The Bright Side of Working from Home

Facing an instant shift to working from home for a large percentage of the global population, Career Partners International has hosted multiple webinars on how to lead and support your teams through these new challenges.  One of the repeated themes is shifting one’s mindset to focus on positives and the factors that can be controlled.  Our headquarters staff has worked remotely for years; many of us having made the transition from a corporate office to our home offices.  This setup was deliberate and intentional for our team, it allows us to better support Members and clients around the world.  Over time, through trial and error, each of us have built structure and systems into our workday.
Here are a few suggestions from across our “offices”, broken down by must-have items and unique perks, that you might adopt to make this transition a little easier.
Must-Have Items
Really Good Coffee
Quality headphones and a microphone. When life is lived via Zoom, these tools are indispensable.  The headphones are also good for drowning out background noise.  (He types blissfully unaware of the chaos a toddler is raining down in the other room.)
Natural light. If possible, get a view and bring some sunshine into your day.  No more beige box cubicle walls!
Upgrade your touchpoints. Pens, keyboard, notebooks, etc.  These are no longer getting lost or damaged so invest in items that are more pleasant to use.
A second “office”. Have an alternative spot to move to when you need to change gears.  Kitchen, deck, bedroom… anywhere you can refocus and remain productive.
Unique Perks
Seriously, drink good Coffee. The world tends to shine a little brighter when properly caffeinated.
Bike rides, dog walks, a nap in the hammock, or a quick jog around the neighborhood at lunch.
No traffic. Wake up at 7:55 for that 8:00 meeting.
Nobody is around to judge your unusual taste in music.
Save money and eat healthier with access to a personal chef. (That’s you.)
Get comfortable. No one needs to know that you’re wearing mesh shorts, yoga pants, or a grass skirt in a video meeting.
Working from home is not all rainbows and sunshine, but by focusing on the good and taking advantage of the accompanying benefits it becomes much more enjoyable.  Don’t forget to keep connected with your teammates.  Log into a call 5 minutes early to chat, send a note to check in via Slack, or shoot off that funny email to your group.  Just because you are no longer in the same office does not mean you cannot still be connected, productive, and happy.
 
Written by Chris Boyd
Marketing Director at Career Partners International
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Why All Should Tell Their Own Stories

Filters are bad. Connections are good. If you remember nothing else from this, remember that. Anytime anyone is relaying someone else’s story to you, it’s getting filtered, diluted and polluted with their biases. Don’t let that happen. Get to the source. Enable others to tell their stories directly to you so you have the best information, insights and feel for what’s really making things work.
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Why Middle Managers Are Particularly Vulnerable To COVID-19

COVID-19 is impacting all of us in ways we see and in ways we don’t see. One of those is that we’re all building new skills in working and managing virtually. That’s going to mean that the physical presence of managers will matter less and we’ll need less span-breaking managers of managers – middle managers.
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The Smart Steps To Reboot Your Business Post COVID-19

The Powell Doctrine lays out five keys to using all the force necessary to achieve a decisive and successful ongoing result. The same approach works for you as leaders rebooting after COVID-19:
Get to the ground truth.
Set a decisive objective.
Concentrate decisive force at the decisive place and time.
Prepare your troops for success.
Be personally present at the point of decisions.
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How To Make Executive-Level Interviewing Work Virtually

COVID-19 has forced us to find new ways of doing all sorts of different things. Some are problematic. For example, interviewing virtually is paralyzing some organizations that need to fill open executive positions. But they and the people they are hiring are afraid to move forward without a live interaction. The good news is that all the needed virtual technology is already in place. You can make executive-level interviewing work well virtually if you:
1.    Leverage the existing technology to work for you,
2.    Pull some parts of a normal interview forward,
3.    Make the interviews themselves as comfortable and fluid as possible.
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The Smart Steps To Reboot Your Business Post COVID-19

Even when COVID-19’s impact is diminished and the government gives you the green light, you still have to choose if, how, and when to reboot your business. The smart way is to reboot only the parts that can be successful. Then deliberately move through virtual steps before physical steps, over-communicating emotionally, rationally and inspirationally every step of the way.
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Conversations on Governing During a Pandemic: Thoughts from Two Fortune 500 Company Directors

If we each had a quarter for every time we’ve heard or read
the word “unprecedented” since the declaration of the Coronavirus Disease 2019
(COVID-19) pandemic, we would have plenty of money despite the nosediving stock
market. In these—dare I say—unprecedented times, boards and the companies they
serve are faced with new governance challenges and opportunities.

To get some real-time governance perspective, I spoke to two
highly accomplished directors about their insights on this front: Jan Babiak
serves on the boards of the Walgreens Boots Alliance and the Bank of Montreal and
works with large private companies across different industry sectors, and Greg
Sandfort is a director and the former president and CEO for Tractor Supply Co.
and a director for the WD-40 Co. Some important themes emerged from the
discussion.

Help management fight
the alligators rather than fighting them yourself. Babiak has a colorful
analogy for the role of the board during this crisis: “Imagine that management
is in the swamp fighting alligators,” she said. “The board should be on the
bank, pointing out the alligators management can’t see, while at the same time
keeping one eye on the horizon for a meteor on its way.”

Board members should not become needy during this time, she
advised. “Don’t ask unnecessary questions. Do your homework—read the website,
look at the company’s internal and external communications like their LinkedIn
posts, and review what analysts are saying—before asking management obvious
questions about what they are doing,” she said.

Pull together,
virtually, while management goes “red team, blue team.” Sandfort’s board meetings
have gone virtual, just as thousands of his companies’ employees are now working
from home. “On one of my boards, we were using Webex for a two-day virtual
meeting with people from all over the world. The connection went completely
dark in the middle of the meeting, but we just regrouped and carried on,” he
said.

Sandfort believes the key to making virtual meetings a
success is for board members to come fully prepared, having read the materials
and being ready with smart questions that are relevant to the crisis. He is
having weekly calls for his boards, and one company will have both a virtual
board meeting and a virtual shareholder meeting this May.

Babiak stresses the need for board member flexibility, such as adding calls to her calendar on short notice (including the call with me). She has also seen management teams that cannot go fully virtual split into “red teams” and “blue teams,” working on different floors and never crossing paths in person. “If a leader gets sick on one team, then we have a second team that is already up and running,” she said.

Now is the time to live company values. “People are our number one priority,” said Sandfort of the companies he serves. “And our people will remember how they were treated when this is over.” His companies continue to pay staff in the United States and abroad, including in China, even in cases where workers are unable to be present onsite because of pandemic-related restrictions. They have also looked at issues such as health insurance coverage for virus testing.

Babiak likewise sees “a lot of heart” in what is happening during
the COVID-19 pandemic and is doubling down on sensitivity. “I noticed a CEO was
struggling on a subject during a recent board call,” she said. “Instead of
saying something at the time, I reached out to a fellow board member with
expertise in the area and suggested that he call the CEO with an offer of
support. Now is not the time to undermine management.”

Cash (or access to it) is king. Both Babiak and Sandfort mentioned that access to operating cash was an early concern during the pandemic. One of Sandfort’s companies pulled in a revolving line of credit despite a strong balance sheet. According to Babiak, who serves in the banking sector, banks are—in a sense—fortunate to have lived through the 2008 financial crisis because they have been through stress tests and now operate under significant capital requirements. They have also moved beyond single debt models, which is a stabilizing factor.

Challenges may overshadow opportunities right now, but keep your eyes
peeled. “Opportunities” seems like an odd word to be associated with the
current state of the world, but they do exist. Internal opportunities such as
improved information technology connectedness and communications are bright
spots, according to Sandfort.

Also, the need to be
flexible during this time can benefit employees and customers alike, leading to
innovation and perhaps enhanced online revenue. “I serve on the board of a
company that is a needs-based business for customers, and our suppliers will
run trucks if our stores are open,” he explained. “So, the company shortened
store hours, using the evening hours for deep cleaning. And the company is
offering curbside pickup for online orders.”

Babiak also believes the
board should be proactive in thinking about possible mergers and acquisitions and
about senior talent acquisition opportunities to help ensure companies are
ready when the time is right to act. “The board should be monitoring weak competitors
as we keep an eye on the horizon,” she said.

Experience counts.
Babiak firmly believes in the value of experience and of being on multiple
boards. For example, during this time she can, with permission, share best
practices from one company to another. As an experienced audit committee chair,
she sees audit practices across multiple companies, while each company’s chief
financial officer may only see them once in practice.

With her background, Babiak is confident in being flexible.
“One head of internal audit called me to ask if we could redeploy internal
audit staff to help the finance and operation staff during the crisis,” she
said. “After determining how to ensure we do not create an issue around self-audit
on the other side of the crisis, it’s all hands on deck right now, and I was
fine with that.”

Foresight can be
20/20. Two years ago, one of the companies Sandfort serves developed a
crisis plan that assumed the entire corporate office was wiped out. The
disaster plan was tested at the time and has now been put into effect with
modifications for the specifics of the COVID-19 pandemic. “The company was very
fortunate to have that plan in place,” said Sandfort. Other companies may not
be so lucky, but foresight for the next crisis begins now.

In these troubled times, it is clear that compassion and
common sense are hot commodities in the boardroom, standing shoulder to
shoulder with strategy, risk oversight, compensation, and the like. Let us hope
that exemplary crisis-time governance will be seen at levels just as
unprecedented as the spread of the microscopic adversary we all face.

Kimberly Simpson is director of strategic content for NACD, leading NACD’s credentialing programs (NACD Directorship Certification and NACD Fellowship®), coleading the organization’s Fortune 500 advisory councils, and routinely contributing to NACD member education through blogs and articles. Simpson, a former general counsel, was a US Marshall Memorial Fellow to Europe in 2005.

COVID-19. Uncertainty. Fear. Recession. Fiduciary Duties.It’s essential that directors know what to focus on and when.

Become an NACD member today.

NACD: Tools and resources to help guide you in unpredictable times.

COVID-19’s Impact on the Workplace: A Test of the Board’s Resiliency

The unprecedented nature of the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has set in motion one of the most abrupt disruptions in decades, leaving organizations reeling. For that reason, it could present the ultimate test of resiliency for everyone leading companies in every industry—including the board. How well companies pivot in this environment and in the aftermath could have a lasting effect on their reputations and brands. More importantly, as organizations focus on transitioning their people to a remote workplace, opportunities may come about to learn new ways of doing business for the long-term. This is a time when the board can prove its mettle as a strategic advisor to the CEO.

As the pandemic brings many businesses to a halt, the effects of quarantine, isolation, and travel restriction strategies are having a brutal impact on the economy and multiple industries, with the financial markets punishing investors with steep declines. Up to this point, new and total infections, fatality rates, reductions in economic activity, and massive fiscal and monetary measures by the public sector have overshadowed the impact on people in the workplace and what companies must do to sustain operations as best they can under the most extenuating of circumstances. But that is fast changing.

Now that countries, provinces, states, and
cities are instituting lockdowns, shelter-in-place directives, or similar
requirements to limit the spread of this highly contagious virus, companies are
focused on transitioning their organizations and workforces to environments
where their managers and employees will be working remotely for an indeterminable
period of time. Given these optics, what role should the board play as their
organizations transition to a distributed workplace?

There are a number of items boards should consider acting on as CEOs and organizations grapple with the people-related challenges of the COVID-19 crisis. Ten suggestions for boards are offered below, some of which relate to the basics found in any crisis management playbook. Rather than addressing the decisions associated with navigating an economic slowdown (e.g., downsizing headcount; compensation adjustments; asset divestitures; selling, general, and administrative expense cuts; and other options) the focus is on managing the effects of transitioning to a distributed workplace, including the impact on organizational culture.

1. Know the board’s place at the table. The board’s role should be delineated from management’s role. Management is responsible for developing and implementing the overall strategy to protect the health of the workforce while putting it in a position to continue to work productively. The board is responsible for advising the management team as it executes the company’s response and monitors progress. Directors need to resist getting too hands-on. The CEO’s job is tough enough at the moment.

2. Understand management’s internal communications plan. Communications are vital during any crisis. While disclosing the impact of the crisis is important, the most important communications are to the organization’s employees. What is the plan, its objectives, and its tone? Is there an appropriate cadence of communications from various leaders so that employees know when to expect messages, as opposed to feeling left in the dark? Do internal communications convey empathy to employees? Are they forward-looking to give everyone an idea as to what’s happening around the company? In lieu of droning on in negativity, offering something grounding and trustworthy can be valuable in these difficult times.

3. Ask management how the company’s transition to a remote work environment is going. Highly mobile organizations can make the transition to a remote, work-from-home workplace relatively seamless—that is, among employees who can work remotely. But this transition can present formidable challenges to organizations that are anchored to their offices and physical facilities. During check-ins with management on crisis response, ask what the company is doing to support the technology, tools, and cultural challenges created by the sudden shift to virtual work, if applicable.

4. Encourage a watchful eye for new leaders who emerge from the fire. These are extraordinary times. Everyone in the organization from top to bottom will be battle-tested. Boards should encourage management to watch for those who flourish in this environment and to support them as they provide leadership. History teaches us about many generations of leaders who have been steeled by extraordinary events. This fluid environment creates a unique opportunity for team members to shine and show what they are made of.

5. When the sun rises, request management to conduct a post-crisis assessment in the cool of day. For companies unprepared for this crisis, a process should be put in place to capture the lessons learned in real time.Before memories fade, company plans and procedures for navigating abrupt business disruptions—including a global pandemic—should be updated using these lessons. And, as stated above, the employees who took the initiative to lead should be noted.

6. Ensure that the organization focuses on its customers. The crisis may present opportunities to deepen relationships with customers. Now is the time for out-of-the-box thinking on how to help customers, particularly for those companies that may be struggling to survive. This will help to differentiate the companies that are flexible and agile from those who are not.

7. Point out the opportunity to improve remote work policies and procedures. Whether deployed selectively or mandated outright, decisions to work remotely—beyond present remote arrangements—offer an opportunity to learn how to ensure that such arrangements work effectively and efficiently into the future. These lessons may be invaluable for companies as the trend toward telework continues to evolve, worker flexibility programs expand, and the volume is turned up on improving quality of life.

8. Suggest that management make it a priority to regroup on a regular basis. Keeping everyone on the same page in a remote environment requires special attention. The unique stresses, pressures, and concerns the COVID-19 crisis presents to employees create a difficult environment for preserving morale. Whether as a small group, the whole team, or even through one-on-one interactions, remote workers should meet at least weekly to stay in touch and ensure that everyone is on the same page about specific expectations, project deliverables, and timelines using the tools the organization has available. It is especially helpful when those tools allow for face-to-face meetings as nonverbal cues and body language are an important part of human interactions.

As the “touch” in the workplace is removed, the “trust” between colleagues and senior leadership becomes even more important. Through appropriate electronic tools, leaders should spread awareness of successes in order to build motivation and develop social involvement among employees. In uncertain times, employees can be motivated by seeing positive actions recognized and a strong focus on the future from their leaders.

9. Ask the question: When the crisis passes, what will we have learned about how we do business? Two years from now when the CEO and executive team look back on this crisis, what will they observe? Will they recognize that what they learned from temporary transitions, as discussed above, served as a catalyst for accelerated shifts in workplace design? Will what they learned inform ways of altering company strategy, including the way the company does business and goes to market? Will the lessons from the crisis alter management’s views regarding the organization’s real estate needs? These important questions point to the power of technology to transform how and where people work.

10. Ask another question: Will our people be more or less loyal based on how we managed the crisis? The crisis presents an opportunity for leaders to let their people know that the company truly cares about them and their well-being. Their actions in both word and deed carry the possibility of strengthening culture. Does the company’s response to the crisis meet this test?

The COVID-19 crisis is a new test of resiliency for directors, managers, and employees alike and everyone must learn how to meet it together, with a focus on continuous improvement, shared values, and mutual trust. It also presents a test of leadership. Prioritizing and reprioritizing tasks and activities is going to be a necessary art for most organizations over the next several weeks. Keeping teams focused on the greatest issues and risks, avoiding needless distractions, positioning themselves to ramp back up to normal operations, and building a culture of trust and empathy is the name of the game.

For an expanded discussion, see Protiviti’s companion piece.

COVID-19. Uncertainty. Fear. Recession. Fiduciary Duties.It’s essential that directors know what to focus on and when.

Become an NACD member today.

NACD: Tools and resources to help guide you in unpredictable times.