It’s early morning and you’re arguing with the coffee machine ahead of the team meeting. Finally —caffeine in hand— you go over talking points in your mind as you rush to the conference room. Only, the “conference” room is your living room, and the meeting is taking place entirely online.
You’ve had nightmares in the past about showing up to meetings, pants off. Now, you do a double take. After fighting with your laptop over updates, you finally login but find the meeting room empty. Everyone’s out of sorts, but you take a deep breath. Now’s not the time to stumble, it’s a moment to prove your mettle.
Many of us haven’t seen our teams in-person for weeks. Even those venturing into offices and warehouses are keeping their social distance, hidden behind masks and gloves. Business and personal challenges pile up by the day, and the risk of falling ill is ever present.
With great leadership, the challenges and settings change, but the underlying keys to success often remain constant. As thought leader John Eades says in his timely article How Great Managers Successfully Lead Remote Teams:
“Our businesses and their financial stability are on the line during this critical economic period. The best way for them to continue to thrive is for people to work hard in the face of adversity. Each person is now responsible for their results more than ever, and the mindset of working remotely versus a passive mindset is paramount.”
So how can packaging experts maintain momentum in the face of adversity? Let’s find out, together.
Whether Work-From-Home (WFM) is a temporary solution or a direction your company moves in permanently, the key to success rests on sound foundational principles. Remote leadership guru Kevin Eikenberry defines this foundation as the Three O’s. Speaking to Deanna deBara at Trello, a leading project management software provider, Eikenberry notes:
“As leaders, there are three O’s that everything about the role revolves around; Outcomes, Others, and Ourselves.”
In his cornerstone book, The Long Distance Leader, Eikenberry dives deeper, noting:
“To lead at your best, you must think of the Outcomes and Others components first. Although the Ourselves component sits in the center of our model, this doesn’t imply that you are the center of leadership, nor the purpose for it. You are at the core, not the center. Leadership doesn’t revolve around you; rather, you bring who you are and how you lead to bear on creating better outcomes for others.”
In another well-regarded book, From Bud to Boss: Secrets to a Successful Transition to Remarkable Leadership, Eikenberry says:
“Recognizing and accepting both the responsibilities and the opportunities leadership offers you is a signiﬁcant step in your development as a leader.”
Remote work and a pandemic-defined world forces leaders to step up and shoulder more responsibility, while also remembering that others and outcomes are vital. Yet leadership is more difficult now because you can’t simply walk down to someone’s workspace to check in. Effective communication is necessary for you to connect with others.
With communications strained, it’s important to establish regular, effective check-ins with your workers. Clear communication keeps employees on task. Writing in the Harvard Business Review, Barbara Z. Larson , Susan R. Vroman and Erin E. Makarius say:
“The important feature is that the calls are regular and predictable, and that they are a forum in which employees know that they can consult with you, and that their concerns and questions will be heard.”
Speaking of concerns, remember that just as your business is facing down many challenges, your employees, or “others,” are facing a myriad of challenges. As a leader, you need to provide relief whenever possible.
A single illness is a tragedy, but a million cases is a statistic. It’s easy to lose our grounding given how so many people are facing their own personal crises. As a leader, you must keep the needs and challenges of your employees front and center.
Remote work may have seemed a blessing at first, but offices provide many benefits. A well set up and managed workspace cuts down on distractions. Home provides benefits, including comfort, but also produces drawbacks. Barbara Z. Larson , Susan R. Vroman and Erin E. Makarius note:
“Typically, we encourage employers to ensure that their remote workers have both dedicated workspace and adequate childcare before allowing them to work remotely.”
Space is a tough to tackle challenge, especially overnight. Childcare, however, is a more pressing issue for many employees. Moms and dads aren’t just remote workers amid this pandemic, they’re teachers too. On Linkedin, remote leadership guru John Eades reflects:
“When my seven-year-old son found out two weeks of school were canceled yesterday, he beamed with excitement. He didn’t realize he would be doing his schoolwork from home, not taking an extended break.”
Parents are shouldering some burdens of teaching. We should applaud those efforts, but leaders need to keep these difficulties in mind. Your employees are often wearing two or more hats, packaging superstar and home-schooling teacher extraordinaire. So don’t be surprised if your employees are frazzled.
Another issue great leaders need to watch for is isolation. Many people are avoiding not just the office, but their family, friends, and more. Coworkers used to socializing with their fellows may now be entirely on their own, which will tax mental health.
Speaking to News@Northeastern, professor Barbara Larson notes:
“…Working from home also creates a social challenge. It separates people from their coworkers (for companies trying to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, this is the goal)—a shift that can create a sense of isolation for some people.”
Larson further points out:
“For a lot of people, it can be emotionally taxing because you’re not getting the interaction with coworkers that you normally do. Although, for people who are more introverted, this can be a dream.”
How can you combat isolation? Larson notes that some companies are holding virtual pizza lunches and other social events. As a leader, consider hosting your own social (distancing) events. Also, make sure you check in with your employees and if there’s anything you can do to help.
We’re all climbing our own mountains, trying to overcome personal struggles. As a packaging leader, you must help your team members confront today’s difficulties while also preparing your company for tomorrow’s opportunities.
What does this have to do with packaging leadership? EVERYTHING! The COVID-19 pandemic is forcing many packaging companies to radically reorganize operations. Now’s the time for talented and compassionate leaders to excel.
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