“When written in Chinese, the word ‘crisis’ is composed of two characters. One represents danger and the other represents opportunity.”
— John F. Kennedy
We have all taken different paths during this time of the COVID-19 pandemic, and now with a civil rights movement spreading throughout the United States and the world, we are at a crossroads. The question is, how do you keep your family, employees, co-workers, vendors, business and community thriving and motivated during a period of crisis? The answer is leadership. I have been in business for 37 years, and I have never seen a greater need for leadership. People are starving for honest and authentic leaders.
I would like to share my perspective on leadership styles during the worst global crisis in our lifetime and possibly many generations to come. Here are some steps you can take to make a difference at your workplace:
Make sure all employees feel safe and secure in their work surroundings. For my company, that has meant requiring many of us to work remotely. The company was deemed an essential business, and even those of us not delivering packages were deemed essential to commerce. We elected to have our business unit work remotely. All meetings are conducted by videoconference over Zoom, with very few telephone-only calls. This way we can all see each other.
Maintain a routine, just as you would if you were not working remotely. The only thing we changed since the onset of COVID-19 was to have a global daily call. This videoconference includes 80 people around the world. This was the most critical decision we implemented, and we did not know the impact at the start, but boy do we know now. We are in our fifth month of the global calls, and it is the glue to our success.
Make remote meetings interactive and fun. Since the beginning, our slogan has been “Saving the world one COVID-19 call at a time.” Everyone knows the mission is saving lives. We move personal protective equipment (PPE) around the world. So they are serious calls, but you can still have fun. We’ve challenged each other to come up with interesting backdrops. We have had beautiful pictures of Martin Luther King, the first day the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco opened and an employee’s son playing in a band. One day, since there had been no live sports for months, we declared it “Jersey Day” and encouraged all to display a background of their favorite team. We even had a contest of the best picture of a steamliner. We picked three winners and each of them received a $25 Visa gift card. In one of my favorite activities, one of our managers, who is a guitarist and vocalist, opened our meeting with the song “Lean on Me.” He received a standing ovation via Zoom.
Make calls each day to an employee or several employees. If you have a large operation like we do, you might not even know some of them, but they certainly know you. Check in on how they’re doing, ask how their families are holding up, and ask them to share with you the biggest adjustment they’ve had to make and some of the silver linings they’ve found during this COVID-19 crisis. I started in mid-March and have called almost 200 employees. It’s been rewarding for me to meet them, even virtually.
Connect more regularly with your direct reports. I have 12 directs, and besides the normal monthly activities of scheduled committee meetings and individual one-on-ones, we do something special. We have set up a virtual happy hour at 6 p.m. on Thursdays. Some have their spouses join and others have had their adult children join. We talk about everything but work. Usually we discuss weekend plans and world events.
Continue to put safety first. Our offices started a phased reopening May 11. If the opening is handled correctly, the workplace should be the second-safest place for employees besides their homes. All protocols need to be followed to the letter of the checklist produced by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. One of the recommendations is to lock conference rooms, breakrooms and any other social areas. We made a return to the workplace voluntary. We did not want to exceed 20% of our employees returning to work on any given day. Some employees do not have a good remote set-up or their homes have weak internet connections, so they prefer to be in the office. I did go into work briefly when we opened. I felt very safe, and all protocols were being followed.
What the new normal will look like in the future will be determined as we go down this path together. I have talked about silver linings. Mine is that I could not be prouder of the team, and we are closer than ever.