A Pandemic’s Impact on Remote Work

covid19With the COVID-19 virus continuing to spread, there is a potential for many teams and whole companies to have to quickly shift gears from working in HQs and globally distributed offices to working from home. This will impact the operations of both the companies handling this rapid scale in remote work and companies unaccustomed to a remote work culture. It will also impact personal and family life at a broader scale; creating new demand for services and products that cater to at-home workers.

  • Remote-friendly software tools like ZoomSlackHangouts, etc. must not only ensure their products can function at scale with lumpy spikes in both adoption and usage, but should also ensure their teams can handle the stress on the company — from sales and user onboarding to customer support and billing. Teams need to prepare for growth they’ve never experienced. This is a chance for these companies to shine, but they could also easily implode (for anyone buying up their stock!).
  • If a company has not had a remote-friendly culture to-date, the shift will a big change — and could be sudden without time to prepare. HR and operations teams should start to get up to speed on trends and best practices for remote work, stat. This article has a great list of reads on the topic. Share with your managers and start talking about how you might operate if you have to shift to remote work for an extended period of time.
  • Assuming the dust settles and we will get past this impending pandemic, once you’ve opened the door to adopting a remote work culture, it may be hard to go back. My prediction is that there will be a higher demand for more remote-friendly software solutions, more workers looking for remote roles, more need for co-working spaces outside of urban settings and a lot of empty space in large office parks and urban towers.
  • In terms of personal and family lives, I could imagine even more demand for home delivery services, build-out of home offices and demand for in-home care givers. Those who have not traditionally worked from home will quickly realize that it’s not as simple as sitting at your laptop on your couch for the day. The new remote workforce will need private spaces away from family and life’s distractions (laundry, dishes, the dog!) in order to focus. They’ll need alternatives to daycare and possibly even need work spaces for children who cannot attend their schools for some period of time.

While there’s no need to panic (yet), it’s prudent to think about how the potential for a pandemic will impact our work and family life — beyond the worst possibility of ourselves and our loved ones actually getting the disease. Until then, be safe, get the facts straight, prepare for possibilities and PLEASE, if you are sick, stay home!

Self-Awareness & Asking For Help Are Super Powers!

What’s the difference between having an Advisor, external coach, internal coach, and/or therapist? Should I join a Peer support group? I get asked these questions a lot. The good news is that usually when I am asked this question, it’s because someone knows they need help. With so many options these days, it’s hard to know which to choose or how best to leverage each, or whether adopting a combination of any or all make sense.

My perspective on the many ways to get help…

  • Advisor: Most advisors are domain experts or experienced operators in a particular area (product, marketing, sales, finance, etc.). They are commonly called upon when domain-specific guidance is needed, to make introductions to customers, prospective partners or job candidates. Advisors may also mentor junior members of a team when you lack the funds or time to hire in an experienced leader. Advisors are usually given equity for their contributions, commensurate with their experience and the time they commit to the company. Some advisors work ad hoc as needed, others are more prescriptive with set number of hours per week/month that they are available for consultation. In some cases, advisors are involved so much that it warrants a mix of equity and consulting fees. My heuristic for these types of engagements are to assess whether they are performing a part-time role you’d otherwise fill with a full time employee (FTE) if you could find/afford them. These engagements should be time-boxed and outcomes measured as you would do for any FTE.

    I recommend nailing down expectations prior to any equity grant and using a template like the FAST agreement to solidify an advisor relationship. Most startups have at least 2–3 advisors filling in complementary areas, sometimes many more, but be cautious about too many overlapping interests or people who seek to be an advisor too early before you’ve established a rapport and figured out how they can be helpful. There are a lot of bad actors out there just looking for free equity.

  • External Coach: External coaches are objectively focused on professional (and often personal) growth. They work within the context you bring them. The best coaches guide individuals towards finding their own solutions using tools and frameworks they’ve developed themselves and/or learned from professional training. “A central tenet of coaching is a faith in your client’s inherent wisdom. Good coaching is about revealing their truth, not yours.” (Tarikh Korula) You should expect to commit a minimum of 2–3 hours per month with a coach and many offer email/text touch-points between a regular cadence of sessions. If properly trained and experienced, external coaches can be pricey ($400–$600/hour, sometimes more!), but if the chemistry is strong it can be a partnership that’s well worth the money and time. My dear friend Steve Schlafman has great advice here on how to find the right fit with a potential coach.
  • Internal Coach: Internal coaches (sometimes called “Talent Development”) usually have the same skills/training as external coaches and are hired to develop executives, managers and occasionally individual contributors. They are a marvelous add to any team, but remember that they are employees and therefore have inherent bias as part of the inner workings of the organization. Internal coaches are accountable towards the overall success of the business vs. to an individual and may not always be objective — especially given that they know the players and may be coaching them as well. If you are hiring an internal coach(es), be thoughtful on who they will work with and how to measure their success vis-a-vis employees’ growth. Success metrics can be everything from basic employee retention numbers to frequency of/average time to promotions, employee satisfaction surveys and external recognition as leaders and contributors. Learn more about how internal coaching and talent and development is evolving inside organizations here.
  • Therapists: What used to be stigmatized, is now considered almost a right of passage for most entrepreneurs and leaders dealing with the stress of scaling their companies and balancing life’s demands. Therapists are medical professionals with extensive training who focus on an individual’s psychological, emotional and physical wellbeing. Most therapists lack business context or domain expertise, but may have some insights and empathy from other clients with whom they work. Therapists are wholly objective, can be very expensive, but also extremely worth it if you are under a lot of stress at work and/or at home. If you can afford it or have insurance to cover, I recommend being proactive and engaging a therapist even if everything seems “OK”. Establishing a relationship and providing historical context ahead of any stressors or crises will prepare both you and your therapist if those events arise.
  • Peer Support Groups: The ultimate in gaining empathetic support is being a part of a tight knit group of people going through the same types of challenges you are facing. I highly recommend finding a small, like-minded, group of peers to connect with on at least a monthly cadence. The group is ideally made up of a minimum of six (for breadth) but no more than eight individuals to encourage intimate conversations. They should be from a diverse set companies with varying personal backgrounds to allow for different perspectives and to avoid any awkward competitive conversations — although there should be an inherent “cone of silence” among the group. There may be some areas of commonality like all are at roughly the same stage in their careers, stage of company (e.g., pre-series A or post-IPO), or stage of life. Often, these groups are facilitated by a professional coach or peer mentors who ensure that conversations are meaningful and everyone has a voice. Reboot.io has a great program for CEOs as does the Inc. CEO ProjectYPO, etc. but there are also niche peer groups like VPE Forum that specializes in engineering leaders. It may take some time to find the right group, so be patient. You’ll know when you’ve found your people!

All of the above resources are valuable for anyone in an organization, not just to founders and executives. It is a sign of strength when I meet a leader who taps into each one to develop a healthy, well-balanced, support system. More and more CEOs and leaders are recognizing how critical this support is to their personal and professional growth. Being self-aware and asking for help is a super power, and no time is too soon to get started!