Let’s be honest. You might feel a little weary of all these “pandemic lessons” business leaders seem to love talking about. Did we really need a global health crisis to teach us to be better and do better? Maybe we did.
In any case, there’s no denying that the last couple years have brought into stark relief some of the challenges of leading a fully remote team–and plenty of the joys as well. If anything, leading a company through a pandemic has granted many of us invaluable insight into what really matters–and it’s not always what we expected.
As we continue to adapt to whatever our next normal will be, many of you have been taking some time to reflect on priorities and how the pandemic has shaped them–as a business owner, a leader, and as a human. Most of us already understand the importance of the three Cs– communication, culture and collaboration–but the past two years have shown that if these aren’t the foundation of your business, the cracks will soon start to show.
Here are some of the lessons we can learn about the three Cs from the pandemic (some things you might already know):
Thinking of ditching Corporate America? There’s no time like the present.
Is there anything as ick-inducing as the phrase “corporate culture?” Sure, there are companies that get it right, but for the most part, the whole concept of culture in corporate America is built around climbing that ladder. The more rungs you climb, the more “in” you are. But for those left lingering around the bottom, it’s a pretty lonely place. Maybe the pandemic and subsequent lock downs amplified that feeling of emptiness. And maybe you realized it wasn’t because you weren’t climbing fast enough; it was because you were seeking fulfillment and meaning from something that was never designed to offer that.
A job, no matter how high-level or how “important,” is not enough to build your life around. And corporate culture cannot serve as a substitute for community. Finding meaning begins with the people around you: family and friends. Yes, that can certainly include colleagues, but it always comes back to the person, not the system.
Speaking from my own personal experience, leaving the corporate world and starting my business from Belize might have seemed like a crazy move at the time, but it allowed me to stay focused on what really matters. And here’s a little truth: it wasn’t promotions or annual reviews or endless meetings. It was taking care of my needs, so I could do the same for my employees, and build a culture of positive relationships and low stress, not corporate ranks.
Leading with empathy gets you farther
It’s always been a great mantra for business leaders and entrepreneurs, but the pandemic reinforced the necessity of treating employees with compassion and understanding. This is even more critical on remote teams, where communications must be clear and intentional. We don’t yet understand the fallout of the past couple years’ trauma, but we do know that the social and emotional isolation took a significant toll on many.
Loneliness was the top challenge for remote workers throughout the pandemic, and many became far more susceptible to burnout, depression, and anxiety. That’s not a weakness; that’s a valid trauma response. As a leader, ignoring it or pushing through it in an attempt to get “back to business” would have been a serious misstep.
Instead, it makes more sense to alter the way you initiate communication. Not as a business owner, and not as a boss, but as a human being. Ask employees to share (at their level of comfort) how they’re feeling, and reciprocate by sharing your own experiences and emotions. Before getting into “shop talk,” start with a personal check-in. This helps identify those who might be struggling outside of work – because we are all so much more than our work – and identify ways you can support them and show them grace during what may be a difficult time. In turn, by making yourself vulnerable, you might find many of them do the same for you.
A strong team is a force to be reckoned with
Collaboration is the cornerstone of an effective remote team. Without it, there is no team, just a group of loosely affiliated individuals working toward their own goals. The “every man/woman for themselves” approach is rarely successful–and a lot less fun.
I was fortunate that most of my team were already experienced remote workers when we entered 2020. They had the skills, drive, and self-discipline to stay productive, but not one of them did it alone. Across multiple countries and time zones, the team pulled together and collaborated to get the job done as a cohesive unit. And the results were powerful. Ultimately, we led our largest client to their highest-revenue year at a time when many brands were struggling.
Prior to the pandemic, most of us already knew that our success as business leaders hinged on effective and open communication, strong culture, and a commitment to collaboration. But the last two years have highlighted just how critical those three Cs really are. And the biggest lesson of all? All three Cs are dependent on relationships, and on leading as a person first.