Just as Covid-19 was really taking hold in New York, I was scheduled to appear on Jon Tota’s
Learning Life podcast to talk about leadership and conflict. But given the new reality, Jon also asked me for recommendations on how leaders can manage virtual teams and actual households at the same time. Here are the five suggestions I made for dealing with that double whammy — meeting conflicting responsibilities simultaneously under highly imperfect conditions.
Acknowledge what a deeply disruptive situation we’re all in. It’s a completely normal human reaction to be feeling anxious, out of sorts, and disrupted. Not to mention angry and frustrated. Nobody should be scolding themselves for not being 100 percent on point or for feeling like they’re not sure what to do. It’s too much to try to tackle everything at once.
Divide up your time. Be conscious of doing one activity at a time, whether it’s homeschooling, having real family time (when, for instance, everyone’s eating or playing games together), or precious moments of uninterrupted work. Find ways to segregate these activities so you can experience as little distraction as possible when you’re doing any particular thing. There’s no magic on/off switch, so you’ll need to experiment — and compartmentalize a little.
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Create group rituals. This is a great benefit for both your home team and your virtual team, since everybody’s trying to find their way and we all need activities to ground or center us. Consider having the equivalent of a morning or start-of-shift hello, gathering everybody on the team together. It could be via Zoom, conference call, or Slack — just make it a consistent beginning-of-work greeting and check-in time so you can see how everyone’s doing. Or try a weekly virtual happy hour at the end of the day. On the home front, maybe it’s a mid-afternoon snack. Or set up a regular virtual happy hour over the weekend with your friends.
Activate support networks. Everybody needs to have people to reach out to and vent with. It’s a strength to be able to rely on your networks for comfort and suggestions for dealing with whatever’s bothering you. You might have one network for home and another for work, or a network of people in situations very much like yours and another consisting mostly of people in different situations. In all cases, there will be overlaps, and you might be pleasantly surprised by how often you can apply tips from one realm to challenges that are happening in another.
Don’t demand perfect “homework.” That’s true in every sense of the word. While you’re working from home, you just won’t have the support services you get at the office, and your output may not be of the exceptionally high quality you expect of yourself. And your kids’ homework? Try, try hard, but everyone knows you’re not really the teacher.
In every scenario, all you can do is take the best next step and do whatever you can to improve your situation. If you hold yourself to too high a standard, you may actually stymie yourself and make it too tough to deliver your output, or even to get started. Just keep doing the best you can with whatever you’ve got. That’s what we’re all trying to do.