out what needs they most want to be met when considering business travel. Once a baseline is set, it’s easier to build strong policies to match travel needs.

Travel Policies will Look Different

As companies put the safety of the traveler in focus, they will have to augment existing traveler policies, or create new ones (according to the Egencia Business Travel and Technology Study, only some 60% of companies have an official policy in place to guide business travelers), to include such things as real-time travel updates and risk assessment, implement strategies for tracking employees, as well as develop communication plans that are efficient and customizable. These categories break down as follows: 

  • Travel updates — A big piece of the puzzle to ensure travel safety and business continuity will be how to stay on top of travel information as it develops. Ideally, travel managers will identify reliable sources for the latest news. Depending on the company, the type of travel, and the destination, these sources will vary. There are of course companies that do travel tracking and news, whose services can be purchased. There are individual countries’ travel advisory websites, as well as direct contacts on the ground. Resources, as well as the nature and scope of the travel program, will likely determine an organization’s most suitable source(s). 
  • Employee tracking — Companies will need to be able to track employees to determine what the implications of changes to travel restrictions are for individual employees. This will be crucial to maintaining a safe work environment. 
  • Communication — Communication protocols will have to include several pieces. First, a solid communication system starts with making sure employees are aware that the information exists, and then educating them on how to access it, and relaying what to expect in terms of direct communication. Second, developing “communication action plans” for what to do in case an employee needs assistance, health care, be in quarantine, etc. will become ever more important as business travel ramps up.  

Ensuring the Wellbeing of Traveling Employees

In addition to augmenting and modifying their own travel policies, travel managers will also have to look closely at their suppliers’ policies and practices for cleanliness and distancing, for example. Compiling a list of vetted and approved providers they feel confident about will be important in keeping employees safe. Likewise, health care policies and procedures will have to be examined and updated. 

It’s clear that business travel going forward will require a multi-pronged approach where economic factors are considered alongside the physical and mental health of traveling employees, as well as practical matters such as safe transportation and accommodation — paying attention to all of these aspects is how companies can keep their employees protected and productive while on the road. 

By: Felicia Shermis

Sources:

How COVID-19 will change business travel (Conde Nast)

The Future of Work (Business Insider)

Business Travel Statistics (Financesonline)

How to enable business continuity (TripActions)

Getting ready to restart travel (TripActions)

 

The need to measure the effectiveness of a product or service is almost universal in business, regardless of field of service or type of product. Getting feedback is not only how you know if what you are doing is working, but it’s also how you improve and grow. And — it can’t be denied — customer satisfaction data is an effective marketing tool.

But few things can be as hard to do well as to gather feedback and measure and report outcomes — for several reasons. For one, designing feedback programs that measure relevant information is complex. Also, measuring outcomes is rarely a single-objective undertaking, as data gathered serves many purposes. This means you have to be clear about what you are going to use the data for. In addition, getting people to respond/give useful information is a well-known challenge, and using the information you have gathered, whether for product improvement, customer reporting, or marketing, requires analytical insights.

Globiana’s COO and Co-Founder, Steffen Henkel, has long experience of measuring outcomes and analyzing and reporting data. When asked about his approach, he starts by talking about the importance of measuring the right thing (and how hard that can be), and of being able to identify what is useful information and what is not.

To illustrate what he means, he gives a simple example of trying to measure someone’s impression of a cross-cultural training session, something he is well-familiar with. The goal of the training on an individual level is to increase a person’s cultural awareness so that transition into life in a new country is as smooth and efficient as possible. The training session is usually given shortly before someone relocates.

The goal for a company providing the training to an employee is typically multi-faceted and includes general cultural adaptation, as well as business-specific skills, in order to be effective at work. A company sending an employee abroad to work or do business represents a big investment and a failed assignment or botched negotiation is costly. Hence, the training serves an important function in maximizing the outcome for the employee and the company alike.

So, what is useful information to measure after the training session is completed? And what is reported to whom? Steffen wants to know several different things:

  • The basics, such as was the trainer professional and knowledgeable? Were the facilities satisfactory?
  • What people thought about the course — was the format good, material engaging, etc.?
  • Was the information the trainer provided effective and useful? Does it translate to usable skills in “real life”?

Reporting considerations are both external and internal and typically include the following:

  • External reporting to purchasing client
  • Feedback from/to trainer
  • Internal reporting for the purpose of improving content and practices
  • Marketing

On the surface, the basic questions, such as was the trainer professional and knowledgeable, should be pretty straightforward, as should finding out what people thought about the course. However, even these seemingly simple questions can produce answers that are not actually measuring what you are intending to measure.

Steffen says: “Unless you have a carefully designed survey, what you may end up measuring is how a person is feeling after the class — are they tired, hungry, happy because it ended a little early and the snacks were good — rather than what they think about the content of the class. And that’s not really the information you’re after.”

According to Steffen, the best way to gather information in these cases is to make data collection as specific as possible. For example, by starting off the session by asking “what are your three main objectives with the class?”, and then at the end revisit to see if/how the objectives were met. This approach ensures context in the information gathering process. 

Understanding the effectiveness of the information the trainer has provided is trickier. This is something that can’t be measured at the conclusion of a training but has to wait until the assignee has been on location for a while, typically several months after the training took place. Gathering data months after an event comes with its own set of challenges. Because the questions revolve around if the person has been able to apply anything they learned in training in their everyday life in the new location, this information is more about “feeling” rather than raw data, meaning measuring the outcome is not something that can be done on a scale or quantified in a graph.

In this example, the ultimate indicator of training success for the employer may be whether the employee stays the course or not. Measuring that outcome represents a separate survey, targeting the hiring company.

Steffen’s “simple” example above highlights the complicated nature of gathering data and measuring outcomes and it underscores the need for deliberate data collection/reporting to be part of the overall product/service offering. 

General trends in measuring outcomes and reporting are influenced by the online tools available, many of which make it easy to collect information and data. However, the quality of information will vary, and it may not always be actionable. Clicking a happy or sad face emoji, for example, will give an indication of someone’s current state of mind but not much more.

As for a tool like Net Promoter Score (NPS), Steffen sees it as being really useful for marketing purposes and it can function as an internal indicator of how you are doing. However, it also may not give much specific actionable information. And it’s not really a useful reporting tool to clients seeking data.

Lastly, when thinking about the power of collecting and reporting data, and how your findings help make business decisions, consider this from a Helpscout study — it shows that 80% of companies say they deliver “superior” customer service, whereas only 8% of customers agree with that assessment. While this particular study doesn’t indicate the level of dissatisfaction among customers, it does point to a big difference between the perceived success by the companies and the lived experience of their customers, and that is not a good starting point for building a strong brand.

By: Felicia Shermis

Sources:

Harvard Business Review

Aircall

There is a lot of talk about resilience these days — on a personal, professional, and societal level. Resilience is what will allow us to get through, and succeed, in these times of high uncertainty. But what is resilience, and how do we become resilient? In the corporate world, how do resilience and effective leadership go together — is there a role for employers to promote resilience? And, can a company’s actions now, during these extraordinary circumstances, serve to make it stronger in the future?

What is Resilience?

The basic definition of resilience is “the ability to recover from or adjust to misfortune or change” (Merriam-Webster). There is no doubt that collectively, and individually, we have experienced a lot of change lately. The way we lived and worked just a couple of months ago is radically different from how we go about life today and there is great uncertainty of what lies ahead. 

While resiliency isn’t something you can build overnight, it is a skill that can be learned and modeled. As Paula Davis-Laack (J.D., M.A.P.P.) says in Psychology Today: “When resilience becomes a practice, you can better anticipate and manage risk, deal with setbacks more appropriately, and stay engaged during times of challenge.

Research shows that resilient employees — those who not only bounce back from adversity but also thrive — are those who build strong connections and relationships with others and where these connections are characterized by effective communication and well-defined leadership.

Clearly, the current pandemic is an extreme example of adversity, but the principles that guide a workplace culture of resilience, in general, can still play an important role today. According to the article “Resilience in the Workplace” from PositivePsychology.com, a positive work culture that builds towards resilience is one in which team members are encouraged to:

  • Speak up, and ask any questions
  • Openly share bad news, and report early warning signs of potential problems
  • Maintain composure during emergencies and times of heightened stress
  • In case of needing further support, seek out expertise rather than simply relying on another worker’s rank or seniority
  • Keep an eye on one’s work colleagues, and be there to offer support throughout the challenge — before (to minimize the impact of the stressor), during (to manage the heightened stress) and after the stressor (to “mend” once the stress has passed)
  • Be able to express when there is a need in the workplace to switch to and from “emergency” modes of operating

The Cornerstones of Resilience

A sector of society that is built on resilience in order to function is the military. Mark Lloyd served in the Canadian Military for 15 years and is now a Project Manager at a software company in the US. In a recent conversation he shared some of his thoughts on resiliency, and how what he learned in the military translates to civilian and corporate life. 

Mark points out that being resilient, in many ways means being prepared. In the military that’s how you ensure people are able to perform in difficult situations and can adapt to the unexpected. Of course, in civilian life and in the corporate world, life is not as clear cut as it is in the military where everything is governed by a set chain of command and where you know what to expect and what is expected of you. But, the basic ideas for building resilience in the military, have a lot to offer the civilian world — the cornerstones being clear communication and controlling the things you can control.

Clear Communication

Communication might be the most important component of resilience. During unpredictable times, in particular, Mark says, people like to know who is in charge. A company that can communicate what’s going on will impact the confidence of its employees and in turn their ability to engage at work. Mark notes that his employer, for example, has increased communications from the CEO to keep employees informed of what’s going on strategically, and what the impact will be on the company as a whole. It’s a simple measure that signals deliberate actions, and that builds confidence among employees.

Likewise, in Mark’s smaller workgroup, they have changed how they communicate with each other. There are work meetings as needed online of course, but the bigger changes have come outside of work. “Now, we’ll have a Zoom game night, or a happy hour, to stay connected and just make sure that everyone is doing alright.” The checking-in and open line of communication is important because everyone’s circumstances are different and the insight into what influences someone’s ability to cope and work is essential if you want to have a well-functioning team.

Uncertainty adds to the stress people feel and negatively impacts the ability to perform and collaborate. That’s why it’s important on a corporate level, not only to communicate clearly but also to demonstrate a level of control over the things that are controllable — whatever those are. Mark gives the example of his own company where they have announced cost-saving measures such as no bonuses until they know more about the long-term effects of the pandemic. While no one is happy about losing their bonus, knowing that the company is controlling what it can now, to safeguard for the future, boosts confidence and trust among employees.

Building for the Future

In the corporate sphere, it falls to the leadership to model and reinforce the behaviors linked to resilience. If done consistently, the results can be significant, as it can help engagement in the short term while building a stronger more attractive work culture for the future. Mark thinks that how a company is reacting to the current situation — the quality of their communication, the deliberateness of their actions, and level of support they offer employees — will impact how the company fares in the long run in terms of employee retention and trust and that, by extension, will impact business success. 

By: Felicia Shermis

 

Sources:

https://positivepsychology.com/resilience-in-the-workplace/

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/pressure-proof/201410/seven-things-resilient-employees-do-differently

 

It may sound counter-intuitive, but personal relationships are one of the most important components when leading a virtual team, in good times, but even more so in high-anxiety times like the ones we’re experiencing now. So, while it may be that virtual teams owe their existence to advances in technology, it is the people within the teams, from management down, and their ability to connect on a human level, that ultimately determines success. 

When asked about their take on leading remote teams, this is what Elena Mosko (CEO and Founder of Globiana) and Steffen Henkel (COO and Co-founder of Globiana) stress — the success of a virtual team depends on interpersonal trust, and it requires a strong sense of individual agency. Without those components, it will struggle to be efficient and deliver results. 

Globiana has operated as a fully virtual company from the start, so Elena and Steffen have seen first hand, through trials and errors, failures and successes, what works well and what doesn’t. And while all teams have their own dynamics, there are some basic measures to implement and general tendencies to be aware of that can greatly impact the success of a virtual team. 

The Organizational Level

On an organizational level, there are a few essentials that need to be in place for a team to function well. Most importantly, Elena says, is a clear understanding across the team(s) of the chosen means of communication, and what is expected in terms of responsiveness. It’s up to the leader of the company to identify the office tools such as project management environment, file sharing, conferencing tools, and email, for example, and then sell “the environment” to the team. It’s up to the leader to set expectations for what reasonable response-times are with regards to emails and the protocol for sharing files, for example.

Getting buy-in from the team can be a challenge as everyone has their own preferences and abilities to adapt to new technology. Elena says: “You have to lead by example and be very disciplined and consistent in your own use. Also, as a leader, you have to take personal preferences and an individual’s technical limitations into account. Personal allowances, much like in a physical office where some like to stand and others sit, for example, are important, but can be harder to identify and implement because they are not right there in front of you. It comes down to communication and getting to know your employees.”

The Role of the Manager

The daily job of making sure people are thriving typically falls to the manager. Steffen points out that as a manager of a virtual team, in addition to the operational part, you must be prepared to spend a lot of time on relationship-building — between yourself and individual team members, as well as between individuals on the team. He says: “I would argue that the interpersonal aspects are more important in a virtual environment than in a physical office space, especially when it comes to leading a team in a crisis.”

That’s because, oftentimes in the middle of a crisis, we end up in a reactive mode and our personal extremes become more pronounced. Steffen says: “In simple terms, our worst instincts come out during high-stress times. We revert to a “flight-or-fight”-mode which tends to not be very productive or conducive to collaboration. That’s why it’s so important to have the basic piece of personal connection and communication in place — without that, a team can quickly unravel.”

Additional aspects to be aware of is the make-up of the team. Virtual teams often span across cultures, which can add a layer of complexity to managing. In multicultural virtual teams, the combination of personal preferences and cultural traits play a great role in how a team functions.

Elena has the same observations from the operational level. It’s a matter of building an environment that lets shared human experiences act as the glue for the team. She says: “It’s our job to make it easier for people across the company to connect, not only technologically and on a professional level but interpersonally as well. We have to be the facilitators — this can be something as simple as recognizing that there are several avid runners on the team, or parents, and then facilitating bonding around those shared experiences. 

Both Elena and Steffen also note the importance of self-care and leading by example. A stressed-out manager is not going to be an efficient leader. This can be particularly hard to recognize in times of high stress when our tendency to “just push through” can get the best of us. Elena says, “just like you have to find ways to check-in with your employees and encourage them to recharge, you need to do the same for yourself. And whatever your preferred method is — going for a run, meditate, reading — you need to take the time to do it, or you won’t be able to lead well”.

Virtual Meetings

Virtual meetings are one of the most relied on tools for communication on remote teams. And while they serve an integral purpose, it’s important to note that they are one tool among many and that they don’t typically work well unless you recognize their built-in limitations and then take action to mitigate these limitations.

Steffen gives a simple example of how when you are in a virtual meeting, you don’t have the luxury of visual clues and body language, so participants have a hard time reading each other. Also, personal traits and cultural tendencies are often amplified in a virtual setting — someone who is used to speaking a lot and sharing points of views freely will do so even more, while someone who comes from a more restrained culture where you wait to be asked a direct question, or who is comfortable with silent pauses, may stay quiet. The virtual meeting can become very lopsided very quickly without awareness and strategies for inclusion.

Steffen notes that there needs to be a deliberate approach to the virtual meeting setting in order to make it as inclusive and productive as possible. Basic measures to set clear expectations and ground-rules for how meetings are conducted include agreeing on things like: 

  • muting yourself when not speaking 
  • not eating on camera 
  • being on camera vs. having an avatar 

Team-building measures for promoting trust and communication include:

  • starting each meeting with a roundtable “check-in”, making sure everyone has a chance to speak
  • having scheduled breaks if a meeting is longer than an hour (or some other predetermined time span)
  • doing simple stress-relieving exercises together (more on those later)

The Key Bottleneck when Transitioning to Working Remotely

A recent study by Insead confirms much of what Elena and Steffen have observed and learned over the years managing all-virtual teams. The study shows that the key bottleneck to transitioning to working remotely is organizational, not technological. For example, 80 percent of the people surveyed agreed that their technology infrastructure was effective at supporting their remote work, while only about 50 percent agreed that their manager was supporting their remote working effectively, and 63 percent agreed that their organization laid out clear procedures and processes that were supportive of effective remote work. 

In addition, the study shows that the tendency among new virtual teams is to default to synchronous communication tools like video and chat, while asynchronous tools that help with workflow coordination, like file sharing, for example, are less utilized. Previous studies by Insead show that asynchronous tools are more effective for collaboration as they don’t have the constraint of time attached to them. Again, this highlights the importance of having a well-defined structure in place for what tools are being used to collaborate and what the expectations are with regard to how those tools are being used.

Consider This when Managing a Remote Team

In this era of COVID-19, many companies have been forced into working virtually with little or no time to prepare or build protocols for best practices. Employing a deliberate approach to leading a remote team is important regardless of where you are on the virtual team experience-spectrum. Steffen recommends considering the following:

  • Realize you don’t have physical insight into your team so take the time to get to know your team members — what are their cultural backgrounds, strengths and weaknesses, family situations, etc., and what does that mean for the individual, the team dynamic.
  • Find a way to bridge personality/cultural differences within the team so that there is a communal awareness of each individual. This can be tricky as it’s not a matter of labeling people, but rather facilitating communication and building trust. Trust is ultimately how you get commitment within a team.
  • Learn how to give feedback. This is especially important if you have a multicultural team. In German business culture, for example, saying nothing means you’re doing a good job, while someone from another culture might see this as a sign that something is amiss. Until you learn how to bridge those gaps, you will have a halting team.
  • Let people know that there are simple physical measures you can take to relieve stress, such as massaging your ears, taking deep breaths, or even ripping pieces of paper. These exercises may sound silly, but they are known to be effective stress relievers. Doing these exercises as a team takes trust so it may not be the first thing you ask your team to do, and they should always be voluntary without any pressure attached. And of course, as the leader, you need to be willing to do them with the team.

When it comes to working through high-stress times, also keep in mind that shared experiences and perspectives around a common stressor can serve to promote team-building because they provide natural points of understanding within a group.

How Do you Know If What you Are Doing Is Working?

Evaluating progress in a newly established virtual work-environment can be difficult, but Elena points out that having informal discussions regarding what the high points have been so far, what has brought you closer, what is working — is it your tactical approach, how you’ve buckled down, etc. — can be important and can also serve as a tool to build trust and promote communication. Taking action based on what you find out in these kinds of talks will strengthen team bonds and can be used to build for the future.  

Looking to do a more formal evaluation of what went right and wrong during a time of crisis is something that will likely have to wait until there is a greater time-perspective. 

What about “Company Culture” in a Virtual Environment?

“Company culture” is a popular term to use both for attracting talent, as well as when promoting externally. But in a virtual environment, company culture doesn’t necessarily translate as it would in a physical environment. Elena says: “I don’t know that you can expect to have a group of people within a remote team have the same view of what the company culture is. What is important is that they feel supported by the leadership, that there are interpersonal relationships and a firm sense of what the structure is that they are operating within. That’s how you build trust within a team and when you have that, not only will you see good results, you also end up seeing alignment in how you are reflected externally, with employees, clients and networks alike.”

By: Felicia Shermis

Sources: Insead Study  

 

Things change fast these days. It was just a few weeks ago that I returned to the United States from a trip to Europe (read about it here). At the time, parts of Europe were beginning to shut down (in particular, Italy), and certainly, the coronavirus and its possible effects were all over the news, and on everyone’s minds. But in most ways, life seemed to go on as usual. People moved about freely. Schools, shops, museums, and entertainment venues were open. I could traverse countries via air and rail without impediment.

Fast-forward three weeks and the reality looks markedly different. Shelter-in-place orders of various kinds are in effect in many countries by now, and in the San Francisco Bay Area where I live, it means everyone needs to stay at home, except to take care of essential needs, such as getting groceries and picking up medications. It mandates social distancing — keeping a 6ft distance between yourself and others — if you have to go out.

As the shelter-in-place order was broadcast, my first feelings were unease and confusion, worry and a strong need to make some kind of a plan. My thoughts were spinning: “what does this actually mean for me and my family and friends, what can, and can’t I do, what does it mean for society at large, and most pressingly, where can I learn more?”

As the new reality of life in the Bay Area has been slowly setting in, I keep thinking of how important it is to have clear guidelines. I think about what the information flow surrounding the coronavirus has looked like until now — there has certainly been a lot of information output, but much of it has been disjointed and unclear.

I firmly believe that the lack of clear guidelines and cohesive messaging is contributing to the unease people feel, it promotes some of the chaos we see in stores, for example, and most importantly it puts people’s lives and livelihoods at risk.

Working at a company where supporting the needs of the globally mobile is at the center of what we do, the importance of having effective duty of care measures in place has long been one of our core messages. And this moment in time makes it abundantly clear how important it is to have a plan for emergencies and trusted channels for communication. This moment in time underscores the need for clear guidelines on all ends — in order to aid the people looking for help and answers, as well as those tasked with providing help and answers.

Emergencies come at different scales and in different forms, there is no way of knowing exactly what’s going to hit, how it’s going to hit or when. There are, however, measures to take to mitigate the effects of unforeseen events, to make sure people know where to turn and having a chain of command that can confidently execute the pieces of the plan.

As someone who has loved ones spread out over the country and over the world, I’ve been thinking a lot about what the coming weeks, or more likely months, will look like. Knowing that I have no way of traveling to any of their locations, what happens if one of my family members across the globe falls seriously ill, what if my daughter on the other side of the country has an emergency? I’m trying to make a “duty of care plan” in my mind. I’m trying to sort out what actions I can take, what support system and safeguards I can put in place so that if any of the worst-case scenarios do happen, I at least have a roadmap to turn to. 

By: Felicia Shermis