By Kimberly Young, Executive Director of Continuing and Professional Studies at the University of Mary Washington.
In the current COVID-19 workplace, leaders are working in virtual, and socially distant environments governed by new rules and requiring new skills. Regardless of the worksite conditions or video conferencing platform, the leaders who emerge successful will have to master at least three new critical skills.
We are all being called upon to be more technically agile. Mastering Technical Agility means knowing your tools and having a basic understanding and level of comfort with the tools required to do your job. It’s okay the first or second time to fumble with the controls of your Zoom or Google conference, but if it is your organization’s chosen platform, by the third time or so, you should be able to navigate with minimal grumbles. Technical agility doesn’t mean that you get it perfect every time, it means that you are able to demonstrate your understanding of the basic functionality. So what do you do? Practice until you are comfortable. Most platforms have a free option. Download it and practice with friends and family. Use it for a video call to someone who doesn’t know how to use it, that will force you to troubleshoot for them and build your capability. The more you know, the better you will be able to show up confidently on in your next meeting or presentation.
The next skill is Visual Credibility. I can’t tell you how many calls my colleagues and I have been on and with someone either in the bed, laying on the sofa, or some other location/position that would be completely unacceptable if we were in the work environment. Covering up in your blankie is perfectly acceptable if you are talking to your best buds on a Google Hangout, but if you are in a training class for work, a meeting, or the like, do your best to appear as you would if you were in the office. That means in a chair, upright (crazy as it sounds), with a background that is the best you can muster. Assuming we can all handle sitting up right, let’s talk about backgrounds. It doesn’t have to be fancy or branded, a plain wall or set of doors will do just fine. Try not to allow the people on the call into your home by facing your camera toward the interior of your home—that limits the movements of your family and gives others an unearned insight into your personal surroundings. So what can you do if you don’t have a green screen and a branded background? Use a curtain on a stand, face your camera toward a window with the blinds drawn, use bookcases as a backdrop. Finally, liberally use the mute button. If you aren’t talking, that button should be engaged. There’s nothing worse than having your square light up when your dogs start fighting over the last dog treat (true story, it happened to me).
Finally, think about how you and your team can be motivated while working in different locations. Maybe you attended the coffee talk earlier this month where Dr. Lynne Richardson discussed rewards. There are certainly tips that you can take from that. If you missed it, keep in mind that not all people are motivated by the same things. In this case, we are talking about motivation to do the tasks at hand under unprecedented circumstances. Take stock in what’s going on with your organization and put yourself in the shoes of your employees, are the afraid of lay-offs? Are they having trouble staying on task working from home as they struggle with the demands of the household and or the lack of comradery with their colleagues? It they are motivated by others, try to create opportunities for group collaboration using some of the online video conferencing tools and let them talk face to face rather than presenting with a slide deck. Give them time just to interact even if it’s a short amount of time. Maybe even allow more flexible hours. If there are kids at home, your employee may get more done at night than during the midday, allow that, but keep accountability high and you’ll be fine. Finally, give yourself some grace. This is a crazy time that no one could have predicted and perfection is not expected. Just try to work on these three critical skills and help your employees to do the same.